Nothing quite matches the aroma of fresh, homemade bread baking in the oven. Enjoying the hot, crusty goodness straight from your own kitchen with a smear of sweet cream butter is about as close to heaven as it gets.
Like so many other skills, baking your own bread has become a lost art. However, in the quest for more self-sufficient living, this is one skill you probably want to master. For those of us who have grown up without a family member to pass on this heirloom skill though, where do we start?
The answer is my new favorite cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. A cousin recommended the book to me as she delved into the world of baking, and I fell in love with it the minute I flipped through its pages.
This is not your ordinary cookbook, where normally recipes are listed in a seemingly endless fashion for you to try with little or no explanation. This cookbook actually takes the first bit of the book to simply explain how to make bread with their method, then the authors walk you through the recipes, which are ordered (more or less) from simple to more complex.
The “method” proposed in this book is part of what makes it so wonderful. This bread is incredibly simple to make; more than likely, you have all the ingredients and equipment already sitting in your own kitchen (although there are a few pieces you may want to invest in if you decide to embrace bread braking). The dough is mixed and allowed to rise in the refrigerator, and as you want to prepare bread, you simply reach into your dough bowl, cut out a hunk of dough, and bake away. The original recipe, which is easily doubled or tripled, will make three to four loaves of bread and can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. The idea is that you can spend ten minutes one Saturday to whip up your dough, and then you will have all you need to bake bread for the next week or two.
This book was written with busy families in mind, so it is a knead-free bread dough, and with the exception of mixing and shaping the dough, there is little you have to do with it except wait for it to rise.
After you have mastered the original recipe, you can branch out to try the other recipes in the book, which include homemade bagels and pretzels, pizza dough, and even the ever-familiar soft white sandwich bread.
The original recipe calls for nothing more than flour, water, salt, and yeast, so if you are looking to keep all those strange chemicals and preservatives out of your diet, this is an excellent way to do so. Just keep in mind that preservative-free bread is not going to have the unnatural shelf life of two weeks or more you that may have grown accustomed to; you will want to eat the bread in a day or two to avoid spoilage. (This has never been a problem in my family—it rarely lasts past the night I bake it!) Additionally, the recipes address (and encourage) incorporating whole-wheat flour into your baking. It’s another way to make the bread even healthier for your family.
For those of you off-gridders who balk at the idea of using store-bought yeast, there are a couple of solutions. Once you are familiar with the recipes and method, you can adapt them to work with a sourdough starter of your choice. The other option is to use your own home-dried yeast. Recipes for both of these were featured on Off the Grid News earlier this year, so click here if that is an option you would like to explore. 
And finally we come to the price. The book price is very reasonable—it can be obtained on Amazon and other online booksellers for less than twenty dollars. It is even available as an eBook if you so desire. As far as the price of baking your own bread, you will find it wonderfully lower than the costs associated with buying pre-baked bread from the grocery store. The kosher salt and yeast (if you choose to buy yeast rather than make it) will run you about three dollars. Add in another three dollars for a bag of flour, which will make at least two batches of dough. That’s a mere six dollars for up to eight loaves of bread. I don’t know about you, but even on sale, bread usually runs around two dollars at my local grocery store—even more if I want some crusty French bread.
If you want to cut the cost of a family staple, prepare healthier food for your family, and continue to become more self-sufficient in your living, baking your bread is an option you will want to examine closely. Even if you have already been baking your own bread for a while, chances are, there are some tips in this book that you can utilize. For the rest of us, this is a great place to start the adventure of home bread baking. Pick up a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day—I promise you won’t regret it.
©2011 Off the Grid News