Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Better Days and Better Bread

Well I am happy to report that we are all much better and finally feeling like ourselves again.

We are still really enjoying this new adventure and trying new things every week. As I run out of store bought products we are replacing them with homemade.

I have cleaned the house for weeks now with all natural products and I have to say I love it. I have noticed that you do have to clean a bit more often. I clean the toilets about three times a week now rather than once. The shower gets sprayed and wiped down about twice a week rather than once. However the cleaning spray of water, vinegar and tea tree oil is so easy and cheap to make, I just keep a spray bottle in each bathroom and it is not that big of a deal. What I have noticed most of all is the smell of perfume and chemicals that I used to associate with clean is gone and now my home smells, well clean. Clean does not have a smell. So instead when you walk into our home you smell dinner or bread or incense etc.

I have found out that Borax is more toxic than what I once realized. I still use it sparingly as a cleaner mixed with baking soda. However it, like table salt or most other minerals is toxic if you eat it. So I have stopped using it in my kitty litter to stop the smell there and am on a new search for a good replacement. From what I can find online it is still a better alternative to most store bought cleaners. You just need to handle it with a bit more care than say vinegar and make sure you keep it out of the reach of children. The only reason that I could find for stopping the use in the kitty litter was the fact that cats can ingest it as they groom themselves. Better safe than sorry, so I will look for another alternative.

Peroxide continues to be our new found friend. We are using it as a mouth wash now as well as a disinfectant and it makes such a huge difference I am sure we will not use anything else again. There are two kinds of peroxide however and the only one you should use as a mouth wash and for your tooth brushes is the 3% that you can get at the local pharmacy. For cleaning you can use the stronger 30% that you can find online.

One of the products I was having a hard time saying goodbye to was oxiclean. I am still not sure that I will let it go completely. However I was surprised to see that the main ingredient in it is peroxide. Have not experimented with this too much as of yet but will for sure keep folks updated as I figure it all out.

It is hard sometimes to balance frugal, natural and less waste. As we change the way we live and the things that we use, some changes are made for money, some for health. A lot of what we are doing by making our own things at home does save some money but the pay off for us in the long run is the lack of chemicals that we are eating and the lack of packaging we are adding to the landfill.

Everyone is asking for the bread recipe that I have been using so I wanted to share the recipe along with some information that I have learned along the way.

This was really my first venture into making bread for the family. I have made some yeast breads before but usually just one loaf at a time and for special occasions. We started thinking about making our own bread when we started down this natural road.

We were paying on average about 2.50 a loaf for the bread that we liked to eat. We are a family for four with two school age girls. So there are lunches every day and then hot breakfast every morning. We were going through about three loaves of bread a week. That was around 7.50. I can make about 9 loaves of bread for that, less if I shopped in bulk. Not to mention the taste difference is amazing and the health benefits are notable.

So when I started out to do this I wanted something that was simple enough that I would stick to it and also that a beginner could grasp and accomplish.

This was the recipe that I found

Here is the actual recipe to keep it simple, just please note that it is not mine and I did get it from all :)

• 1/2 cup warm water
• 3 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
• 1/4 cup bread flour
• 1 tablespoon white sugar
• 2 cups quick cooking oats
• 2 cups whole wheat flour
• 4 1/2 cups warm water
• 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
• 2/3 cup brown sugar
• 2/3 cup vegetable oil
• 10 cups bread flour
1. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, stir together 1/2 cup warm water, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1/4 cup bread flour, and yeast. Let grow for about 5 minutes. It will bubble almost immediately.
2. Measure oats, 4 1/2 cups warm water, whole wheat flour, salt, 2/3 cup sugar, and 2/3 cup oil into the mixing bowl. Mix on low speed with a dough hook for 1 to 2 minutes. Increase speed slightly, and begin adding bread flour 1/2 to 1 cup at a time until dough pulls away from sides of bowl. Humidity determines how much flour you need before the bread pulls away from the edge of the bowl. It is normal for the dough to be sticky.
3. Place dough in an oiled bowl, and turn to coat the surface. Cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm spot for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
4. Divide dough into 6 pieces. Shape loaves, and place in greased 8 x 4 inch pans. Let rise until dough is 1 inch above rim of pans, usually 1 hour.
5. Bake at 350 degrees F ( 175 degrees C) for 35 minutes, or until tops are browned. Let cool in pans for 10 minutes, and then turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

I love this site as it is full of great ideas and tons of wonderful folks that share cooking and baking tips along the way. This is the easiest bread I have ever made. You make six loaves in one crack. So once a week I have a baking day now with one week a month off. It takes three hours from start to finish. I like to keep the kitchen warm and let my bread rise on the stove top so I keep the oven burning the whole time.

Such a waste you might say....not if you are baking cookies and muffins in the rise time. :)
If you are quick and plan ahead you can make two kinds of cookies with about three batches each during the two rise times. In the summer when the weather is hot, you can skip keeping the oven on and baking cookies. The kitchen will not heat up as it only takes 35 minutes to bake these beauties.

A few things that I had to learn the hard way or by reading other bread making information.

I measure all of my ingredients ahead of time and have them all ready when I start. I never understood folks doing this before but it really does make it much easier and you can just fly through it once you start making the actual bread.

Always make sure your yeast is fresh. It is cheaper if you buy the jars rather than the packet, by quite a bit actually. Keep your jar either in the freezer or fridge to keep it fresh. Allow the measured portion to come to room temperature before you start feeding it.

The warm water they call for...should be warm to the touch but not hot. I use a thermometer for testing mine and use about 100 to 110 degree water. When the water is the right temperature and the yeast is fresh you will see this in your bowl after a few minutes.

I use a stand up mixer for the mixing of most of the dough. It will fill your mixer FULL and you will need to clean all kinds of tiny spots that you did not know your mixer had. I use warm water and vinegar and it cuts through everything like a dream as long as you clean it up as everything is still moist.

When it says that the bread will start to pull away from the sides, it will look like this. For me the dough at this point is still VERY sticky and I usually have about four cups of flour still left to add in. I knead the rest of the dough into the bread.

You want to make sure you flour your surface well before you start kneading as again it is sticky. The best way to clean the remaining dough out of your bowl and off of your hands is with the extra flour. I add about a half of a cup of flour to the bowl once I have turned the bulk of the dough out. Then you rub the flour around and it will pick up the remaining dough for you to add to your huge pile that is waiting for you.

If you have never kneaded dough before you should know that kneading it long enough is an important step in this process. Ten minutes is a good rule of thumb but depending on weather and where you live it is not the only way to tell if you have kneaded it enough. The dough should take on a smooth texture and be slightly firm. It will feel smooth and nice in your hands and start to feel almost like it is kneading you back. It will also be a bit elastic and fall back into shape as you pull on it. This is the hardest part of making this bread and it is really not all that bad. However for me (and as I teach my girls) this is when the magic gets put into your bread. Make sure you are in a good space and thinking wonderful loving thoughts about your family when you are doing this part of it. It really does make a difference.

I use olive oil to oil my bowls and pans for this recipe. You will need a LARGE bowl to hold the dough, remember that it will double in size.

Once it has doubled the first time and you begin to divide it here are a few things that I do that is not in the instructions.

For long time bread makers.. I do not punch this down as you do with other breads. I cut it into six portions that will fit in my pans.

Then since I am making this for sandwich bread I roll it so it is more airy like the bread we used to buy. Do not over use your rolling pin, only work with the dough as much as you have to for the shape and size you want it to be.

Once you have the portion that is the right size, you want to gently roll the dough until it is the approximate length of your bread pan and about four times the width.

Then you want to start a roll on one side.

Gently roll the dough until it looks like a jelly roll.

Now tuck in the ends and place into your pan. It is going to double in size again so it will fill your pan before you put it in the oven.

Remember that this is fresh bread with no preservatives in it. So plan out how much bread you or your family is going to eat for the week. Store the loaves that will be eaten in the next few days in your bread box. If the bread will not be eaten for a few days keep it in a sealed container or tightly wrapped in your fridge. If you want to freeze it, take it out of the oven about ten minutes before it is finished baking. Let it cool as usual and then wrap it tightly in tin foil and freeze. When you are ready to eat that loaf, thaw to room temperature and remove the foil from just the top of the loaf, making your own bread pan. Bake in oven for the remaining ten minutes until the top is golden brown. It is just as good as the day you kneaded it.

One last frugal tip. Save the used tin foil for next weeks baking. When you are done baking your bread and cookies, your counter will be a flour mess. Allow the dough to dry slightly and add a small bit of the left over flour to the mess. Now make a loose ball out of your used tin foil and give the counter a good scrub. The mess will crumble off for you to sweep in the trash and then clean your counter with your normal cleaning method. This saves the sponge from getting nasty with a wet flour mess.
Happy baking and many blessings to you and yours