October 23, 2009

Bake Your Own Local Loaves

Baking your own daily bread is something you can do with a minimum of equipment, ingredients and knowledge. Doing so will improve your diet, and your life. It a wondrous tactile experience making it, and an odoriferous delight baking it. Kneading a warm blob of dough for 5 meditative minutes is the antidote for a busy world, and fresh loaves on the counter are better than dollars in the bank.

No wonder 'dough' and 'bread' have been slang for money. Bread's importance as a food staple over thousands of years makes a comparison with cash warranted. It is as important a part of our diet today as it ever was, and is referred to as 'the staff of life' for good reasons.

This staff sustained millions of poor through the Middle Ages, caused riots and uprisings, and has been mentioned repeatedly in writings across the ages. Having our daily bread means we are able to work on improving ourselves and the world around us. Without our 'bread' we are reduced to survival. Providing this basic food source for yourself and your family has the potential to be a powerfully satisfying activity.

Baking your own bread fits with the trend toward eating as locally as possible. If you are lucky enough to have a nearby source of wheat your baking becomes a sustainable activity that will eliminate problems associated with buying industrial bread transported from away.

Seven years ago I decided to try my hand at baking bread. I was not satisfied with dollar per loaf bread, and the more substantial loaves I liked were expensive. They also had ingredients I would never add myself, such as glucose-fructose, calcium propionate, diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono and diglycerides, vegetable monoglycerides, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, and the list goes on, and on, and on.

Some of the additives used in industrial bakeries allow a faster baking time and the use of lower grade flours. Other additives make sure the bread does not go bad during shipping. It won't do that until you buy it and take it home. I bought my first 10kg (20lb) bag of flour, and started channelling my grandmother's legendary baking skills.

When I was a child, my grandparent's visits were anticipated for a variety of reasons. Prime among them was that a visit meant shortly after arrival, our kitchen would be covered from top to bottom with a bounty of baked goods. Grandma would whip into our kitchen and take over. She assembled equipment and managed ingredients with military precision. "She doesn't even need any recipes," I marveled as I looked on through a flurry of flour and activity.

I watched her pummel large heaps of dough. It looked like the folds of skin that swung gently from her strong arms, in time with her kneading. She may of been attacking the dough with vigor, but her demeanor was calm, and she hummed quietly to herself as she worked and created her magic. She was content and relaxed, and smiled a little smile. It was cold outside. The kitchen was warm.

Before long baking odors would be eliciting generous amounts of drool in little mouths. Our eyes would be as big as plates as we viewed the sugar-encrusted donuts, bread, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, cakes and pies scattered over every available surface. Twisted donut creations, the name and recipe of which grandma may have taken to the big bakery in the sky when she 'rose' to that lofty position, were family favourites. My personal preference was the bread, though. Puffy, golden crust, white, moist crumb (the inside bits). Before long a loaf would be sliced open, steamy, yeasty, and fresh. We would mix butter and honey in equal parts and spread that on the still warm slices.

I have since learned that the basics of bread making are easy to learn. Flatbreads, like chapati or tortillas, are simply flour and water. You may already make pancakes, another of my favourite bread products. Add a bit of yeast, oil, sugar, salt, and water to flour and you can make beautiful, basic loaves. A slightly different mix, a few tablespoons of olive oil and you have an amazing pizza crust. Pita bread, raisin bread, cinnamon rolls, biscuits, burger buns... Once the basics are learned anything is possible. With wholesome ingredients you can't go wrong.

I have not had a failure in seven years. I have had a few projects that needed to be re-branded, though. For example, a heavy bread that didn't rise as much as anticipated became 'bagel bread'. Tasted great. After a few times you can begin to play and add your own creative touches. It is easy to feel child-like with your hands deep in dough.

Kids love baking bread, and since it is very straight forward activity, they can participate fully. There is the promise of a yummy food at the end, plus the rewards of doing it yourself. This promise holds whether you are a kid, or a kid at heart.

Does baking your own bread save money? Short answer - yes. I have not done a detailed accounting because I firmly believe that time spent baking is not deducted from your lifetime total. It may even prolong your lifespan, and that is just for the baking part. If you are baking whole wheat bread there are added benefits in the eating. The fiber is like a roto-rooter for you digestive tract, and healthy inside means healthy outside.

The following lists everything I made with one of my recent bags of flour (10kg):
  • 13 loaves bread
  • 24 green onion cakes
  • 38 tortillas
  • 36 pancakes
  • 36 spice cookies
  • 2 pizza crusts
  • 1 chocolate cake
  • 12 chapatis
  • 13 samosas
A quick and rough estimate of how much it would cost to purchase these products pre-made came to about $170.00 dollars.

Before the global economic crisis a bag of flour cost me about $5.00 dollars. During food riot time that same bag was $12.00. That was about a year ago, and for some reason the baking area of my grocery store often looked like there had been a riot just before I got there. I grabbed my flour and ran. Things appear to have settled down since then and now a bag of whole wheat flour is about $6.00 and I can walk to the till. But even at the most expensive, it still looks to me like a bargain. And you can't put a price on the enjoyment of manipulating ingredients to create a staple, wholesome, life-sustaining food such as your daily bread.

My basic whole wheat bread recipe (makes 3 loaves):

3 cups lukewarm water 750ml
1 tsp sugar 5 ml
2 tbsp dry yeast 25ml
1/2 cup vegetable oil 125ml
1/2 cup sugar 125ml
1 tbsp salt 15ml
9 cups whole wheat flour

  1. In a mixing bowl pour in 1 cup lukewarm water; sprinkle with 1 tsp sugar and the yeast. Let proof for 10 minutes in a warm place.
  2. Whisk in the remaining water, oil, sugar and salt. Stir in flour 1/2 cup at a time to make a stiff dough.
  3. Knead for 4 or 5 minutes or until smooth, satiny, elastic and bounces back when pressed lightly with a finger. Consistency of an earlobe.
  4. Wipe bowl lightly with oil, drop in dough and turn to coat. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise in warm location (oven with light on works well) till doubled, 1-1 1/2 hours.
  5. Punch dough down, divide into three, and shape into loaves. Put loaves in lightly greased pans, cover, and return to oven for another hour.
  6. Remove loaves, keep covered, and pre-heat oven to 400 F. (200 C). Put bread in for 15 minutes at 400, then 15 more minutes at 375. Remove and turn loaves out on to counter/cooling rack.
  7. Pat self on back. Wait for loaves to cool a bit, then slice and enjoy.
All in all I spend about 20 minutes from start to first dough rising. Punching down, forming loaves, greasing pans and back in oven for second rising takes about another 20 minutes. By this point the bulk of work is done. After the second rising all that is left is the baking, the cooling, and the eating. Clean up is wiping the bread pans lightly with a damp, warm cloth, letting them dry and putting them away.

Good luck, and have fun. May you find enjoyment in the meditative pace that a day of baking provides. Learn with your kids. What a wonderful skill to pass on to them. Eat better, and reduce your impact at the same time. Learn to bake your own daily bread. Your ancestors did it. You can do it.


  1. Thank you for the great post! I'm off work tomorrow and am inspired to bake some bread- cheers!

  2. Hope the bread baking went well. There is nothing like fresh bread made from your own hands.


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