I guess this is stage three of our series. You start living more simply by thinking about the changes you would like to make and you make them; then you sort out your financial situation and work on a budget. Either one of the two first steps will generally make you realise that you need to economise and rid your home and food of as many chemicals as possible and that will lead you on to the practicalities of simple living - getting back to basics.
Back when I was a girl, there were few convenience foods and generally food was fresh. During the 1950s, food started to be overly processed and had preservatives added so that it could be sold in supermarkets instead of at little corner shops. Instead of eating rolled oats we started eating corn flakes. Freshly squeezed orange juice was replaced by juice made with oranges from foreign lands, with preservative to help it last a long time and colourings to make it look fresh. Margarine started replacing butter and we spread it on sliced, white, tasteless bread.
There is no doubt about it, the more you do for yourself, the more money you'll save and the more control you'll have over the preservatives and chemicals you live with. When I first started living more simply there were so many things I wanted to do, I needed to prioritise my lists. I decided the best way for me to go would be to concentrate on those things we used a lot of or were a daily need. Enter breadmaking.
This is a rye loaf I made last week.
I love every aspect of breadmaking, maybe because my father was a baker, but the entire process makes me feel good. I like selecting my flours, I like decanting large bags of flour into smaller bins, I like reading new recipes, I like making bread - both in the breadmaker and by hand, I like decorating it with oats, seeds and cornmeal, I like the smell of bread baking and I love serving it up for lunch most days. Every one of those actions reaffirms to me my role of a provider of good food.
I think I make a pretty good loaf now but that wasn't always the case. Breadmaking is like a mini science experiment that happens in the kitchen every day. Early on I realised that to be good at it, I had to understand the process, not just enjoy the result. If you're going to make good bread consistently and not waste too much flour, you have to know what happens, why you use certain flours and the role of gluten, yeast, salt, butter/oil and water. The place I went to learn these things was Baking 911. There is a menu at the top of the page that will lead you to all sorts of excellent information. There are instructions on how to make cakes, biscuits, muffins etc but of you're interested in breadmaking, go to Bread101. If something goes wrong with your bread, you'll probably find the reason why there.
But today I'll talk about my bread recipe and encourage you to try making your own bread, even if you've never done it before. The recipe below, my general daily loaf, works with most types of flour - you'll just have to adjust the amount of water you use. You can use one type of flour or a combination of flours - whole wheat, rye, corn and barley, whatever. If you're using one of those heavy flours, a good tactic is to add a cup of white flour to the mix. It will make the bread rise more and give you a lighter loaf. This recipe can be made by hand or in the breadmaker, and if you use the breadmaker, you can cook it in the machine or use the dough setting, remove the dough when it's gone through the cycle and bake the bread in your oven. If you use fresh ingredients and follow the recipe you should get a good loaf of bread.
Mix the first three ingredients in a tea cup and allow it to froth up. This is called proving the yeast. If you do this, you will be certain that the yeast you're using is capable of making the bread rise.
- 2 teaspoons dried yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ cup warm water
- 4 cups baker's flour - also called strong flour or high protein flour. I used a combination of 2 cups white unbleached four and 2 cups rye flour
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon butter (softened) or olive oil (optional)
- 1 tablespoon milk powder (optional)
- About 2 cups warm water, start off by adding not quite 2cups and add the rest if it's needed. You may even need more than 2 cups, it will depend on the flour and the humidity. Just add it slowly
If you use the breadmaker to mix the dough, add the ingredients according to what type of machine you have. I usually start with the flour and put everything else on top. It doesn't seem to matter much what order it goes in, as long as you mix it straight away, but if you're setting your machine to start early in the morning and loading the bucket at night, always do it in the order your machine needs.
If you dont know how to make bread by hand, read these instructions from an earlier post.
Whether you're making your bread by hand or with a machine, get your clean hands in there and feel the dough. That is the only way you'll know if you've used enough water. Learn how to judge a good dough, know when you should add more water, or more flour. You need your hands in the dough to make those judgements. Look at the dough and learn during the various stages.
Breadmaking, the ability to make a good loaf of bread every day, it a great skill to have. Once you've mastered this basic loaf, experiment with toppings and shapes. Then move on to other types of breads - bread rolls, pizzas and calzone, fruit loaf, cinnamon loaf and rolls, Easter breads and the various delicious ethnic breads.
All these skills will allow you to produce delicious and wholesome food for a fraction of the price you'd pay in the shop, and you'll probably have a better product with no preservatives. Breadmaking is not difficult but it takes time, patience and observation. If you let it, bread can teach you to slow down a little. Bread will not be rushed.
So if you've never made bread before, start with this recipe; if you've tried and failed, let this be a call to you to come back to it. When you master a good loaf, you'll feel proud of your efforts and your family will love you for giving them this steaming, hot, nutritious treat every day. If you have any problems, go to my Down to Earth forum, tell me what's happened and I, or one of the other members, will help you get back on track again. And if you do make the best loaf ever, take a photo of it and send it to me. If I get a few, I'll make a bread gallery of all our loaves made during the coming week. Don't let doubt, indifference or fear of failure stop you, dive in.