One of my favorite aromas: a bakery that uses a sour rye culture. One of my least favorite aromas: the packaged bread aisle of supermarkets.
I’ve been making most of our breads, of all shapes and sizes, for years. Slightly fluffy whole grain sandwich bread, crusty and fragrant sourdough, tortillas, pita, and naan, pizza, and occasionally bagels – I enjoy the process and product both.
Baking bread has the reputation of being time-consuming. I’ve experimented with various means of fitting the bread cycle into our days, and I’ve assessed the competition – that is, bakeries around the Twin Cities metro. The bread I’ve made has ranged from spectacular to so-so, much like the breads from various bakeries. However, I’ve never made a loaf as mediocre as the average packaged bread – and so it is always worthwhile. And while a loaf of fresh bakery bread is typically priced at $4-8, a loaf using organic flours and grains can be made for less than $2 plus a little time, with the bonuses of a fragrant, warm home and not needing to change out of pajamas.
The Bread Machine (Estimated time/loaf: 10 minutes, and loaves can be large)
If you eat bread regularly and have minimal time, it’s worth trying a bread machine – but it is not as hands-off as you might believe from the manufacturers’ recipes. (If you source your kitchen tools the same way that I do, from a thrift store, you won’t have the recipe book anyway, although it’s probably online somewhere.) I had a bread machine years ago and produced numerous dense, moist, collapsed loaves before donating it. I decided to try again (with a machine from the thrift store, of course) recently and the better results I’ve had come from a very minor change that takes less than 3 minutes. I set the timer for 10 minutes after starting the kneading cycle, and add enough flour or seeds to produce a somewhat drier dough than would be desired if hand-kneading: no sticky dough for the machine. I like to use 1/2 – 1 cup rye flour per loaf for better flavor. Remove the loaf as soon the baking cycle ends – it will get soggy if left in the machine to cool.
Bread in 5 Minutes/Day (Estimated time/loaf: 10 minutes)
This is an easy technique if you have some space available in the refrigerator, or the right outdoor or garage temperature. Mix a large batch of wet dough (no kneading necessary), let it rise and fall on the counter, and then refrigerate, baking as desired over the next week. I use less yeast than called for in the recipes, and allow for longer rising times. This method gives me delicious loaves with little effort, especially after several days of cold fermentation. Many recipes using the technique are available on the authors’ blog, linked above; the second editions of the books give recipes with weights in addition to volume.
Sourdough (Estimated time/loaf: 30 minutes, not including starter creation)
Every fall, when the temperatures drop and it is once again cool enough to use the kitchen oven, it is also cool enough to ferment a starter. The hot, humid weather of summer has caused my starters to mold, so I consider this one of my winter routines. I loosely follow the method in the book Tartine Bread; online versions are available (I use a rye starter and rye, whole wheat, and unbleached flours in the bread). The biggest change I’ve made is uncovering the bread while it is baking after the first 15-20 minutes; the loaves were too moist otherwise.
Do you bake breads? What’s your favorite?