One of the bigger changes I've made in the last year has been to bake our own bread. "Why?" I can hear some of you moan. "Why on earth would you do such a thing when bread is so easy to buy at the store?"
Well, for a couple different reasons. First of all, additives. Have you ever noticed that store-bought bread stays edible for a very long time? This is due to additives that extend the shelf life of the product. In some people, like myself, regularly eating these additives can caused physical pain (I have fibromyalgia). So I try to stay away from such things whenever possible.
My second reason was price. Four years ago, I was able to go to my corner store and buy two loaves of bread for a dollar. Now, the cheapest bread I can find is $1.99 per loaf - that's four times the amount I'm used to paying! And it seems lately that the price is increasing even more. When I did the math, I discovered that a loaf of homemade bread costs less than a quarter (when you buy the ingredients in bulk). So homemade bread is cost-effective.
And let's be honest...nothing says "home" like the smell of fresh-baked bread!
When I started out, I experimented with many different bread recipes, trying to find one that suited our family. After much trial and error, I settled on the recipe below:
2 cups warm/hot water
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup veggie oil
6 cups flour
Mix together the warm water and the sugar until the sugar completely dissolves and the water appears clear (I tend to use hot water for this step - as hot as I can get it out of my tap. I've found that it cools to just the right temp by the time the sugar has dissolved). Add the yeast and stir to dampen. Let mixture sit for five minutes, until the surface of the water develops a creamy foam.
Add in the salt and oil. Work the flour in, one cup full at a time. Once too thick to mix with a spoon, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead the rest of the flour into the dough. Once dough is smooth, form into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning dough to coat. Cover bowl with a damp cloth and allow dough to rise until doubled (takes approximately an hour).
Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes and then divide the dough in half. Form each half into a loaf and place into two well-oiled loaf pans. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise for about 30 minutes, or until the dough is an inch above the rim of the loaf pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Allow to cool before slicing.
This recipe is wonderfully adaptive. You can exchange any portion of the white flour for wheat flour - I love to go half-and-half. You can exchange the sugar for honey to add sweetness. You can roll the dough flat and sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mix to make a swirled cinnamon loaf. My kids have even dyed the dough to make Rainbow Bread:
This recipe also makes great hot dog buns and hamburger buns. Just form the dough into the shape you want and cook it on a greased cookie sheet.