Fear of Breadmaking
Many of the responses to my last post about budget recipes in light of our impending move, suggested baking my own bread. I love the idea of this but must confess that it is the one culinary challenge that I've been too intimidated to try. I consider myself an intuitive cook and fear that the precision required would yield disaserous results.
Please give me suggestions for easy beginner recipes, foolproof tricks, etc. that will help me get over it. Thanks!
Baking bread is very intuition-friendly! There are many great basic recipes online, at sites like King Arthur. Yeast bread is very flexible. For example, you can make the process suit your schedule by mixing the dough the night before, refrigerating it and then baking the next day. Once you get the hang of a recipe there's a lot of experimenting to be done to vary the flavor and texture to your liking.
Just pick a recipe that sounds good and give it a try. You really won't be sorry.
I know your whole reason for posting was to save money, but I have to say that buying a bread machine has saved me money in the long run. In fact, after watching the bread machine knead the dough, etc, I finally have a grasp of how to make bread from scratch without a machine.
All that is to say, you may want to invest in a reasonably priced machine ($50 for a basic, $80 for a great machine, or $20 off Craigslist--people tend to buy these and then unload them when they get bored). Better yet, borrow a machine from a friend until you get comfortable making bread by hand.
I haven't purchased bread since I got my machine in December. Considering that I eat almost a loaf a week, I'm well on my way to recouping the cost of the machine. You will waste some flour in the beginning, but eventually it will save you money.
I have The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and it's fantastic. I use my bread machine some of the time and do it by hand some of the time and some of the time do half and half. The recipes are great and many of them are from famous restaurants and chefs. She also spend a lot of time explaining different types of flour/wheat and yeast etc. and she leads you right into being able to make up your own recipes. It's split into sections: country breads, egg breads, breads that use starters, etc and you get great additions of other recipes inbetween: jams, chutneys, etc.
I am intuitive in my cooking as well and have not found that to be a problem in bread baking once you understand the basics. Sure, there have been a few flops - but it costs me maybe $1 to ruin a loaf?
I have way more successes than failures.
I feel exactly the same way about baking intuitively and making mistakes.
I have Hensperger's The Bread Bible, which has a section for bread machines. I used to wish I'd gotten the book dedicated entirely to the bread machine, but the regular one is just as easy to follow (and cheaper, I believe). And now that I'm more comfortable working with dough, I can move on to some of the non-machine recipes.
I got this Bread Machine book VERY cheaply at an overstock place - you might look around. I think it's worth it for all the extras (the BEST chocolate bread pudding recipe I've ever had anywhere!)
I don't have the bible - wonder if I should get it on top of this one or if what I have covers that book?
You may have everything you need already. Do you have a Cuisinart? Or a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer? Or strong arms?
Those are the three alternative tools that Carol Field uses in her Italian Baker book. She provides detailed instructions for each of the three methods.
We like crust on our breads, so a bread machine wasn't in the picture. I have a couple of other bread books, but the Fields book is the one I use over and over.
Don't let the precision scare you, as in, you don't need to sift the flour and level it with the back of a knife. But you do have to get the measurements in the ballpark. Timing is also pretty flexible for the rises. Just don't make any substitutions the first time you try to make bread.
My basic tip:
Proof the yeast. You may find recipes that start with sponges (where you mix the yeast with water and some flour), but I always put the yeast in the amount of water called for in the recipe, which should be warm (test like a baby's bottle, if it's too hot for the inside of your wrist, it'll kill the yeast), and add a bit of sugar. In 5 minutes it should be a big foamy mess. If it's not, buy new yeast, start over.
That's the single biggest thing I see that's not usually well-explained in your average recipe.
The whole process is easy, but it certainly helps to see it done once by someone who knows how. Also, yeast in those little packets are NOT good for your budget--works out to like $25/lb. if you decide you like making bread, attempt to get a big bag of yeast (not the same as the nutritional yeast at the co-op) from a bakery supply store. I kept a bag in the freezer for almost 5 years, and it was still foaming just fine by the time I finished it.
Don't be scared. It's way less hassle than you might think-- it sounds like hours of work, but it's very little hands-on time, and there's no reward like making your house smell like baking bread. Except for that first warm slice. :)
Sometimes you can only fine bulk yeast in the refrigerated section. I found mine in a little 1/2 pound bag at Whole Foods. I just put it in a glass jar, and it's been fine in the fridge for months. I save a ton this way. Remember, active dry yeast for bread looks like tiny light brown seeds; nutritional yeast looks like flakes (giant dandruff, pardon the gross description).
Gluten is also good for beginning breadmakers. Before, I would use expensive high gluten bread flour and my bread would still not rise enough. Hocky pucks! Now I add a teaspoon or two to the recipe regardless of whether it calls for gluten, and the dough is much loftier and has a nice bounce to it. I use Safeway brand bread flour now (and even all purpose when I run out) and it's just fine.