20 January 2010

Simple Living Series - Making bread

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.



  1. This is great! A friend of mine just gave me a breadmaker she no longer uses. I can't wait to get started.

  2. That looks absolutely delicious. You have inspired me.
    Tracy (Brisbane)

  3. Good morning Rhonda, what a timely post this is today. I've just sat down to read your blog while my batch of bread is proving. I would urge any followers who have not made bread by hand to give it a go.

    For ages I used a bread machine and premix, always convinced that I couldn't do it myself.

    I then started using your recipe but continued to use the machine just for mixing and kneading. Well I think I'll now retire the bread machine. I've been making it all by hand for the last few days and have come to the realization that, yes I can do this and its not that scary or difficult. (smilie jumping up and down hands clapping).

    Actually the whole process is very enjoyable and rewarding.

  4. Thank you for your enlightening post today. I have baked my own bread for years, as well as everything else. In fact, my kids were so spoiled by homecooked meals that they didn't want to eat anywhere else because 'their mom doesn't know how to cook.' LOL

  5. I've been using your daily bread recipe several times a week. It is one of the best breads I've made. It is so easy.
    I love your blog. It gives me courage and focus each day to face a society around me that devalues thrift and simplicity.
    Rob G.
    Ogden, Utah, USA

  6. Rhonda, your bread looks so light and delicious. Thank you for posting this.

    I'm going to try to make some myself.

    Best Regards

  7. Hi Rhonda
    Thanks for this Simple Living Series - I've just read all your posts so far & enjoyed each one - as well as been challenged!
    Each year I am purposely trying to make our lives more simply & this year we have set ourselves a goal of getting out of debt (will take a few years) & healthier eating. I am cutting out preservatives & fake colours & so far it's been good - we are actually finding healthier substitues to our favourites - eg whipped frozen banana instead of ice cream.
    I have been trying different bread recipes, but so far haven't found one I love, so will enjoy giving yours a go. Thanks for all the work you put into this blog.

    Renata (NSW)

  8. Lol Rhonda I made 'your' bread for the first time yesterday and will blog about my experience and verdict today too. I do enjoy the process of kneading and should not have put off trying this for as long as I did. I love your writing style you really help people to see that anything is within reach and achievable. Thank you

  9. You know, I used to love it when you would show your packed lunch. Gave me some great ideas (I'm a meal skipper) and inspiration. Your sandwiches always looked so good.

  10. I have been baking our bread for years now. Last week, I tried to make gluten-free loaf for a friend. Failed. I made our usually baking of bread the next day, but added way too much flour w/o paying attention. Edible, but not great. Yesterday's was perfect. Yippee! I was so excited after blah bread for several days that I kissed the dough before I realized what I had done. :) It was such a perfect batch just waiting to rise! All the loaves and buns I made from it were perfect. :) Simple joys!

  11. Thank you for this post. I can't wait to try it! It is so wonderful to get a few bread recipes down to where they are easy to make and taste fabulous. You are such a blessing to me. Keep up the good work!

  12. I am so with you on living simply with real homemade food. Your bread looks so delicious but, gluten makes me quite ill. So, I experiment with gluten-free flours and get well...a little bit of bread heaven with the successful turnouts. Keep up the good posts. A lot of people could learn from you.

  13. Hi All, I have been baking my own bread for some time now, bread rolls are a big hit in my family - they call them the "famous buns" (about the only famous buns I'll ever have ;-).
    Last night I made the best pizza ever - I had made some bread dough to be ready when I came home from work, and I put half in the fridge for an hour and then used the cold dough for a pizza base. Fantastic!
    Note that this excellent idea was created through laziness not design! But I'll be doing it again as it got the ultimate thumbs up - "it tastes just like a bought pizza"! Anna

  14. I have to have a try at this! I cheat and use the breadmaker but I am now inspired to give this a go.

    I have given you the Happy 101 award over on my blog because your blog makes me feel so happy and content.

    Thank you!!


  15. Thank you for all that you are writing. I've caught up on some older posts after a few weeks away from your site. It is one I keep coming back to, if not every day, then often enough. I am thinking here with my tea and a notebook about what I want from this year and it is to live more simply. As soon as my oven is fixed, I plan to try my hand once again at making bread. Tried it a while ago and then slipped.... but it is a new year and I have renewed focus.

  16. Thank you for posting this recipe, I've been looking for a suitable recipe that contains some fat, but a lot of the ones I find contain huge amounts of fat!

    I'm interested to know approximately how many days this will keep (without needing to be toast...) I want to send my husband off to work some days with fresh bread in his lunch, but I don't particularly fancy getting up at 4am to do so - would bread baked from this recipe the day before still be fresh enough?

  17. I so miss making my bread! My gas oven has stopped working and I can neither afford to fix/replace it, or buy a bread machine. Has anyone ever baked bread in a roaster oven? I started once but unfortunately it raised up against the lid and I had to take it out and haven't tried it again. I think I need a smaller loaf pan.

  18. Hmmm...Or should I say Mmmmm...I think I'll be making bread Friday. ---Krystal

  19. I often make our bread, but sadly I don't always have the time (I wish I did, but with 2 very small children and a farm, we are often busy; as "simple" as our lifestyle is). However, I was GIVEN a bread maker by a friend a few weeks ago, and it's great--although I swore I'd never use one, that I'd do the work by hand. I just use the dough setting, and use it in those instances where I would have found myself buying bread for lack of time.
    Also, I use a very heavy flour (it's local and organic, so I'm proud to use it), and I am able to get a much lighter loaf if I let the bread machine do the kneading for me.
    I hope all is well where you are :)

    ~Melanie in Canada

  20. I love your posts on homemaking, simple living and learning the art of breadmaking!!!! Its sad that in this time and age young women dont learn everything that every woman should know. But you have inspired me to learn as much as I can and to enjoy simplicity. Thank you so much.

  21. I'm planning on making my first loaf of bread this weekend if my four week old baby lets me find the time. I haven't done any baking since his birth and bread seems a great place to start (says the person who bought 4 loafs at the store today because they were on special and she has room in the freezer)

    I have to say i love your simple living series so far but thought a better title type thing for things like breadmaking might be back to basics.

  22. Ali, I've just started making this bread the last couple of weeks and it keeps beautifully! I have had it sitting in the cupboard and still fresh after about 4 days :)

  23. Thank you for another great post!
    I make bread by machine but my husband has been encouraging me to try hand kneading, and with your instructions I may give it a go.
    Just looking at your bread makes my tummy growl!

  24. I use a benchtop oven as I don't have a real oven at present. That means I make buns forever but not larger loaves. It works fine for that.

    One of my favorite tricks is to wrap each bun around a chunk of apple which has been coated in cinnamon and brown sugar - very popular with the boys :)

    My recipe is similar to yours and I have varied it all over the place. Wheat germ is nice in the mix or a little oatmeal. I also do a mean pinwheel with home made tomato relish.

    viv in nz

  25. Thank you so much for that. I have just started to bake my own bread and have had two disasters already!! I will be printing this out and re-reading so I can get it right.....maybe it will be third time lucky:)

    By the way, I really love your blog. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    Lisa (Ipswich)

  26. This look so yummy! I have to admit bread and I are not good friends. I try (but don't always have the time or patience required) and often I find my loaves are heavy. I want to do sourdough, but with my house 55 at night and 60-63 during the day its not optimal for starter (once the starter is going (4-6 weeks) its great), so I have to wait till spring to start experimenting with sourdough.
    My problem I believe has been the rise. Because my house is a bit on the cool side, my doughs have not been rising as much as they should. I have just learned two things to help with this.
    1. I can let the dough rise twice as long (see previous note about patience and time)
    2. I can place the dough in the oven (off) with a pan of hot water.

    Did this with my last biscuit making episode and the first rise was superb, I shorted myself on enough time for the resting, second and third rises, so the biscuits were a bit dense, but we used them up anyways.

    I have much to learn about breads, but I am not ready to give up. Especially not now that I have found a local (100 miles) whole wheat flour!

  27. My almost 3 year old daughter really enjoyed your post. She wants to make one of those "pretty breads" now!

    Thank you for your blog, we have been enjoying it very much.

  28. I've been making our bread for maybe a couple of years now - in the breadmaker - the kneading and getting so involved just daunts me! But I WILL do it! You're helping to inspire me to try!
    To Ali - I slice our loaves and freeze them. The slices defrost in no time - and if it's warmer weather I have been known to make the sandwiches with the bread still a bit frozen. Of course it's not the same as freshly baked bread, but it's an option. If you really must have freshly baked (and you are going to use up a whole loaf in one day) a lot of bread machines have a timer setting so your bread can be ready for whatever time you need it!

  29. Thank you, again, for such an informative post. Even though I bake and teach gluten free baking classes, there's so much I can learn from watching others make bread.

    If only I could braid a gluten free challah.......it's not possible, as of yet. The bread dough (which is really more like cake batter), is just too soft. But someday, someday!

    best, Ellen

  30. my first attempted breads used to be kinda failures too :) but now i got it so perfect, i don't buy anymore. i make extra dough to freeze, so i always have fresh-out-of-the-oven bread (also works with dried yeast). i sprinkle the top with a little water before i put it in the oven, somehow it makes it turn out better. also i use olive oil for smooth flavor and longer keeping.
    my boyfriends' friends all curse his luck for having me :p 'cause they're so jealous =)
    it's worth the effort. also, with a breadmachine, your crust won't be as crunchy. i prefer oven-baked :)

  31. Something I like to do is make my bread into bread rolls. That way my kids can grab a roll whenever they like instead of trying to slice bread from a loaf. It makes for a lot less crumbs in the kitchen!

    I experimented this Christmas with making traditional Swedish Limpa bread, after trying several recipes I made a pair of loaves that were to die for! I was very proud of myself and will continue to make that bread for some time.

    I have found the quality of flours to make a big, big difference when baking from scratch. I like to use King Arthur Flour (in the US). I have had the most success with this flour. Others just don't rise like KAF.

    I also like to make sprouted grain bread. It has a lower glycemic level and helps control blood sugar swings. It is a heavier, more dense bread, but I like that it keeps my moods even and consistent throughout the day. (and my kids too) :-)

  32. Your breads always look so beautiful! I started baking all my own bread last year----it is such a rewarding (yet easy) way to provide for my family. Thank you for such a lovely post.

    Blessings, Patti

  33. I love to make bread and yours does look wonderful! I am going to buy some rye berries, grind them and give this receipt a whirl. Thanks for sharing your life in such thought provoking ways. It takes some courage to open yourself up. I just penned my first installment of my journey to a more simpler, hobby farming lifestyle. It is scary!

  34. I make my own pizza dough, but my past attempts at bread have not been very successful. Granted it was tasty warm right of the oven with butter. But it looked more like a brick than a loaf!

    We use sprouted bread for sandwiches and toast, so the process of sprouting and grinding my own grain (don't have a grain mill), has also kept me from venturing further into breadmaking. But I think I will give it another try with the flour (unsprouted) I have on hand. Once I get better, maybe then I can move into the sprouting and grinding. Thanks for the encouragement!

    Mary Ellen
    The Working Home Keeper

  35. For a few weeks I have been dancing around my desire to make a loaf of bread and yesterday while the kids slept I did it. I am amazed not only did it look good and taste good but.....I felt a very strong sense of being grounded. Aside from raising my kids I don't think i have felt that level of satisfaction in a long time....and from something so simple...who would have thought!

  36. Thanks so much for sharing. There's just nothing like fresh baked bread, is there? I've baked our family's bread for several years now - our 'family' bread is flaxseed meal bread & the recipe is on my blog (in the Dec. '09 section, I believe).

    I'm looking forward to trying your recipe.

    Blessings from Ohio, USA...Kim W<><

  37. I love that so many people are making their own bread. The kids I babysit love making "Magic Bread" and always beg me to let them make some. One 5 year old girl can do everything but measuring and using the oven by herself and boy will she tell you how proud she is that she can. We don't have a breadmaker so I use my Cuisinart food processor and the plastic blade (mixing blade?). It doesn't turn on until the lid is locked on and the plastic blade is perfect for tiny fingers.

    Anyway, all you have to do is measure out the dry ingredients (minus the yeast), mix everything and then add your yeast/milk/water. (I always pour the yeast in after mixing the dry stuff and then pour the water directly on top of it but to each her own!) The kids really love pushing the buttons and watching everything mix together and the blade kneads the dough pretty well so they don't have to. After the first rise I normally give them a piece of dough to practice kneading and shaping while I make the rest of it into loaves or rolls. Simple and it uses a piece of equipment we already own.

  38. I frequently make my own bread and just recently tried my hand at making sourdough bread. It turned out wonderfully! I was so surprised that it came out as a light fluffy loaf . . . just from yeasts that had been cultivated from the air. Pretty cool. :)

  39. Rhonda, I've finally put on some dough in my bread machine for the first time in a few months, sit down, scan your latest postings and find this!! You have really inspired me to bake my own bread and whereas my first few attempts were quite interesting (!) it now comes out pretty darn good. My husband prefers it to anything you can buy in the shops.

    Thanks for your inspiration Rhonda, you've changed my life so much over the last couple of years I can't thank you enough.

    Much love,


  40. My mom ate the bread I learned to make thanks to your tutorial (which I knead int the breadmachine) and now wants to learn how to do it herself! life's great!

  41. We just had a 'holiday' from home made bread as we moved house, moving from a rented house to our retirement bungalow. I've now got back into the rhythm and how we've missed it.

    I do make other kinds of bread, but my staple is a 'no knead' wholemeal loaf - very solid but so delish!

    However, I use an ebayed Kenwood Chef (paid for itself within 7 months) and I shall start adding that cup of while flour to see how it gives the lighter and more risen loaf.

    Where I live now I can buy my flour from a heritage museum where it is ground. Lovely.

  42. I just wanted to point out that this recipe seems to have way too much water as written. I have "bread soup" in my bread machine and am not sure if I should dump in more flour or if that would just be wasting more ingredients. I'm not a good enough bread maker to know how much to add, anyway! :-) I just wanted to let you know I think the amount of liquid might have been converted wrong, since I'm assuming this recipe was originally in ml?

  43. Laura, not quite two cups to start with to four cups of flour - it reads, how much did you use?

  44. I used four cups of flour with the two cups of water, if that helps.

  45. Hi Rhonda, I tried your basic bread recipe yesterday, and had success, though it wasn't quite as "well done" as it might have been - another 5 minutes cooking would have been better. Had a slight problem in that I have no idea how Australian cup measures convert to kilos/grams, so guessed a bit with the flour, but it worked! My previous breadmaking attempts would be useful in the garden for wall building, so I'm greatly encouraged. I really want to make rolls. Bread here in Greece from the baker is wonderful, but no-one makes decent rolls at all, so that is where I'm heading next. I've just bought some more white flour and some wholemeal, and I'll see how it goes and let you know!


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