One of my goals is to reduce the amount of processed and mass produced foods my family eats. I’ve been setting things up on our little homestead with that in mind. And to a lesser degree, we’re producing the ingredients at home as well. You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to make much of the things we use every day; from food to cleaners to hygiene and beauty products. In this article, I’m going to focus on bread, specifically, sourdough bread. I’m an amateur baker and enjoy learning different baking techniques. As a wife and mother, the financial impact of moving to homemade is important to me so I’ll include the financial impact of homemade vs. manufactured.
What am I getting myself into?
Homemade foods are a commitment of time and effort. First of all, no one is born knowing how to do this. You have to learn it somewhere. If you’re lucky, you learned it from family while you were growing up. Or, if you have the resources, there are classes pretty much in every reasonable sized city and online classes. I’ve filled in a lot of the gaps in my cooking/baking repertoire by searching the internet. Recipes, techniques, tips, etc. can be found with a simple search.
Second, this takes time. It’s lots easier to grab a loaf of bread or jar of pasta sauce at the grocery store than make them from scratch. Start small; don’t expect to start to magically start making everything your family eats. Try to make one batch of bread each week. If you can do more, freeze the extra for the weeks you can’t get it done.
But if you can manage it, you’ll never want to go back to store-bought again. If you make the foods, you control the ingredients. You can replace high fructose corn syrup with a healthier sweetener like honey or maple sugar. You can reduce or even eliminate salt and sugar. And you can completely remove all artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. Although I don’t necessarily believe organic is be healthier, we know that reducing or eliminating preservatives and artificial ingredients is.
Commercial yeast has only been available to the general public since the early 1900’s, prior to that homemade bread was made using the wild yeast found in our environment. The most reliable way to do this is to use a sourdough starter that is basically flour and water with fermenting yeast that was “captured” from the air. Sourdough starter can be purchased from most specialty baking stores along with countless online companies like Amazon, Etsy, and my favorite baking/flour company, King Arthur Flour.
However, I decided to make my own sourdough starter using the water from our well and the local wild yeast in our home. King Arthur came through with the steps in this excellent blog article. No other sourdough starter will be quite the same – I thought that was kind of cool. To keep your starter healthy thus ensuring that you have successful baking, you need to “feed” it regularly; again, King Arthur to the rescue with their blog.
A couple notes about sourdough starter:
- Keep it in the refrigerator in a crock or glass container.
- You may see a clear liquid on the surface of your starter; this is simply alcohol from the fermenting process and can be stirred into the starter before feeding (which I do) or discarded.
- Use a kitchen scale to measure your flour. I feed my starter 4 oz of flour and 4 oz of water. 4 oz of water is ½ cup. 4 oz of flour is a “scant cup”. The scale is just easier.
- Keep your discarded “unfed” starter. You’ll remove half of your starter before feeding – about 1 cup – to keep a manageable amount of starter and ensure the pH levels are correct. Use this unfed starter to make lots of other stuff. (I have a suggestion later).
- Share your starter. You can also give this discard portion of your starter to family and friends who want to try making their own sourdough. This will be ready to use in a recipe after just one feeding.
I also use the KAF recipe for my weekly sourdough bread baking with just a couple tweaks. This took time and practice to get it just right for my environment and taste preferences. After about 2 ½ years of practice, I think my sourdough bread can hold its own next to pretty much any store brand sourdough. I’m not to the level of the artisan bakeries, but I’m working on it.
Here’s a tip about homemade bread: because it’s isn’t chock full of preservatives, you need to be sure to store it properly.
- Let it cool completely before you cut it – as difficult as that is – or store it.
- After cutting it, store it at room temperature – not in the refrigerator.
- Freeze extra loaves as soon as they’re fully cooled. Seal it well using a zipper bag, wrap in foil or with a vacuum sealer (to seal, not the vacuum part – ask me how I know that)
Bread is only the beginning of sourdough. Sourdough can be used as the leavener for pretty much anything that traditionally uses yeast. Honestly, I can’t give enough credit to KAF as the source of learning to bake with sourdough. I’ve read nearly everything on their blog for sourdough.
I’ve used my sourdough starter to make pretzels, baguettes, bagels, waffles, pancakes, etc. I haven’t tried it in dessert but that’s on my list to try.
And as promised, what to do with that discarded starter? I have a hard time just throwing it away, so I’ve found recipes using unfed or discarded starter. I got thousands of results with one simple search. My favorite recipe is for whole wheat crackers, basically Wheat Thins. I don’t remember where I got it, so here you go:
1 cup discarded sourdough starter
¼ cup lard (I promise this is better than shortening)
1 cup whole wheat flour
- Preheat oven to 400F
- Mix all ingredients together until mostly combined. Use a dough hook or knead by hand until all flour is mixed in and the dough is smooth. This is a “wet” dough and is a little sticky.
- Cover and let rise/rest for 8 hrs or overnight
- Divide into 3 pieces. Roll first piece out to about 1/8 inch. Brush or spray with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper or other seasoning.
- Cut into bite-size squares. A pizza cutter works well for this.
- Place on baking sheet with or without parchment paper (do not grease the pan)
- Repeat with remaining dough.
- Bake until crisp – about 8 to 10 min.
- Store in an airtight container
So, anyway…just for reference
I bake one recipe of sourdough bread each week which produces 2 loaves. My husband and I usually eat one loaf each week and the other goes into the freezer or to friends, family or neighbors. Sourdough bread is a bit more of a time commitment than regular yeast bread, but with a little practice, it’s definitely worth it. I haven’t bought bread from the store in almost 2 years.
Just a note on how this impacts our household:
|Pepperidge Farms Sourdough:||$3.99/loaf|
|Annual savings (1 loaf/week)||$180.52|
This may not seem like a lot, but that’s with one small change. That’s like one month of free electricity.