The Joy of Bread

There are few things in this world better than fresh-baked bread, still warm and dripping with butter...

As I type this post, I am finishing a sampling from the batch of whole-wheat bread I baked this evening. When I bake bread, it is usually in the evening. If I grind the flour the night before, I can sometimes get it done by mid-afternoon, if the school subjects for the morning are not too demanding. However, the baker that gets up at 3 a.m. to provide fresh bread for breakfast I am not. The (uninterrupted) process usually takes about four hours from start to finish. (This includes two hour-long rises.)

It was only in the last couple of years that I have learned how to bake bread at all. I tried and tried as a teenager, but something was always missing. I am now convinced that the "something" was usually either yeast that was not past its expiry date, or a thermometer to make sure I had the proofing liquid in the right temperature range. Decent pans also help. (Love my Pampered Chef stoneware!)

I had to stop baking bread for a while this summer... it's a little tough to bake bread on a barbecue, after all! (Okay, I know there are breads that can be baked in a BBQ, but I didn't really have the time to experiment, either.) In reality, the break was probably from the end of April to mid-September. At one point, Jude bemoaned the fact with, "Mom, are you ever going to start baking bread again?"

Looking around at the hours of renovations and unpacking yet to be done, I flippantly replied, "I'll get right on that."

Once I finally managed to fit bi-weekly batches of bread into my groove again, I then decided it was time to try a sourdough starter again. Which I did. It's a beautiful starter. And I have yet to bake a loaf with it. Hopefully it doesn't die in my fridge from neglect.

I have also been learning a lot about the science of bread-baking this fall from a wonderful website called The Fresh Loaf. I haven't had nearly the time to dive into that I'd like, but I pick up bits here and there as I need to. It also was instrumental in my recent purchase of The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart from Amazon.ca, for which I am anxiously awaiting. There are several other bread-making books on my wishlist, but I figured I could master one new concept at a time, and I have a feeling this book will cover several.

About a month ago, I did a cost analysis on what it costs me to make organic whole-grain bread at home versus the organic sprouted stuff from the store, which still contains ingredients I would rather avoid most of the time (soy flour and canola oil being a couple of frequent offenders, not to mention preservatives.) The result, while approximate (it doesn't account for power consumed) was that the home-made was about half the cost of store-bought.

This was a relief. When I figured out the cost difference on making home-made applesauce versus buying organic cups from No Frills, buying pre-packaged actually came out cheaper! It is good to know that one can actually still save money making something at home. Having organic wheat available locally direct from the farmer certainly helps. (And grinding the flour myself.)

What about that other "hidden" cost of weight gain, though? I mean, it is way more tempting to snack on delicious homemade bread than dry stuff from the store. While I will admit that when I first started making it, we all consumed a little more than necessary, the novelty does wear off after a while. Now we do okay, eating about the same amount as we did when we were buying it--a loaf every day to three days. (Jude takes a sandwich to school most days, which accounts for a fair amount of it.)

Ahem... Okay, normally I exercise pretty decent self-control. But tonight, after all this bread talk? That tasted like another piece...