Over the last couple of weeks, I have started to bake bread. It started with a resolution to pack a lunch, which I have not done consistently since University. It brings back memories of Men into Space (see also the Wikipedia entry) and the lunch box I carried to grade school.
I was finding that I was not consistently eating the bread I bought at the supermarkets. The slices are light, suited for toast, not necessarily for hearty sandwiches.
Jean Paré’s “Company’s Coming” cookbooks are becoming like Louis L’Amour’s gunslinger romances. They are sold in grocery stores, kitchen ware stores and hardware stores like Canadian Tire more than in regular bookstores. Most of the books are bound in with plastic combs or coils, which means the books lay flat on a counter – a huge convenience in my opinion. I had a couple already and found them handy, and simple. More on that another time. Her books are being released in a new printing and I leafed through a copy of the 38th printing Muffins and More, the third book in the original series, which was first released in July 1983. The emphasis in the title should be the “and More” because it has recipes for bread, fruit and flavoured bread, buns and rolls, as well as muffins.
Her recipes all use baking powder and baking soda, rather than yeast. This means mixing dry ingredients and wet ingredients, pouring it into a baking pan and baking. This avoids the kneading and rising involved in baking a yeasted bread. The results are good in my experience. The wheat bread is good, the raisin bread is very good.
The Paré book is good enough, but there are other options. I found the new edition of the Tassajara Bread Book to be quite useful, with detailed instructions and good illustrations of a process that was unfamiliar to me (I swallowed my indiffererence to the Zen proselytizing to get the advice). The results are good, but there is a lot of time and a fair amount of work involved in kneading and triple rising. It works well on a morning devoted to chores or reading, where I can work around the requirements of coming back to the loaf several times over several hours.
There is no clear financial advantage or disadvantage. A 2 kg bag of flour runs around $5.00 and can produce about 5-6 loaves, but the cost of other ingredients, energy and hardware has to be taken into account. If you buy larger bags of flour, there are savings. The bread, if one avoids the pitfalls of the process, is worthwhile.