In my efforts to avoid the lazy trap and instead feel useful and productive, one of my favorite activities is baking.
I don’t consider myself a very skilled or experienced baker. My mom occasionally baked bread when I was younger (a common beginning-of-the-school-year or Christmas gift for our teachers, artfully wrapped in tin foil). We frequently made cookies, and did even get into crafting elaborate gingerbread houses. But generally, I’m not particularly adventurous or inventive with my baking–I have a few things I tend to make often with some variations, but I’m not talking crazy pastries, cupcake or complex baking adventures.
I’ll bake scones to go with breakfast (my favourite meal), buttery delicious biscuits to go with soups and stews, but for a number of reasons, I really enjoy baking my own bread.
Baking Bread is Therapeutic
I find baking both enjoyable and practical in that it produces a tangible result you can literally bite into. Bread is (perhaps undeservedly, given the relative ease) impressive. Even to myself. Seeing that golden, finished loaf or biting into a cute little sandwich made from my own bread is incredibly satisfying. There’s also something about the precision of baking that is therapeutic. You are led through by a recipe, but the process isn’t entirely mindless. It requires awareness, attention, presence.
My Bread is (usually) Healthy
While my forays into biscuits, cookies, scones and the like often involve a lot of butter, my own baked goods are generally pretty healthy, if only for the fact that I know what’s in them! No crazy chemical preservatives, fillers, or fake stuff–it’s usually some variation of yeast, flour and water. I stick with unbleached bread flour for white bread (which is just so good) and I hope to visit this incredible Toronto farmer’s market for some locally milled ingredients whenever I find time on a Saturday morning!
It’s hard to determine if it’s definitely cheaper to make one’s own bread (although it has been demonstrated that it likely is cheaper than store-bought bread). I’ve come to think that on the balance, though, I probably do save money, especially because I’d be more likely buy good-quality (expensive) bread from the farmer’s market than a sliced grocery store loaf.
On some items, I know for certain I am saving money. For example, in the last few months of setting up our store and sustaining our energy on Starbucks, I have developed an obsession with their Petite Vanilla Bean scones. $.95 is a cheap one-time indulgence, but after a while, even that will add up! So I found a recipe replicating the PVBS’s that is amazing.
As for the basic bread, my loaves are much smaller than the standard store-bought sliced bread. While these will last on the shelf a freakishly/frighteningly long time, I don’t go through tons of the stuff. So some of it does end up going bad. That’s a clear waste of money. My homemade bread is so good that it never goes bad! It’s the perfect amount for a few days’ worth of sandwiches, with a couple of breakfasts or a chilli night thrown in. It all gets eaten.
Which brings me to the final point…
Seriously SO tasty! Especially when warm. There’s a heartiness to homemade bread, even white, that you just don’t get at the store unless you’re able to splurge on the good stuff.
So, that’s a budding hobby of mine! Any good ones you have?
And here’s another recipe, a rather ingeniously easy one for seven-grain bread from House & Home magazine’s February 2012 issue:
1 cup unsweetened multigrain cereal, like Bob’s Red Mill 7-grain (I used PC Organics Ancient Grains)
1 cup boiling water
1 8-g. pkg active dry yeast (that’s 2 1/4 tsp)
1/2 cup orange juice, tepid
1 tbsp honey
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp sesame seeds, plus a little extra for garnish
1 white from a large egg, beaten
1. Combine cereal and boiling water in a bowl, mix and set aside for 20 minutes
2. In a small bowl, combine yeast, juice and honey. Set aside and let stand for 5 minutes
3. In a large bowl, combine whole-wheat flour with 1 cup all-purpose flour, salt, melted butter, 1 tsp sesame seeds and cereal mixture. Add yeast mixture, mix together and turn out onto a clean, lightly floured work surface. Add remaining 1/2 cup all-purpose flour a little at a time while kneading dough on work surface.
4. Knead dough for 10 minutes or until it becomes elastic and doesn’t feel sticky. Form into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl in a warm area and cover with a tea towel. Let stand 20 minutes.
5. Grease a 9″ loaf pan. Gently press dough into pan. Cover with tea towel and let stand 20 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350F. Brush loaf with a bit of egg white and sprinkle with a pinch of sesame seeds. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until lightly golden on top and a toothpick comes out clean.
**makes 1 9″ loaf**