I’m still at home coughing, feeling bad for not being at work. I thought to myself this morning, is there anything I can contribute with in this crazy situation we all are in, except drinking my tea and doing everything I can to get well? I thought for a while about any homesteading skills I have that could be useful for others. Knowing how to bake my own bread from scratch is not a unique skill, but a very useful one, especially now. I’ve been passionate about baking since I was a toddler in my mamas kitchen (and my grandma’s kitchen.) I became an apprentice to a baker, and after finishing my apprenticeship I worked as a baker for 9 years, (before becoming a teacher.)
I actually had a baking blog 8 years ago, until I started traveling so much with my RV that it sort of died out. I love bread. I love mixing the dough with exciting ingredients, I love kneading the dough, I love baking the bread and devouring the scents, and I love eating bread every day. (One may argue how good it is for you to eat bread every day, but that is for another day. My bread is sugar free, organic and filled with things that are good for you.) Maybe the bread isles at your grocery store is empty due to the mass history around the corona virus? Maybe all the bread isles at all the grocery stores in your entire state/country is empty? Maybe there isn’t any yeast available anymore. There are things you can do, to still get that delicious bread.
I’m going to talk about two different ways anyone can try. These are very simple, inexpensive methods. Both methods can be used with any type of flour, but for a faster result I use organic flour when I can. Organic is always my preference, but in these times you work with what you have. Organic flour is not treated the way regular flour is, and have more good bacterias that will work for you. That is why you will se a higher, faster rise of your dough if you have access to organic flour.
The first method is as simple as skipping the yeast, and making the bread according to your proved recipe, (or a recipe you find online,) but without the yeast. If you do this you need to make the dough long before you are planning to eat the bread, preferably 20-30 hours ahead of time. You knead the dough and put it back in the bowl, cover it lightly with some kind of fabric (whatever you have on hand,) and put it in the warmest place in your house. Now you just let it sit, eventually the bacterias from the flour and the air will make the dough rise. There are bacterias everywhere. Many of them are good and could be put to use. After 20-30 hours you should see some difference in the dough. It may look something like this.
Gently knead it into loaves, bread cakes, or individual buns. Do not over work the dough! Place them on a baking sheets, or in a cast iron skillet, bread form etc. Let your bread sit covered for a few more hours (longer is better. You could let it sit to next day if you are patient,) and bake according to the recipe you are following. If you do not have electricity, it works fabulous to bake in a cast iron skillet over a fire.
Maybe you already guessed that the second method is sourdough. Yes, sourdough is always a great option. My preferred flour for a sourdough start is organic stone ground rye flour, you use the flour you have on hand. There are many many ways to create a sourdough start, most of them including feeding your start every day for 4-5 days. I will share a very simple beginner start. The water you add to your start should be slightly warmer than your fingers.
1 Cup water
1 Cup flour
Mix in a big glass jar, and leave in a warm place, with the lid not completely closed. If you don’t have a glass jar take a mixing bowl and cover with a towel. Leave your jar/bowl in a warm place for three days, stirring gently once a day. The picture below shows what it looks like Day 1.
10 Cup water
10 Cups flour
Add the new water and flour to your start. Mix gently until all the start is smooth. Let stand for one more day.
Your start is ready. Divide into ten equal parts, I usually store them in small plastic bags, but you can use any little storage container, jar etc. Save one part sourdough out to bake with, and put the rest in your freezer for another time. Individual sourdough starts will last up to one year in the freezer, and around a week in the fridge (my original recipe tells me that it lasts 4-5 days in the fridge, but I have used starts that’s been in the fridge more than a week on several occasions, with good results.)
One part sourdough in this recipe is equal to 2×16 oz packages of dried yeast, or 2x 50g packages of fresh yeast. Substitute the yeast in any recipe with your sourdough start. When you use sourdough in your regular bread add a little less flour, and keep your dough sticky. Knead the dough gently. Let the dough rest two times, preferably 3 hours the first time, and around 90 min the second time. Longer is better.
I hope these tips helps a fellow bread lover. As you start using these methods you will tweak your favourite recipes, and find a perfect way to make your bread just the way you like it. Trust your gut feeling, and don’t be scared to try.
If you do happen to still have some yeast left, save a piece of the last dough you make with yeast, and use that as a starter for your next bread, keep saving a new piece of every dough you made, so that you are exchanging/or building up the starter every time you bake. A starter like this can last up to two weeks in your fridge, you can freeze it as well. If you freeze it be sure to thaw it in the fridge over night.
If you have kids at home, why don’t make baking a fun activity to do together? Besides the fun, baking is math, science, reading, and art 😉 Stay safe!