In Tough Times, You Really Ought to Learn to Make Your Own Bread
In times such as these when people are watching where every penny goes, you really should consider investing some time in your kitchen. You really should learn to make your own bread. Don't be afraid of it. It's not as time-consuming as you may think and the benefits are well worth the time you do invest. It's an investment, yes. A little work on your part will help a little bit financially and it will also give you a better appreciation of controlling what you eat.
First of all, seeing how it is a tough economy, don't go out and buy a bread machine. Yeah, they make bread making a total no-brainer but they can be costly and they take up quite a bit of counter space (not to mention the yeast and flour you have to buy that is ONLY for bread machines). Do you have one of those stand up mixers with a dough hook (KitchenAid)? If you do, that's great! You won't have to knead your dough. That dough hook will do it all for you. If you don't have one of those, get yourself a nice clean and smooth wooden spoon and prepare to release a lot of tension onto a pile of very sticky dough.
In the age of the internet and the wealth of information contained therein, you have no excuse for not finding a great beginner's recipe for bread. Non-leavened breads are very easy, but they tend to be a little cakey in most cases. Flat breads and tortillas are the easiest of breads (although some tortillas don't use yeast). I make a big batch of Indian Naan once a week and my family adores it.
If you want to make BREAD bread, be prepared for the unexpected. My first several attempts at bread-making produced something that more closely resembled a brick. I researched what was going on and I found a couple of pointers that I'd like to share.
The proofing stage, in which the dough rises, is extremely important in avoiding bread-bricks. However, yeast can be picky about where it would like to grow. Recipes will instruct you to let the dough rise in a warm draft-free place. Your countertop is the absolute WORST place for this. How about your oven? Your oven is actually perfect but you need to prepare it first. This method works for me every time. Before you begin making the dough, set your oven to WARM. Place a casserole dish on the bottom rack of your oven and pour about 1-2 inches of boiling water (BE CAREFUL HERE) and then close the door and go about making the dough. When the dough is in it's proofing bowl, cover it with a dish towel (you really don't want to use plastic wrap or foil here) and turn off your oven. Place the proofing bowl in your oven on the rack above the casserole dish of hot water. The warm, humid environment causes the dough to rise perfectly every time.
Another thing you need to be extremely careful of, even anal is the quality of your yeast. Make sure it is not past it's expiration date. If it is, your bread will not rise. Since I make a lot of bread, I don't buy the little packets of yeast. I buy the little jars and keep them in my refrigerator. If you choose to do this and are confronted with a recipe that calls for yeast measured in packets and not teaspoons, worry not. One packet of yeast is approximately 2 1/4 teaspoons.
Another great way to utilize your new-found talent of bread making is to make your own pizza dough. Pizza night is a dearly beloved weeknight tradition for many families, so why not make pizzas that are more healthy and, quite frankly, tastier every once in a while? Just find a good pizza dough recipe, make a double batch, and freeze the dough in two balls before letting them proof. Then the morning of pizza night, set your ball of dough out in a greased dish (I like margarine) and rub a little margarine on the dough ball, cover it with a dish towel and place it in your cool oven to thaw and proof all day. When you get home, the dough only needs to be punched down and shaped. Add toppings and you've got pizza in about the same time it takes for it to be delivered.
If you make the time to get really good at bread making, it will not seem as much a chore as it is a joy. You will learn to love the warm yeasty smell that fills your house. Even more, you will love that first slice of warm bread being shoved into your face.
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