Before I began my homesteading journey, I was laid off from my job, as were many other Americans following the 2008 financial crash. It was not my fault, and my company was simply downsizing. That’s when I discovered baking, which helped me a lot in my quest for self-sufficiency.
Many people around the country were in the same boat: mortgage bonds failed, banks were bailed out, and the world’s poor were laid off. To put it mildly, it was a difficult year.
How baking helped me get through hard times
Even though there were hard times, I did everything a person is supposed to do after getting laid off. I worked incredibly hard to locate another job while trying my hardest to feel useful.
I cleaned the house as best I could, cooked lunch for my wife, who luckily kept her work, and took care of the kids.
One day, while cleaning the kitchen to keep my sanity, I discovered a bread machine my wife had purchased a while back. Suddenly, I had an idea. I’d bake some bread!
Doing so would save my family money while also providing me with something useful to do. That year, the bread machine saved my sanity.
I went online and searched for the owner’s manual since bread machines are not easy to use. I only used it a handful of times.
Despite its ease of use, bread making is an art, and bread machines rarely allow the baker to express his/her style. Even so, that bread machine introduced me to the world of baking, and I’ll always be grateful for that $10 thrift store bargain.
I prepared every type of bread I could think of, including pita bread, sourdough bread, wheat bread, and French loaves.
Looking back, that was most likely the year we began considering homesteading as a lifestyle.
Baking bread taught my family and me that we didn’t have to buy into the consumerist culture. I could bake bread for my family and myself. Perhaps I could do more.
The science behind baking
Baking, like fermentation and traditional farming in general, has a long history. Bread appears in the Bible and is pictured on the walls of Egyptian temples. For millennia, goddesses of baking and bread have been revered.
Bread enables humans to convert cereal grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and oats into edible food. Simultaneously, adding yeast to the dough and allowing it to rise allows individuals to get more out of their grains.
Bread is made up of only a few ingredients: flour, oil, salt, and water. The end result, on the other hand, is bigger than the sum of its parts. Bread, for example, has proteins that are not found in flour.
While bread and the gluten that holds it together have received a poor rap recently, I believe this is due to the way wheat is grown in our food system, as well as industrial ways of food preparation.
Regardless of the recipe, the process of making bread consists of a few steps: proving yeast or sourdough, mixing dough, kneading, first rise, kneading and shaping the dough into loaves, second rise, and baking.
In my perspective, the magic happens throughout the proofing and raising stages of the procedure.
Proofing is the process of activating and reawakening leavening agents. Yeast or sourdough starter is used as a leavening element in practically all breads.
Yeast is made up of only living yeast microorganisms. Yeast is a fungus that consumes sugars and carbohydrates and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide as a byproduct.
The limited quantity of alcohol created by bread yeast is burned away, but the carbon dioxide creates gas bubbles throughout the dough, giving most bread its fluffy texture and causing it to rise. The dough expands to accommodate the bubbles as the gas is produced.
The starter in the case of sourdough is a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). The wild yeast in sourdough, like pure yeast, creates carbon dioxide, but the bacteria in the starter make acid, which gives sourdough its characteristic flavor.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein that is formed during the baking process. Proteins in the flour are left behind as yeast consumes carbohydrates in the bread.
Gluten proteins help create the structure required for bread to hold the carbon dioxide produced by leavening.
White flours are higher in gluten than whole wheat flour. In reality, many whole wheat bread recipes ask for more gluten or a blend of wheat and white flour to get the desired “softness” in bread.
A pure whole wheat loaf is typically denser than bread with added gluten or white flour.
Experimenting beyond bread
Once you’ve mastered bread, you’ll want to go on to other tasty experiments. Muffins and cakes are just sweetened bread. Furthermore, because most muffins and cakes use chemical leavening agents, they do not require the rising period that bread does.
Despite their reputation, pie crusts are actually quite simple to create. I strongly advocate using lard instead of shortening for a flakier crust. Once you’ve mastered the pie crust, you can experiment with meat pies in addition to fruit pies.
This will make you the most popular person in your family, if not the entire neighborhood.
While most bread is leavened with sourdough or yeast, self-rising flour is used in a variety of baked items. Baking soda and baking powder are mixed in with self-rising flour.
Through a chemical process, both of these substances produce carbon dioxide, which causes a rise in breads and other baked foods. In fact, some recipes call for as much as a tablespoon of vinegar to make cakes and muffins fluffier.
Baking tips for the new baker
There are three things you can do to boost your chances of success if you get serious about baking.
- Use bread flour – You can avoid it by replacing all-purpose flour for bread flour in recipes that call for it, but bread flour makes a major difference in the texture of your bread. Bread flour contains higher protein, resulting in more gluten structures.
- Warm up the oven —Before you begin mixing the dough, preheat the oven to the lowest temperature. When it’s finished preheating, switch it off but don’t open the oven door.After you’ve finished mixing the dough, place it in the oven to rise. The additional temperature will aid in yeast development. Most modern homes have kitchens that are just a little too cold for yeast to do its thing due to climate control. Giving your dough a warm location to incubate will result in a better rise.
- Allow sourdough to rise overnight — Sourdough starter gives the bread an acidic flavor. Allow your sourdough to ferment overnight for the greatest flavor. You’ll get a better rise, better gluten development, and tastier bread if you let it proof for at least twelve hours and up to twenty-four hours if you like. The beautiful thing about a sourdough starter is that you can experiment with different proving times to achieve a varied flavor and texture.
Making sourdough starter
If you have baking pals, you may ask them for some of their sourdough starter. This is my favorite way to receive a starter because it teaches you more about baking by interacting with other bakers.
If no one in your family or close circle of friends bakes, you can make your own.
Consider your starting to be more of a bizarre pet than a baking ingredient.
The starter will last for decades if properly cared for and fed, and it will become more effective the older it gets.
To make a sourdough starter, you will need whole wheat flour and non-chlorinated water. As for the needed equipment, you will need one quart-size mason jar, a dish towel, and an elastic band.
1. Begin by combining 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water in a mason jar and thoroughly mixing them together. When you’re through, there should be no dry spots on the mason jar.
2. Wrap the dish towel around the jar and secure it with an elastic band around the jar’s lip. Allow no metal to come into touch with the starting, as metal can trigger a reaction and impede the growth of germs in the starter.
Store the beginning mixture on your kitchen counter away from direct sunlight, or I find it works better on top of my refrigerator as the heat in the kitchen rises, stimulating growth.
3. After 24 hours, discard half of the starter mix (or give it to someone) and replace it with 1/2 cup of flour and 1 cup of water, plus more if the starter becomes too dry. It should have the consistency of a slightly thick flour paste.
4. Repeat Step 3 for the next six days, feeding the starter every day. During this time, the starter will bubble, foam, and emit a sour, yeasty odor.
It may also generate a transparent, odorless liquid on top. This is known as beer. If it does make beer, discard it and continue to feed the starter as usual.
5. After six days, you should have approximately 12 ounces of starter. If you don’t, add more water and flour to compensate and repeat the process for three more days.
6. Place the starter in the refrigerator – it usually sits on the refrigerator door at our house, with the dish towel and elastic band still attached.
Feed the starter once a week, as previously described. Keep at least 4 ounces of starter in the jar whenever you make a dish with your starter, then add fresh flour and water to make up the difference.
Pita bread recipe
A simple pita bread recipe is my favorite bread recipe out of all the breads I’ve made so far. This recipe produces fluffy pita bread loaves that are popular with children and the elderly.
- 1 cup of warm water
- 2 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast
- 2 tablespoons of salt
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil
1. Combine the water, 1 cup of flour, and the yeast in a mixing basin and set aside for 20 minutes to proof. When the mixture is finished, it will be frothy and smell yeasty.
2. Stir in the remaining flour, oil, and salt until a sticky ball of dough forms. Knead the dough for 5-8 minutes in a stand mixer or by hand until it feels springy in your hands.
3. Grease a bowl large enough to hold at least twice as much dough as you have, then place the dough inside. Turn the dough over and lightly coat it with oil all over.
Wrap the wax paper and towel around the bowl. Allow the dough to rise for 2 hours.
4. After the dough has risen, lightly dust your work surface with flour. Knead the dough for another 2 minutes.
Making balls with the dough, divide it into eight fairly equal pieces. Place the dough on the work surface, dust it, and cover it with a towel.
Allow it to rise for another 30 minutes.
5. Oil the baking sheet as you wait for the dough to rise. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit and place the baking sheet inside to warm up.
6. After the dough has risen, flatten each ball into circles approximately 8 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick.
7. Place one of the dough circles on the baking sheet. Allow it to bake for about 2 minutes, then flip it over and cook for another 1 minute. Remove the bread from the oven and place it in a bowl. Repeat this step for the remaining dough rounds.
Being able to eat warm fresh bread in your tummy during a crisis scenario can be a great morale booster, let alone a means to get calories. Bread goes nicely with almost anything else you eat, and you should have the knowledge and resources to make bread whenever you like.
With the information provided in this article, you will be able to give baking a try and experiment with the basic steps needed to make your own bread.
This article was submitted by Curtis S. Murray.