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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Sunday, April 07, 2013

Let's Talk About Homemade Bread

Making homemade breads has been a regular practice in our home since our newlywed days.  I am always excited to discover a new bread recipe or breadmaking technique like the no-knead crusty bread baked in a cast iron Dutch oven.  There is no doubt about it, the tantalizing aroma of bread baking is a true delight.  Enjoying a slice of homemade bread still hot from the oven slathered with butter is a divine culinary experience!

The question with respect to homemade bread aside of the pleasure it brings and that cannot be discounted, is "Is making bread frugal?"  In this context I am using frugal to encompass cost, savings, quality, time and social responsibility.  Mixing of the dough takes almost no time.  At one time, bread was made from scratch and hand kneaded but the home cook no longer has to spend a long period of time kneading dough thanks to stand mixers, bread machines and even some food processors all of which make short work of kneading the dough.  So the dough can be ready for proofing in less than 10 minutes.  The real time comes from the proofing and baking.  There usually are two proofings (allowing the dough to rest while doubling in size) which develop the gluten in the flour.  Bake time is usually around the 40 to 50 minute mark.  A bit of planning ahead is needed then if you want a fresh loaf of bread for dinner.  However, there are no-knead breads that proof over night and a novel 5-minute a day bread that I will share my experiences with shortly.  In reality, the proof times are simply that with nothing for the home cook to do other than wait for the dough to double so other things can be done during that time frame.

Iingredients in Prairie Flour Mils LTD white flour
Let's consider the flour used for baking bread.  Canadian flours have a higher gluten level than American flours so it is quite easy for us to get a beautiful loaf of homemade bread with little effort.  Now, a few days ago I was doing a bit of research when I came across a video where the home cook claimed the only thing in their homemade bread was flour, salt, water and yeast yet they named the brand of flour they had used.  Wheat flours in North America are enriched.  That means they contain niacin, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid and iron.  They also contain azodicarbonamide (ADA) which is an oxidizing agent that may or may not act as a bleaching agent while strengthening the dough.  Malted barley is also an oxidizing agent that results in a strong dough.  Unbleached flour contains ADA because it improves the quality even though the mill may not be technically using it as a bleach.  The bottom line is, ADA is in both bleached and unbleached wheat flours.  Benzoyl peroxide is actually used to treat acne but it is also used as a strong bleaching agent for flour.  Flour bleached with benzoyl peroxide has been prohibited in the UK since 1997.  L-cysteine hydrochloride is a reducing agent that breaks the protein structure in the flour resulting in a stronger dough, reduces mixing time, reduces proofing time and increases machinability.  Unless you can find organic flour with no additives (rather difficult even in Toronto) or grind your own flour from whole grains, the flour you use will contain additives.  Prairie Flour Mills Ltd. has an organic flour with no additives but it is difficult to find.  No name flour contains the same ingredients but also has amylase, an enzyme that improves processing characteristics by breaking down the sugars to allow the yeast to act quicker.

In our little corner of Ontario, Canada we can buy the following brands of flour:  Prairie, No Name, Golden Temple, Robin Hood and Five Roses, all made with hard wheat (high gluten).  Prairie is milled by Prairie Flour Mills Ltd. which is owned, operated and supports the wheat growers of Manitoba.  A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of Prarie is $7.97 or 8¢ per cup.  Of note, Prairie Flour Mills Ltd., distributes under their own label (pictured above) as well as private label meaning a company can get the Prairie milled flour but sell it under their own private label.  No Name brand  is owned by Weston Foods and sold through their Loblaws division.  A 10 kg (22 lb) bag of No Name flour costs $9.97 (10¢ per cup).  Chances are the No Name flour is milled by Prairie Flour Mills Ltd. but sold under the private label of No Name.  If so, the higher price is simply to cover the cost of the private label.  Golden Temple is $10.89 for 9 kg (20 lb) or 12¢ per cup, Robin Hood and Five Roses are $13.97 for 10 kg (22 lb) or 14¢ per cup.  Golden Temple, Robin Hood and Five Roses were Canadian owned and they still are made with Canadian wheat but they are now owned by Smucker Foods of Canada, a subsidiary of US owned The J.M. Smucker Company.  There are also several smaller flour mills some of which are organic and non-GMO within the 100 mile radius of our home so I do take advantage of buying directly from them.

Of these brands, all use Canadian wheat so at some level support the Canadian wheat growers.  The No Name brand can be iffy.  The premiss behind the No Name label and this applies to any food with that label is, Weston Foods who owns Loblaws uses whatever they can get the cheapest to pass on the savings to their customers but they don't always disclose the origin so there is no guarantee that the No Name flour is made with Canadian wheat but I suspect it likely is, and probably made by Weston.  Canada has strong labour laws, high minimum wages and wheat boards so the wheat growers are paid fair compensation while workers enjoy decent working conditions earning enough to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle.

ingredients in D Italiano Italian style bread
Weston Food's bakery division is Weston Bakeries Limited founded by George Weston in 1882 and still controlled by the Weston family.  It produces a wide variety of baked goods including the popular D'Italiano breads.  Pictured is the label from the D'Italiano Italian style bread.  This is where the chemical components of the ingredients show for commercially made breads.  The label is a bit misleading as the ingredients in the flour (niacin, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin and folic acid) are not listed in the ingredients although they are included in the nutritional information.  Many bread manufacturers do include the flour ingredients along with the list of other ingredients.  Of note is the canola oil which is definitely GMO!  Calcium propionate is a bacterial and mold inhibitor (aka preservative) which extends the shelf life of the bread.  Sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate is a salt that is used as an emulsifier/plasticizer/surface action agent to ensure consistent product qualtity.  This wonderful cocktail of chemicals only costs $2.27 for a 675 g (1.5 lb) loaf of bread.

ingredients in Walmart bakery Italian style crusty bread
Our Walmart has a bakery section for their fresh baked in store bakery goodies.  Most of their loaves of bread are $2.97 except their crusty Italian and French style that are only 97¢ for a 400 g (.88 lb) loaf of bread.  They are good at including some of the ingredients that are in the actual flourlike ADA but make no mention of the B vitamins or iron.  Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) is a reducing agent similar to L-cysteine hydrochloride that strengthens the dough and the development of the gluten. Of not is the canola oil which is GMO and the 'contains: milk, wheat, rye, soy" and the 'may contain: tree nuts, peanuts, egg, sesame".  This is especially important for those folks who have food sensitivities to or who are allergic to any of these ingredients. 

crusty bread cut
Let's talk homemade bread!  

A small bakery opened up in town a couple of years ago.  This was a bit abnormal in a time when many small town bakeries have been closing up shop.  I checked it out always looking for ideas and more than willing to buy a loaf or two to duplicate at home.  At first, I didn't think they would stay in business with an average price of $3 per loaf of bread but they seem to be hanging in there and at only a couple of pennies per loaf more than the Walmart bakery and some brand names, there may be hope for this bakery after all. What this bakery has going for it is the bread is about as close to homemade as you can get without making it yourself. 

Homemade breads can save you a substantial amount of money.  While Walmart's Italian style crusty bread (.88 lb) only cost 97¢, my homemade no-knead version cost a total of 29¢ for a 1.5 lb loaf of bread, almost twice the weight of the Walmart bread saving me in essence over $1.50 on one loaf of bread.  Compared to the D'Itananio, (675 g/ 1.5 lb) I saved $1.98.  At three loaves of bread per week and saving at least $1.50 per loaf of bread, it works out to an annual savings of $234.   

In terms of quality, homemade bread is far superior to mass produced breads.  Did you know that bakery and homemade breads are so popular in the Netherlands they don't even have mass produced breads?  Instead they bring in artisan breads from Germany daily to stock the many bakeries.  That says something about the quality and popularity of artisan breads!  I use enriched unbleached flour for any white breads or any breads requiring a portion of white flour that I make.  That means my breads do contain all the additives (ADA, niacin, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid and iron) that are in the enriched flour.  The exception is when I have access to organic, additive free, unbleached flour. I also use dough enhancers (lethicin, gluten flour) from time to time but not on a regular basis.  Other ingredients that I may add tend to be organic, in the case of eggs they are free range, salt is sea salt not iodized, and I prefer using local raw honey, maple syrup, molasses or rice syrup as a sweetener over refined sugar.  If I do use sugar, it is organic.  Unlike some commercially baked breads, my homemade breads have no preservatives or added emulsifiers.  A surprising number of brands of whole wheat and whole grain breads contain artificial flavours or colours and they are HFCS free.  My whole wheat and whole grain breads contain none of these.  My fermented breads (eg. sour dough, crusty breads) develop a natural tang that eludes store bought breads, much more like what you would find in an artisan bakery.

Making your own bread is one of the most frugal things you can do in terms of quality and cost.  You need only a mixing bowl, a baking sheet and/or bread pan, the ingredients and your hands to make good bread.  Both a stand mixer and breadmachine take a lot of the work out of making bread.  The cost of both either can quickly be recovered in the money you save not buying store bought breads.  A Dutch oven is nice is you want to make crusty bread or rolls.  An inexpensive one new will cost about $40 on sale but these are also common yard sale and resale store finds for around $5.  The ingredients for making good bread are inexpensive and simple ranging from only flour, salt, yeast and water to a few other low cost additions if desired.  Even using organic, additive-free flour that is more expensive will still save you money while putting a far superior bread on your table in comparison to mass produced breads.  There are many ways to reduce the actual hands on time it takes to make bread but really most of the time involved with bread-making is waiting for the dough to rise.   At any rate, if you have not tried making your own bread, now is the time to start.  You will be pleasantly surprised!

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