Crusty Bread: Buy It vs. Make It
This scenario has happened way too often: I throw together a stew, then realize, about an hour before dinner, that we have no crusty bread to go with it. With no time to bake bread on the spot, we end up with mushy slices of sandwich bread being dipped into my perfect stew, or I send my husband to the store at the last minute, which turns a nice cozy evening into an annoying hustle-bustle.
On the other hand, making bread requires the exact kind of advanced planning and fuss that this scenario points out I am incapable of. Do I make bread? Yes, at least twice a month—on long, drawn-out Friday afternoons, my dedicated daughter-time, when the older one comes home from school early and we have all the time in the world to mash whatever she happens to have in her hands into the dough and watch it rise in the sunny kitchen.
Anyway, now that I’ve thoroughly grossed you out, I’m going to say that paying $5 for a loaf of artisan bread (more if you’re too picky for your local supermarket) seems a bit much. I mean, the $5 isn’t a bit much, until you realize that you could be spending about a dollar-fifty. You heard me right.
I’ve tried a couple of different recipes. I think we’ve all realized by now that I’m a crazy Mark Bittman fan-girl, but his no-knead bread recipe wasn’t bossy enough for me. Your bossiness may vary; I like to know exactly how long to rise things, and how to adjust the recipe for different kinds of yeast. For this, I turned to the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book, which I’d been circling suspiciously for months. Turns out, it’s easy, you can make enough for four loaves way ahead of time, and then just pull it out of the fridge when you need it. So, like, when you buy the stew meat, you make the dough. Even I can do that.
The main ingredient here is the flour. The fancy King Arthur flour is about $5 for 5 pounds, which comes out to approximately 25 cents a cup. Safeway house-brand all-purpose flour is more like 16 cents a cup, but you get what you pay for, sister. (For more on choosing the right flour, see “Flour: Know Your Label Lingo.“) Now watch this magic:
About 6.5 cups of flour = $1.60 if you’re fancy, under a dollar if you’re not. And it makes four loaves, so that’s forty cents a loaf. Forty. Cents. A loaf.
The rest is yeast, salt, water, and time, which are all as close to free as you’re going to get in this crazy old world of ours. This is significant savings, if you’ve perfected your effortless bread-baking and advanced planning. So, I mean, do that.
Like I said, I make challah two to three times a month, and I know what a colossal pain in the tushie it is. I just happen to like the process, but if you aren’t into it, it’s drudgery. The no-knead, easy-to-prepare process is key: this method takes most of the effort out of the process. I throw together the dough in about ten minutes using the food processor while making dinner. I let it do its first rise while watching TV, and it’s in the fridge till I need it. The only problem with the cleanup is that dough gets sticky if you leave it around too long. But it’s not bad.
The longer you let it sit around, the richer the flavor. But is it better than the stuff from the bakery? I’d say it’s about the same, except that having fresh bread right out of the oven—steaming hot so that butter melts just looking at it—hits people right in the medulla oblongata. Kaboom. A nurturing orgasm. (Especially with loaves like the Leek and Chive Bread pictured above.) So there’s that.
I know you’re feeling intimidated by the idea of baking your own bread. I know, I know, it seems hard, but it’s not. Give it a try on a low-stakes weekend, when nobody’s going to judge you and you can make it into French toast if it fails. But making is so much cheaper than buying, in this case, it’s just insane not to at least try.
Verdict: Make It!
Rise and shine with these bread recipes!