So, the secret's out. I like me some bread! REAL BREAD. With gluten in it! There...I've said it.
Yes, I know gluten is currently out of vogue. But, before you embark on a gluten-is-bad-for-you tirade, please understand that gluten and I are like peas and carrots. We just belong together!(This post contains affiliate links.)
Having said that, I will gladly concede that not all gluten-engorged yummies are created equal. Sara Lee's sliced bread might look pretty in its perfectly-sealed plastic packaging. But, one quick glance at the ingredients proves that the packaging has about the same nutritional value as the bread itself.
For the past couple of years, I've been on a quest to rid my home of plastic that masquerades as food. The journey has been slow but quite steady. One of the biggest hurdles of my healthier eating plan was to begin making all our gluten...I mean bread...from scratch including our sandwich wheat bread.
I will confess that I have not reached 100% NO-STORE-BOUGHT status, as I still buy hamburger buns from the store and occasionally pick up free rolls at my daughter's piano lessons. But, Rome was not built in a day. As I mentioned, slow but steady...
With the size family that I have, committing to NO STORE BOUGHT was quite an undertaking. I'm not the only one who likes a big loaf of gluten around here. If truth be told, my family eats an entire loaf of bread every time we make sandwiches for lunch.
So, you can see, my decision to make bread from scratch...especially sandwich loaves...was a big one.
But, it can be done and it has been done! The road has been slow...yes. But, along the way, and through much trial and error, I have learned a few tips that make the DOING a whole lot more DO-ABLE.
Buy yeast in bulk and freeze
With the amount of yeast I go through for various bread-baking projects, I buy large quantities of yeast. I prefer Red Star, but have had success with others. Yeast is a living organism and is quite perishable when exposed to air. Once the package is opened, the yeast needs to either be used up or stored in an airtight container, preferably in the refrigerator or freezer. I usually put my unused yeast in an old, but clean jar and toss it in the freezer. This will ensure freshness for about six months.
Make loaves in bulk and freeze
The whole wheat bread recipe I use produces 2 large or 3 medium-sized loaves. I usually store one loaf in the pantry to be used up within four or five days and freeze the other loaf/loaves for later use. (Remember, homemade bread does not have any unnatural preservatives in it and therefore will have a shorter shelf-life than the store-bought versions.) Bulk baking not only saves time and energy, but also quite a bit of money.
For quite a while, I was using gallon-sized ziplock bags to store and freeze my bread. It's easy to see what a money waster that system was. After doing some research and getting some great advice from a few of my lovely readers, I found these shatter-proof, airtight Gourmet Living food storage containers at Shopko. They work perfectly for pantry and freezer storage. (I'm sorry I can not provide a link. I haven't been able to find them anywhere online.)
Tweak the white to wheat ratio
While many people are accustomed to eating store-bought wheat, they often gag on the taste of the homemade variety. Homemade wheat bread tends to be heartier and has a very distinctive flavor that takes some getting use to. Don't expect to fall instantly in love with your first homemade wheat loaf. Most of the time, it is a good idea to slowly acclimate your taste buds by beginning with a recipe that calls for a ratio of half white and half wheat flour. Each time you make bread, tweak the ratio just a bit so that there is more wheat and less white. Eventually, you'll work your way up to mostly wheat or find the ratio that works best for your personal taste.
Delegate the kneading process to a machine
I love to eat bread. I love to bake bread. But, I don't like to knead bread. The fact is, I don't NEED to KNEAD bread. The average wheat loaf requires about 20 minutes of solid hand-kneading. I'm all for a good daily workout, but a twenty-minute arm routine is not my first choice of strength training. I much prefer to outsource that part of bread baking to a machine. Typically when I make sandwich loaves (about once a week), I use the bread hook of my Kitchen Aid mixer. 4-5 minutes on high and 4-5 minutes on medium speed produces a well-kneaded dough just perfect for baking!
For other slow-rise breads such as cinnamon rolls or dinner rolls, I prefer to use the "dough only" setting of my bread machine. I let the dough mix and rise in the machine, but take it out to form and bake in the oven.
I prefer not to use my bread machine AT ALL for sandwich loaves as I think it tends to make the dough much more dense. But, then again, it could just be my machine.
If possible, grind your own wheat
While any homemade bread is better for you than the store-bought stuff (In my humble opinion, anyway.), bread made with freshly milled flour is best. Flour comes from wheat grain/berries which when milled, loose their protective seed coating and eventually a sizable amount of its nutritional value. By milling your own wheat berries at home, you are ensuring that you are gleaning the maximum amount of benefit from your flour. (There are actually numerous benefits of milling your own wheat, but, as I am not a "food blogger", I'll leave it to the experts to explain all of them!)
I don't personally own a grain mill. But, I've had the privilege of borrowing a Kitchen Aid grinder attachment from my mother-in-law who generously loans it to me whenever I need a fresh batch of flour. I grind up enough to fill 2 two-liter storage containers and freeze it to preserve as much freshness as possible. It is a fabulous piece of equipment...much more cost and space effective than purchasing a stand-alone mill.
I've added a grinder attachment to my wish list, but as The Hubs and I are fully committed to our debt-free lifestyle, I will have to wait until I have squirreled away enough spending money to purchase one of my own.
Repurpose homemade bread
Back in our store-bought days, I had grown a bit lazy and, sadly, a bit wasteful. No one in my family ever seemed to like eating the heels of the bread. In the summertime, it was easy to save the unwanted slices to feed to the birds at he park. At most other times throughout the year, however, I found myself just throwing them away.
Now, with the realization that I have poured blood, sweat, and tears into each loaf we eat...OK, so maybe not sweat and hopefully not blood...but definitely a few tears during the three-year-journey-to-find-the-perfect-loaf...
Anyway...now with the realization that I have labored to make each loaf, I refuse to throw out a single piece. When I have a spare heel...or more likely, two...I simply whip up a batch of fresh bread crumbs to toss into the freezer.
To make homemade bread crumbs:
Toast the bread slices and set them aside to cool completely. Use a blender to crumble the bread to your desired size. Freeze in a Ziplock for later use in meatballs, meatloaf, or as a coating for batter-dipped/fried foods.
You could also skip the blender and just cut the toasted slices into cubes to make a hearty stuffing.
Now it's your turn. Got any bread baking tips worth sharing? Leave them in the comments section. I know they'll be a huge help to many mommas who desire to make homemade a lifestyle.