We live in a world of DIY and I am generally for it, especially when it comes to the food I put in my body. Commercially available foods are crammed with preservatives, hidden sugars, unnecessary animal products, and artificial colors and flavorings. Don’t get me wrong, I love Flaming Hot Cheetos, but if I am going to put garbage in my body, I am going to do it intentionally and for my own enjoyment, not because some CEO wants a product to be shelf stable for a month and still taste like food.
This attitude has led me to try a lot of things in my kitchen, some of them very much worth it and others, not so much. I am going to spread the knowledge around with posts titled “Worth it or Nah?” in the hopes that I can encourage you to take more control over the foods that are worth it, and avoid wasting your energy on the projects that are not. If it’s worth it, I’ll also post a recipe.
The criteria for being worth it are:
2. Cost. This includes time costs and dollars compared to what you would pay in the store.
3. Versatility of the skills and techniques you will learn.
4. Quality of commercially available options.
5. Acknowledgment and accolades. Because who doesn’t want their friends and family, between omnomnoms, to be like, “you made this at home?! You are an unparalleled kitchen Einstein and I am naming my firstborn after you!!!”
Today, I am here to tell you that homemade bread is worth it!
Bread is prehistoric. Bread is made by people all over the world without google, timers, heat-controlled ovens, or bakeware. I started making bread when I was 10 as a way to get out of playing outside during the summer. I did it on my own using only a Betty Crocker cookbook I bought at a garage sale for guidance. I am certain that you are more capable than my 10 year old self with her 40 year old cookbook!
Bread is also nearly fool-proof in that even the massive mistakes still taste great! I once made a dark rye loaf with dough so dry that it couldn’t rise at all. After it was baked, it was just a dense brown ball. But guess what! It still tasted amazing so I just sliced it up, threw it on a cheese plate, and called it “a kind of soft cracker.” People ate it up and thought I was a regular Martha Stewart for making my own fancy crackers because they tasted great!
When it comes to the cost of ingredients, bread is CHEAP. The only ingredients in bread are yeast (cheap), flour (cheaper), salt (basically free), and water (literally free). Short of topping it with gold leaf, I don’t even know how one could make bread expensive.
One thing you should buy that is not an ingredient if you want to get serious about making bread is a kitchen scale. You will find recipes that call for volumes of flour, but all knowledgeable bakers and the best bread cookbooks measure flour by weight, and for lots of good reasons!
But you don’t have to buy a scale either. I got along fine without one for two decades and only caved after the aforementioned incident with the soft cracker. I had followed the recipe to the letter, but didn’t sift my flour. Because my flour was densely packed, I ended up with more flour per cup than the recipe actually needed and my dough ended up too dry. I probably would have clocked the problem had I not been working with a new kind of flour.
However, I think all kitchens could use a scale. They are inexpensive, take up very little kitchen space, and are highly versatile. You can buy a pricey scale but there is no need to. This is the scale that I use. It is $13 on Amazon and I’ve had it for five years now. I haven’t even had to change the battery yet!
While bread doesn’t eat up much money, it does take time. Many bakers will actually tell you that time is the fifth ingredient in bread, because time plays a huge role in the flavor and texture of your loaf.
But most of the time between mixing and eating bread is actually spent neglecting your dough. Bread is an introvert, and the less you mess with it, the better. The time spent actually managing your bread is de minimis. As long as you can plan to be near your dough after it’s proved, after the second rise, and to pull it out of the oven, bread really doesn’t take much time at all.
Bread is versatile. If you know how to make bread, you know how to make sticky buns, dinner rolls, pizza, cheese bread, monkey bread, focaccia, and all flavors of loafs. Most bread recipes are enough for two loafs, so I usually kneed something tasty into the second loaf because I can. Just keep in mind that adding ingredients can increase the amount of time your bread needs to bake.
You can also play with flour when you make bread, and there are many amazing bakers on instagram who make colorful breads using all kinds of seeds, grains, and flowers in their flour.
I am not talking about sourdough and other levain breads here, because I found that maintaining wild cultures is truly not worth it and will write about that another time, but learning to make bread with commercially produced yeast is a precursor to using wild yeast. So if you think you might want to start a starter, walk before you run and try any array of non-levain breads first.
✖️ Quality of commercially available options
You can definitely buy good, whole-food bread that is free of preservatives and excess sugars in many grocery stores and at any farmer’s market. But nothing will ever taste as good as bread fresh out of your own oven.
Also, bread without preservatives does not last long and you can’t always be certain of the freshness of the loaf you are buying. I have bought many beautiful loafs at farmer’s markets that molded in a day.
When you make your own bread, people respond as if you saved a baby from a burning building. You are impressive. You are a wizard. You can do no wrong. The compliments and awe directed at your person will go on and on.
So make some bread!!! You will not regret it! Start with this easy focaccia recipe!