BREAD BAKING TIPS - Economics of Home Baking

Turin Pizza

            It might be time to start shopping more in stores with cement floors. Money is tight these days. There is talk of recession and even depression. Now is a great time to start making your own bread and saving a little money in the process.

            I like to use the best and freshest ingredients in my bread baking, but dollars matter. The fifty-pound bag of unbleached bread flour that I have been buying from a food broker has gone from $14 US in the last year to more than $28 US. That is just too much to pay. It doubled in price in the last year due to the increase in energy costs. Remember $145 a barrel oil? With oil now at about $50 US a barrel, my flour is still $28 US! I have just started buying 50 pound bags of bread flour at a big-box store for $14 US. It is bleached vs. unbleached, but for the money it is a better deal. They also have the best price on 2 pound bags of active dry yeast.

            Home economics used to be taught in schools. We are all watching our money today and there are ways to save. When using a "lesser" flour, try soaking it for a few hours before baking. I define a "lesser" flour as one that is not freshly ground or has a lower than optimum gluten content. My food broker's flour is freshly ground at the mill and sold within days. Grinding your own flour is fresh ground by definition. Flour purchased at a big-box store may have been sitting in a warehouse distribution center for who knows how long. You may not make that much bread and a 50-pound bag is around for quite a while. The fresher the flour the better, but when you are watching your money there are things that you can do.

            You can store the flour in your chest freezer. Freezing will preserve the freshness and moisture content. Keep your yeast in the freezer once you have opened the bag. Try putting bay leaves in your flour to stop little black bugs from taking over. If you have bugs, sift the flour to remove them. In a lot of places around the world the bugs would be considered a source of needed protein.

            The idea of soaking the flour in water is because flour loses moisture over time. The drier the flour, the faster your bread will go stale. Remember, the baking process simply removes the water from the loaf after it has taken its shape in the oven. Industry actually measures the moisture content of flour with expensive metering equipment and uses the results to formulate their batches of dough. By soaking your flour in water we are increasing the moisture content of the flour and our resultant loaf will stay fresher longer. (Note: I never over bake my loaves.)

            We will get an added benefit from soaking our flour. Less expensive flour generally has lower gluten content. All purpose flour has lower gluten content than bread flour. Premium/artisan bread flour has an even higher gluten content. By soaking the flour we will activate more of the gluten in our flour. We will in effect stretch the gluten we have further. We get the effect of having a higher gluten content than we actually have. We can get better results with a "lesser" flour. It is a way to make your food dollars go further.

            Remember, the gluten is the glue that forms the structure of our loaf. The gluten forms the air pockets in the loaf. The glue becomes sticky when mixed with water. It is generally known that kneading activates or works up the gluten. What I am saying is that soaking adds to the effect of kneading. Soaking will give you a bigger, fuller, lighter loaf than dough that was kneaded only and not soaked. That is how we get more from a "lesser" flour without paying more for a "greater" flour.

            To sum all this up do the following: Mix equal parts of flour and water and put in a tsp. of yeast. Let it sit for a few hours or even over night. Use this starter in your next batch of bread. Just substitute starter for equal portions of water and flour as called for.

            Learn more bread baking tips in the privacy of your own home and at your own pace in my eight hour take at home baking class Video Bread Artisan Series.

            Or maybe you want to learn how to master sourdough Video Sourdough.

More Tips at the following links:

Temperature and the Craft of Bread Baking

Pizza: Thick Crust vs. Thin Crust

Shaping Hot Dog/Hamburger Buns

A Brief Recent History of Sourdough

Artisan Breads

It's Always the Yeast

Using Enough Yeast?

Buying Yeast

Baking Issues & Stones

Active Dry vs. Instant Yeast

Coloring Your Loaf - Dark Bread

Artisan Sponge Starter

Wholesome Ingredients

Whole Milk Mozzarella for Pizza

Elusive Oven Shoot or Oven Spring

About Flour

Economics of Home Baking

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