Dakota Notebook


Give Them Bread!

Loretta SorensenDon’t wait for Christmas to give that special someone a loaf of delicious homemade bread. Many occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, accomplishing a special goal, to accompany a special meal, and even “just because” are all great opportunities for sharing your homemade bread.

Unlike 50 years ago, homemade bread is a rare and much-appreciated commodity in many homes. In our crazy-busy world, the fact that you take the time to prepare this tasty treat is also a gift.

On average, a loaf of homemade white bread, made with high quality bread flour, costs about $1.50. Whole grain bread costs range from $2.00 to around $3.50, making this homemade product a very cost-effective present.

Before you start baking, consider what types of bread your recipient will appreciate. Many people enjoy white bread; others prefer wheat, rye, multi-grain, etc. If your recipient is easy to please, that makes the baking even easier!

If you don’t typically make bread with whole grain flours, you can still produce a cost-effective loaf by purchasing one- or two-pound packages of the flour(s) you need. Even flours costing $2 per pound can make an inexpensive gift. Whatever you don’t use for this current gift can easily be stored in the freezer until you need it.

While a full loaf of bread is a wonderful gift, don’t rule out the fact that a small loaf of bread may be appropriate. There are numerous pan sizes that would allow you to mix a standard batch of dough and divide it into two or three small pans. You might also consider giving all the small loaves you make as the gift. In a one- or two-person household, the small loaves may be most appropriate.

Once the bread is baked, it should be thoroughly cooled before it’s wrapped in any manner. Wrapping options are endless, including a simple bag with a ribbon, card or tag attached. Other wrapping materials could include parchment paper, tissue paper, even a box if you have the appropriate size on hand.

You may also want to include a note about the ingredients in your bread. This information could prove useful if the bread is offered/served to someone who experiences food sensitivities or allergies.

Storage directions could also be noted on a small card or tag. You may want to indicate that a successful way to freeze home-made bread is to slice it, separate the slices with plastic wrap, enclose it in a plastic bag, and place it in the freezer. This simple tip could help your gift recipient prolong the freshness of the bread if they don’t intend to consume it right away.

Further recommendations could include suggestions for using the bread to make sandwiches, toast, French toast, or something special you know the recipient enjoys.

Depending on your recipient’s preferences, you might include a small jar of jam, honey, or peanut butter. You could also make a flavored butter such as cinnamon or honey butter, garlic or herbed butter and include it as part of your gift.

Bread can be a gift

Photo by Loretta Sorensen.

Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

 

The Economy of Home-made Bread

Loretta SorensenIt’s a fair question since we could use our time to do other productive tasks. And no one wants to waste money. 

As a person who’s very conscious of how I use my time and spend my money, I decided to look deep into the cost of baking bread. It’s a joy to report that home-made bread baking can save money at the same time that it boosts our nutritional intake.

Here’s a basic mathematical evaluation of my own bread baking:

I typically buy my flour in five-pound bags.

Cost for bread flour – $5.00

Volume – approximately 17 cups.

Number of loaves it produces – 5 (using 3.3 cups flour per loaf).

Cost Calculations

Flour – $1.00

Yeast (bulk) – $.09

Sweetener – this will vary as raw honey may add significant cost; maple syrup would be less expensive, and sugar would be least expensive – $.25

Salt (Himalayan) – $.02

Milk – $.15

Total cost - $1.51 

On average, you’ll have 12 good-sized slices of bread from one loaf, which equals about $.13 per slice.

This cost estimate doesn’t include the cost of baking. That cost will vary greatly and can be well-managed by baking bread at the same time that you bake other items. 

Of course, you can reduce bread-baking costs by:

  • Purchasing flour at a lower cost. All-purpose flour is generally less expensive than bread flour; it’s also on sale quite often.
  • Searching for lowest-cost brands.
  • Purchasing larger quantities of flour, such as 10- or 25-pound bags, can greatly reduce the cost of each loaf. Buying 50 pounds of unbleached white flour (which will make about 50 loaves) for as little as 44 cents per pound is a great bargain (44 centers per loaf of bread), provided you have freezer room for storing the flour.
  • I prefer to use organic flours, which can add significant cost to your loaf, depending on the brand and volume of flour you purchase. In bulk, organic flour is available for under $1.00 per pound, which seems to be a very reasonable cost. Be sure you have room in your freezer to store the flour.
  • Perhaps you have access to a local grower who sells whole grain by the pound, potentially reducing the cost of purchasing milled flour.
  • And, of course, home-made bread is considerably cheaper per loaf than store-bought bakery loaves.

Once you’ve pared down your bread baking expenses, consider using bread to help save money in other ways, including:

  • French toast as a low-cost breakfast (especially if you produce your own eggs)
  • In lieu of cracker crumbs in meat loaf
  • Home-made croutons
  • Home-made stuffing mix, etc.
  • Gifting bread can be so much fun, especially if you have someone who enjoys a custom bread, such as a multi-grain. Where else could you find such a high quality, personal gift for such a minimal cost?
  • In my social circles, home-made bread is a rare commodity and a welcome feature of potluck and church gatherings, family meals, etc. Again, a very economic “dish.”
  • Pairing bread – especially whole grain bread - with nut butter (e.g. peanut butter, almond butter) creates a significant and economical source of protein. 

I’m certain this is just the beginning of a list of economic benefits related to home-made bread. So bake away! 

Home-made bread is very economical

Photo by Loretta Sorensen.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find information about her book on her blog site at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, Pinterest and Facebook.

 

Bread Baking Checklist

Loretta SorensenHere are some points to check to ensure you produce the beautiful loaf you’re waiting for.

1. Accurate measuring is important when you bake bread. A few tablespoons more or less of either liquid ingredients or flour can make a significant difference in your dough and your final results.

I prefer to use glass measuring cups because sitting them on a level surface quickly reveals my measuring accuracy.

To check whether or not individual measuring utensils and larger measuring cups/pitchers agree (and make sure you’re not short or long on an ingredient), you can use a small one to measure ingredients into a larger one. Typically, a 2 or 4-cup measuring utensil (preferably glass) is the most accurate way to measure your recipe ingredients.

2. If you’re warming your recipe liquid to a temperature range of 105 to 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) to boost your yeast activity, take into account how any other ingredients added to the liquid affect that temperature. Those ingredients would include milk, sweetener (such as sugar), etc. Even stirring your recipe liquid with a cold spoon will take away some of the heat.

3. If you’re mixing your dough with a hand or stand mixer, you’ll want to develop a method for warming the mixer bowl and beaters so they don’t detract from your dough temperature. If your kitchen is quite cool while you’re baking bread, just the cool air temperature will affect your dough.

4. For bread machine users, don’t be afraid to check on the texture of your dough once it has mixed for several minutes. Open the bread machine lid to see if the dough is pulling away from the sides of the bread machine canister. That’s what you want to see.

However, if the dough is too dry, you can add water one tablespoon at a time to moisten it. This should only take a few seconds. Of course, use warm liquid to help preserve your desired dough temperature.

If the dough is too wet, add flour one or two tablespoons at a time to get the desired texture.

5. Making your own bread takes some time, and there are ways to trim that down (see one of my other articles for tips), but don’t reduce kneading times below 15 minutes. It takes both yeast action and gluten activity to produce that picture-perfect rise.

6. Be sure to warm your bread pan before you place the dough into it for its final rise. If you check your pan for warmth (especially in winter), you’ll be surprised at how cool it is. Hot water for 30 seconds will warm it up.

7. While you need a warm environment for your final rise, avoid making it too warm. If your oven (or other rising area) is more than 120 degrees, yeast may push the dough high early in the rise and then fall when you bake it. 

Don’t be discouraged if you encounter some issues as you prepare your bread dough and don’t produce high, light bread at first. Checking on each of these points each time you bake will give you the results you hope for!

Bread baking tips and checklist
Photo by Loretta Sorensen.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

 

 

How Low Can You Go

Loretta SorensenFitting breadmaking into today’s average hectic schedule will likely take some planning.

And if you’re working to streamline your breadmaking as much as possible, how much time can you shave from the process without sacrificing the quality of your loaf?

Since time is always of the essence for me, I have experimented with bread kneading and first-rise times. My conclusions:

  • Two mix/knead cycles of no less than 15 minutes are necessary to producing a quality loaf of bread.
  • The reason: both yeast action and gluten activity are necessary to achieve a high, light rise. If either one of these elements falls short, the loaf of bread will too!

That being said, there are multiple ways to streamline your bread baking process to keep your time frame right at 2 hours total.

From my personal experience and testing, the most effective way to shave time off your bread baking activities is to make your own bread mix. Mixing the amounts of flour and salt (gluten if you use it) and storing it in the refrigerator or freezer until you need it really shaves time off bread baking activities.

Creating your own bread mixes also allow you to vary your recipes and use a variety of grains/ingredients to achieve your bread baking goals.

Don’t hesitate to measure your yeast when creating your own bread mix. Just be sure to store it in either a small container or something such as plastic wrap so it doesn’t come in contact with the rest of the bread ingredients. Commercial mixes do this, too.

I wrap my measured yeast in plastic wrap and tuck it on the top of the flour mixture, which I typically store in a 2-quart glass jar.

Other bread-baking shortcuts you can take:

  • The night before you know you’re going to bake, assemble all equipment, utensils, and your bread mix on the cupboard. Although this only takes a few minutes, it will still save time when you prepare your dough. It can also head off any unexpected issues such as equipment failure, missing utensils, etc.
  • Bread machines are great time savers when it comes to baking bread. If you haven’t been using one, you may consider adding it to your kitchen equipment since you’ll be able to work at numerous other projects while your bread dough is mixed, kneaded, and goes through the first rest. Looking for second-hand bread machines can be an economic way to obtain one. All you really need from it is accurate cycling and thorough mixing/kneading. You can finish your loaf in a bread pan in your oven.
  • Timers that remind you when it’s time to prepare your bread pan, check your final rise, pre-heat your oven, etc. can also be great time savers, as they allow you to give your attention to something else while these bread-making activities are underway. A microwave timer, wind-up timer, etc. – and sometimes both – can help you speed through bread baking with ease!

Streamline bread baking with simple practices
Photo by Loretta Sorensen.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on her blog site at bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine,Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

D.I.Y. BREAD MIX

Loretta SorensenBread mixes can be so handy when you’re in a hurry, which seems like a daily condition in my household!

But commercial mixes aren’t always easy to find, and some are plenty expensive. If you’re trying to bake bread to save money, commercial mixes may not help you reach that goal.

So, here’s how to make your own!

Creating your own bread mix will take some time. However, you’ll be able to schedule this activity at a time when it’s most convenient. If you organize it a bit like an assembly line, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how quickly you can make bread mixes that suit your personal bread baking goals and put less strain on your grocery budget.

Commercial bread mixes are likely to have some things your home-made mixes don’t: artificial color, preservatives, and highly processed flour(s). However, you aren’t going to miss any of these ingredients when you prepare your own mixes.

To begin, select the bread recipe(s) you want to use. Make sure you have all the recipe ingredients on hand (dry and wet) so you’ll be able to stir up your mix when the time comes.

For best results, aim to have flours, whole grains and/or other dry ingredients that are as fresh as possible. Most processed flours have a shelf life of 12 months maximum. It’s better to use flour up within six months of purchase.

Whole grain flours will have a shorter shelf life due to the oil contained in the grain itself. It’s best to at least keep these flours in the refrigerator and better yet to store them in the freezer. The fresher your ingredients are, the better flavor you’ll find in your bread.

To create your bread mix(es), you’ll want to measure the dry ingredients and place them either in a plastic bag or some type of container. DON’T add the yeast to the flour mixture. Even commercial mixes come with a separate packet of yeast, so the yeast isn’t affected by either the salt in the recipe or other recipe ingredients. When yeast comes in direct contact with salt, it dies.

You can still measure the yeast and secure it in a small bag or container. You might also wrap it up in plastic wrap and tuck it on top of the bag/container holding your main bread mix ingredients. 

For bread mix containers, you may want to consider saving any small boxes you would otherwise toss. No matter what type of container you use, I highly recommend labeling it with either an indelible marker – recording the type of bread such as whole wheat, multi-grain, etc. – and the date you made the mix. This leaves no room for doubt about what the mix contains or its expiration date. 

If you’re creating multiple mixes, I’ve found that tucking the mixes in an oblong box that fits on my freezer shelf helps keep all the mixes together, so I can easily see what I have on hand. This really works well if your mixes are held in plastic bags.

To cut time down when you go to use your home made mix, prepare all your utensils and remaining ingredients the night before or a few hours before you anticipate making the bread. This helps you complete the task quickly and efficiently.

Find my favorite wheat bread recipe (which is easily set up as a bread mix) here.

Make your own bread mix
Photo by Loretta Sorensen


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find more about her book on her blog page at www.bakeyourbestever.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

MIX IT UP!

Loretta SorensenBread mixes may be one way to shorten the amount of time it takes to produce home-made bread.

If you live in a rural area, you may have difficulty finding any bread mix on the grocer’s shelf. In my area, the narrow range of bread mix choices seem to indicate that few shoppers are using them.

Fortunately, online bread mix choices offer more options. However, you may have to do some searching to locate the type of bread mix you want to use.

While bread mixes will contain everything you need to make home-made bread, it will still take some time to mix, raise, and bake them. Thoroughly review the mix instructions before it’s time to start preparing the dough. That way you’ll know what equipment to have on hand and ready. You can even set your bread machine out ahead of time, shaving a few minutes off the process.

Some mixes may instruct you to follow your bread machine manufacturer’s directions for adding ingredients to your bread machine canister. My advice is to follow the method I’ve developed:

  1. Once you’ve dissolved the recipe sweetener (sugar, honey, syrup) in the recipe liquid (water or milk), you want the liquid temperature range to be between 105 and 110-degrees Fahrenheit. I use the hottest water possible from my kitchen faucet, add my refrigerated maple syrup, stir it together well, then test the temperature. If it’s too cold, a few seconds in the microwave will quickly heat it. If it’s too warm, run some cool water alongside the utensil you’re using to mix it until it reaches the desired temperature range.
  2. Add the yeast to this warm mixture and stir till well dissolved. Allow to sit for 2 to 3 minutes.
  3. In winter, when my kitchen is relatively cool, I use hot tap water to warm my bread machine canister prior to using it. This helps my bread dough stay warm and give a satisfactory rise. Pour the hot water out just prior to placing all the bread dough ingredients into it.
  4. Once the yeast mixture has developed a foamy head, pour it into the bread machine canister. Add the dry ingredients; put the oil or butter in last.
  5. I generally allow the machine to knead the dough 15 minutes, rest 20 minutes, knead again for 15 minutes. You can shave a few minutes off the kneading and resting time. I don’t recommend kneading less than 10 minutes or reducing the rest time to less than 15 minutes.
  6. After the final knead, you can bake your dough in the bread machine or place it in a bread pan and allow it to rise in a warm oven before baking. I recommend heating your bread pan to help maintain the bread dough’s warmth and heating the oven to at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit for the final rise.
  7. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

If you use bread mixes, you may want to carefully read the mix contents before purchasing. Most mixes won’t contain the whole grain flour that you may want to generally use. Still, they can save some time.

One other time saving option is to make your own bread mixes. That will be next week’s blog topic!

Bread mixes shorten baking times

Bread mix shortens baking time. Photo by Loretta Sorensen.


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, and on Pinterest and Facebook.

STREAMLINE YOUR BREAD BAKING

Loretta SorensenTraditional bread baking methods often took me as much as four hours by the time I collected my baking tools, stirred up the dough, and completed all the kneading and rising.

Using a bread machine drastically reduces the time required for kneading and rising bread dough. And there are some additional simple steps that can help trim your bread baking time frame even further. One of the easiest ways to cut down the time spent baking bread in a bread machine (a good 10 to 15 minutes) is to prepare ingredients and tools ahead of time. Steps to accomplish that:

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients (except the yeast) and store either at room temperature (if it will be used within a day or two) or in the freezer/refrigerator until you’re ready to bake. You can measure and store one or multiple mixes this way. If they’ll be stored a while, it’s a good idea to label and date the storage bag/container.
  2. Measure yeast and sweetener and store in separate containers.
  3. Assemble all the bread baking equipment the night/morning or a few hours before you’re ready to bake.

Most bread machine cycles can be manually started and stopped, which means you can shave a few minutes off each cycle to reduce the complete knead/rise/knead time. Bread baking experts say knead times should be at least 8 minutes. Often, bread machine knead cycles are as long as 15 minutes. Since kneading causes gluten strands to become stronger and longer, aiding dough rising, we don’t want to reduce kneading too much or the bread won’t rise sufficiently. Some bread machines feature a custom programming option which allows users to set the length of each cycle.

If your machine doesn’t have a custom program feature, you can use timers to manually stop and start the kneading and resting cycles. This can be very effective if you plan to complete the final rise in your oven and bake the bread in the oven. 

The final rise time can also be reduced from 30 minutes to 25 or 20+ minutes. Take care not to reduce final rise time so much that the baked loaf is overly dense and heavy.

Completing the final rise in a warm oven – temperature range between 100 and 115 degrees – will help yeast remain active so the final rise completes quickly and thoroughly. If you’re not able to set your oven to this exact temperature range, you can use a digital thermometer to test your oven temperature. Position the thermometer in a cold bowl/pan, extend the thermometer probe and set it inside the oven for a couple of minutes so the temperature can register. It shouldn’t be necessary to heat the oven any further during the rise. You can also place a pan of hot/boiling water underneath the bread pan to help maintain the desired temperature. 

Save time by streamlining your bread baking process.

Photo by Istock


Long time journalist Loretta Sorensen is the author of Secrets To Baking Your Best Bread Ever! and regularly shares information about whole grains and bread baking. You’ll find her book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the Country Store at Our Dakota Horse Tales. Her weekly bread baking posts are featured at Mother Earth Living, GRIT Magazine, Our Dakota Horse Tales, on Pinterest, and Facebook.

 

 

 

  







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