(Post written by my daughter, Amanda)
I’ve been starting to crave good, crusty bread. Grocery store bread tends to be filled with preservatives to keep it shelf stable for as long as possible, and I try to avoid unnecessary food additives. I could buy organic bakery bread, but that breaks the bank at $5 or more a loaf in our city. So, I seem to be left with only one good option – make it myself!
A lot of people, myself included, are at first intimidated by the idea of making bread. Having to “proof” your yeast, knowing when it has “doubled” in size, etc. can seem like a lot. However, after quite a few attempts with very few issues I can attest to the fact that it isn’t rocket science (and I would know, my partner is an astrophysicist.)
The most important thing I can recommend is finding a good recipe that works for you. I personally recommend this one, from food.com: http://www.food.com/recipe/crusty-french-bread-101476 The recipe is simple enough to make two nice loaves without any difficulty (hopefully) and basic enough that you can easily fiddle around with different washes and baking options to make your ideal loaf.
A few more things to note:
Proofing your yeast simply means making sure your yeast is still alive. Always be sure to test your warm water on your wrist, much like testing milk for a baby. If it’s too hot for your skin, it could kill the yeast. If the yeast is active you’ll hear a quiet fizzy noise, like soda, coming from the bowl and the water will look a bit frothy.
Washes can drastically change the appearance and outer texture of your loaves. An egg yolk mixture makes the darkest crust. Egg whites give a nice bit of sheen and a slightly darker crust than no wash. Spraying water on the crust will make it crustier.
By far the best way to get a nice crusty, “proper” bread texture is to put a pan of boiling water on the rack below your bread while baking. I tried this on my latest batch and the results were fantastic!
A note on kneading – I am a cheater! I’m fortunate enough to have been able to buy a Kitchenaid with a bread hook, which makes kneading infinitely easier. If you don’t have a mixer that can knead for you, make it a family affair! Everyone can take turns and children LOVE to get their hands dirty in baking.
My last recommendation would be to keep notes on your variations. Write down washes, temperature, whether you used the boiling water pan, etc. so you won’t forget how you achieved your perfect loaf.
$5 or more for an organic bakery loaf
My batch of two loaves: About 50 cents per loaf
MONEY SAVED!! $4.50 per loaf or $234.00 per year!