Good quality, fresh bread is hard to find…
…at least for those of us who don’t live near an artisan bakery, a Whole Foods or a health-food store. Fitting it into a tight grocery budget is almost impossible! Most bread at the grocery store just doesn’t taste the same, besides having a long list of ingredients including preservatives galore. That is why I’ve been baking a lot of fresh bread for my family over the last few years.
Why spend the time on it?
I love this quote from Cheryl Mendelson (from her wonderful book Home Comforts):
“It is worth deciding whether your goal, generally speaking, is really to get in and out of the kitchen as fast as possible. If you start out begrudging the time you give to cookery, you are going to create a false contest between cooking and enjoying yourself. … [Y]ou can use your time in the kitchen to slow down, regroup, and enjoy being physical–doing things with your hands, letting them get floury or wet, smelling good smells.”
In our house, we eat oatmeal for breakfast two days a week (my husband’s excellent butter-toasted oatmeal with cinnamon & raisins). Sometimes we end up with extra oatmeal in the pot.. one day I tried mixing it into my bread dough and loved the result! The bread was moister and softer than plain whole wheat – perfect for breakfast toast or PB&J. The soft raisins mostly disappear into the dough during kneading; and raisin juice is a natural preservative, so I’d like to think that makes a difference too! I had to add extra flour to compensate for the oatmeal, which allowed me to transform my recipe for one large loaf into two smaller loaves. Hooray — each slice was actually smaller (probably a good thing), but I felt twice as productive!
Makes two 8.5×4.5” loaves
Adapted from King Arthur
- Water: 1 to 1 ¼ cups (less if it is humid)
- Yeast: 2 tsp. or so (I use the kind in a jar but a packet is OK too)
- Oil: ¼ cup
- Honey: ¼ cup (I usually measure this right on top of the oil so it adds up to ½ cup; it pours out easier)
- Cooked oatmeal: 1-2 cups or whatever you have left over
- Flour: 4 cups or more (I use 3 cups sprouted flour, 1 cup bread flour)
- Salt: 1 ½ tsp
Make the dough
So, you add all the ingredients into a big mixing bowl: water, yeast, oil, honey, oatmeal, flour, salt. (Tip: if you can memorize the ingredients, it will make you so much faster over time!) Mix them up till the dough comes together, and then begin to knead – you may need to add more flour if the dough is sticky, because oatmeal is wetter than bread dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes by hand, or 5 minutes in a KitchenAid mixer on speed 4.
Using your hands, form the dough into a ball and coat it with oil.
(Tip: in a mixer, I pour a little oil in right before I turn it off – the dough coats the bowl with oil for me.)
Cover the bowl for rising.
(More tips: I just cover the bowl with a plate. A damp dishtowel is good too – plastic wrap works, but it costs money! And let it rise in the microwave – a nice warm place where it won’t dry out. In the winter if my house is cold, I leave the microwave door open just a bit and the lightbulb keeps it warm – but don’t do this if it’s hot or your dough can get an off taste.)
… and let the dough rise for 1.5 hours or more. An extra hour or 2 is not going to ruin it during this first rise, so you can go out and do something else if you want!
This dough has risen to the top of the bowl – more than enough but not so much that it has deflated on its own! (Even if it does deflate, you’re probably OK.)
Shape the loaves
Punch down the dough and divide it into 2 roughly equal parts. Leave one in the bowl, and shape the other one into a loaf: I personally put the dough on a floured dinner plate, press it flat and roll it up tightly, stretching and tucking in the ends. Place it into a buttered 8.5×4.5” loaf pan seam side down, and repeat to shape the other loaf. Cover both pans with a warm, damp dish towel and wait an hour or two, until the loaves rise above the rim of the pans.
Another nice rise
Maybe ½ inch above the rim of the pan? You don’t want to let this second rise go too long because if it deflates on its own it won’t puff back up in the oven.
Bake at 350* for 35-40 minutes or until done.
Go ahead and take your beautiful bread out of the pans, onto a cooling rack right away. You can cover the tops with a towel while it cools if you want a softer crust.. I don’t bother.
- Leave out the oatmeal, as in the original recipe.
- Use different flours or oils, if you like.
- Use other leftover cooked grains like brown rice or quinoa.
- Make different shapes: rolls, braided bread, etc.
- Not healthy but fun: Use the dough for cinnamon rolls! (Roll out half the dough to flatten, spread with soft butter, sprinkle generously with cinnamon & sugar, roll up tightly, and slice with dental floss or a sharp knife. Bake till done. Make a glaze with powdered sugar and milk. Yum!)
Is it Healthy?
Well… you can certainly waste your broke-and-healthy efforts if you eat too much bread! It tastes good enough to tempt anyone (my children keep asking for bread and butter at snack time!)… but you don’t want to eat much more bread than you would store-bought. If you’re not feeding a crowd, I would definitely freeze the 2nd loaf in a freezer bag when it is cool, and maybe even slice the whole batch and keep it in the freezer. (Did you know sandwiches freeze well too?)
However, you control the ingredients. This bread can be as nutritious as you choose to make it — I love to use organic sprouted wheat flour, and you can use your favorite oil: olive oil, coconut oil, or whatever you have on hand. And no preservatives! If you can eat wheat at all, this is one of the best breads you can get. (If you want to take it a step further, look into making whole-grain sourdough! But I get a lot of the same benefits by using sprouted flour.)
Is it Affordable?
In my case, I can’t justify buying the $4 best bread from the health food bakery twice a week, but I can afford to buy a large bag of organic flour or oats that lasts for months.
Total: $2.04 + energy for 2 loaves
OK, I admit this price surprised me. I thought with the best flour it would be more. At $1.02 a loaf, it is really a steal – cheaper than most sliced bread in the grocery store! I hope you try it!
Sarah Thrasher | Sarah is the wife of an entrepreneur, mother of 3 young children, and a homemaker in North Carolina. She loves her church, family and the children’s classical school. She enjoys cooking for family & friends, gardening, camping & hiking, and (at this stage of life) playing with the children outside as much as possible!