Adventures in Bread Baking

I have a confession to make and hopefully it won’t cause me to lose my relatively small fan base here at Cooking up a Story (Thanks for reading Mom). I don’t usually buy organic bread. There I said it, I’ve been so wrapped in up eating seasonally and buying locally that I forgot all about the bread factor. When it comes to my bread purchases the focus for me is always making sure that I buy the loaf made out of Whole Grains or one with high fiber content, I fail to look for the labels that say “All Natural” or “Organic”. Not to mention that there is a whole other dynamic that goes on in my household where my husband (get ready for it) still eats WHITE BREAD. I’ve made some serious head way with his eating habits but this is one he stands firm on. He has a real fear of Whole Grain bread.

Once discovering this major faux pas in my buying habits I quickly tried to remedy it. I found myself pretty disappointed with the selection at my local Supermarket and since the nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joes is almost an hour away I quickly thought to myself, “you can always buy organic flour and make bread”. I’m not new to bread making, I owned a bread machine once (pre-culinary school) and I used to help my grandmother make scones, dinner rolls, and buttermilk biscuits growing up but I’m not particularly good at it. Loaded down with every type of organic bread flour imaginable I headed home to knock out a few loaves. While driving home I began to have flashbacks of culinary school and the inedible bricks of bread that have since followed. Like many I was notorious for overworking bread dough, I just love the feel of bread dough.

The next thing I needed was a fool-proof recipe. I pulled out my copies of The Bread Bible, Baking with Julia and How to Cook Everything along with clippings from newspapers and magazines. I then recalled that gem of a book I reviewed a while back, Artisan Bread in Five minutes a day. I remember when I received my copy of the book, for about two weeks straight I was a bread baking fool, testing the authors’ version of the now infamous no-knead process. But soon I had another book to review and put an end to all of those crusty Boules my family had quickly gotten used to. I put the other books away (Sorry Beth, Julia, and Mark) and went back to the process that was most successful for me. The first few loaves weren’t that great, not sure what I was doing wrong but they just weren’t as tasty as I had remembered but by the time loaves five and six came out of the oven nearly a week later, I was seeing some definite progress. My three year old really seemed to like all the bread baking as well, I think she knows the smell because whenever there is a loaf in the oven out she comes from wherever she was hiding and sits on the kitchen floor waiting for me to pull it out of the oven.

Feeling pretty confident and quite full of myself I decided to try my hand at making some sandwich bread for my husband. This recipe was such a hit I fear his Wonder Bread just won’t do anymore (YEAH!). I have committed myself to making bread every other week, however as wonderful as homemade bread is it doesn’t have the shelf life of the store bought stuff. So to supplement I will keep loaves of store bought organic bread in the deep freezer.

* I used King Arthur Organic flour in all of the recipes mentioned.

So tell me, do any of you bake bread on a regular basis? Have any good recipes or tips to share?

Next Time –- It’s Not easy Being Green: More dirty little secrets from my Sustainable Kitchen.

rp_heather-philly-flower-show-2.jpgHeather Jones is a wife, mother, freelance food writer, and graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. She has worked for Gourmet Magazine, TV Personality Katie Brown, and the New York based Indian-fusion restaurant Tabla. Heather resides in New Jersey with her husband and two daughters. She is a strong supporter of the Sustainable Food Movement and believes that education is the key to making a difference.


  1. Nicole (aka June1) says

    Hi Heather,
    Glad your family appreciates your efforts!

    Hydration and dough development are essential for bread to be moist and delicious for days. That is where sourdoughs have an advantage, but you can do a couple of things to achieve similar results.

    First, make a pre-ferment (or sponge) by mixing flour, water (in your case, milk), and the yeast mixture together, then let this sponge sit for a few hours. This both hydrates the flour better, but also develops the protein network. You’ll love the flavor, too!

    Next, when you select recipes, check that the total amount of liquid is at least 60 percent when compared to the amount of flour–so if you are using 18 ounces of flour, you’d want nearly 11 ounces of liquid. That sounds like a lot, and it take a bit of time for the flour to absorb it, but the finished result is outstanding. This is how artisan bakers and industrial bakers work.

    And one last tip–try not to use much flour when kneading. You’d be surprised how quickly this changes your finished bread. Remember that two tablespoons of flour can turn a cup of milk into a thick gravy–it’s strong stuff!

    I am happy to answer any questions about ingredients on bread labels. . . perhaps I should cover that in a future story.

  2. says

    Heather, I’ve been avidly following your posts on converting your family to more sustainable eating habits. Kudos to you for sharing your experience!

    I’ve began baking my own bread too, because I look on the labels of grocery-store bread and see so many ingredients I don’t understand. Our previous favorite was a honey-oatmeal bread: But I tried that maple bread recipe last night and now I think we have a new favorite bread! Thanks for the pointer.

  3. says

    Frank – That Swedish Limpa sounds wonderful

    Sam – That famous “no knead” recipe is next on my list to try and I would love to eventually work my way up to doing sourdough. As far as the increased yeast in the five minute recipe I’d never given it much thought until now…Thanks !

    LIz – Whole Wheat sourdough baguettes…I’m drooling. Thanks for the tips on Peter’s recipes.

    *So many more things to learn about bread baking, I can’t wait to get started on my next batch.

  4. says

    I’m baking whole wheat sourdough baquettes today (with organic flour from Bob’s Red Mill) to pull myself out of a funk. I’ve tried a lot of methods and have had the best success with Peter Reinhart’s recipes in Whole Grain Breads. The sandwich breads, no-flour breads, focaccia, ryes are all delicious. Directions are clear and pretty fool-proof. I posted on some of my mishaps with bread recipes from older cookbooks back in January:

    The timer’s beeping; the bread is ready. It’s hard to let it cool off before digging in.

  5. says

    Welcome to the world of bread baking. Couple of points. For an easy recipe I would try the “no-knead bread” that made a sensation in the Times a couple of years ago. I refer to it here:

    Secondly, if you get into baking, sourdough seriously increases shelf life. I keep week-old bread, even 10-day old bread in a bag on the counter and eat it. It takes a LONG time to go stale. But to make good sourdough takes a bit of a commitment to the process.

    The problem I have with bread in five-minutes a day is the huge amount of yeast they use, which compromises flavor, IMHO. It is a recipe to start with, not end with.

  6. says

    Thanks for giving our organic flour a try. My favorite bread, out of all of the ones on our site, is our version of Swedish Limpa. I like it for breakfast, cut thick, toasted and covered with a healthy layer a jam. Like your daughter, the smell of rye bread baking in the house, just makes me happy. Good luck with the blog. Frank @ KAF, baker/blogger.

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