Monday, June 7, 2010

Baking at Home: Not Rocket Science

So, I do most of my baking from scratch: all cookies (except those decadent Oreos and Girl Scout cookies), all cakes, all brownies, muffins, scones, biscuits, pizza crust, French bread, cornbread, half of our sandwich bread, and so forth. I've even made raisin bread, pita bread, naan, chapati, and attempted tortillas and crackers.

Yikes! She must spend ALL day baking!

Not true, folks. And I don't make my own crackers and tortillas most of the time (actually, I've only made them once or twice). If you enjoy baking and/or want to save money, it's worth crunching some numbers to see how much you might save on various items--which ones are worth your time to make, so to speak.

The stuff I make now on a regular basis is all the same. I no longer try to reinvent the wheel each time, searching for another great bread recipe or a killer rolls recipe. I like the ones I have and just go with it. After all, if I were buying this stuff, I'd probably buy the same brand all the time, right? I've made the regular features so much I scarcely need the recipes. This makes the whole process work much more quickly. Other tricks of the trade:
  • a good machine (I use a giant food processor; a nice, heavy duty stand mixer would also work)
  • a chunk of time once or twice a week (by a "chunk," I mean an hour or so--not a whole day)
  • keepin' it simple: no fancy grains added, no weird sugar substitutes, etc. I keep white/brown/powdered sugar, white and whole wheat flours, corn meal, wheat germ or wheat bran or oat bran (not usually all three), oats, oil, butter, honey, yeast, baking powder/soda, milk, and eggs on hand--I can make nearly anything I want from that. (there are also ALWAYS chocolate chips on hand... but I digress)
  • NOT serving bread when another grain-based starch is present with/for the meal (pasta, rice, etc.)
Recently, in about half an hour, I made the dough for 2 giant loaves of French bread, 1 loaf of no-knead-bread, 2 loaves of sandwich bread, and I cleaned the food processor. Another 5 minutes will be spent here and there shaping these for their final rise. Not bad, eh? I could have made 2 more loaves of sandwich bread in a few additional minutes, but we'll wait and see if we need it later this week; I know I have a loaf of sourdough bread that will come into play at some point.

If I'm planning to have pizza for dinner, then I'll do my baking "chunk" that day because pizza crust is really best the day it's made. Everything else freezes quite easily, so I just throw it in a ziploc bag when it's cool and throw it in the freezer. Then, I "shop" from the freezer. If you underbake scones, French bread, dinner rolls, and so forth before freezing, you can finish their baking as part of the heating process just before you actually want to eat them. They'll taste fresh!

A good Saturday routine which should take about an hour of active time (rising times not included), all shaping included:
  • pizza crust (make and eat that night)
  • sandwich bread (freeze for coming week)
  • Sunday dinner rolls (refrigerate or freeze newly shaped rolls until following morning; take them out and let them rise until lunchtime/baking time)

Freezing tips:
  • about a month is the limit
  • cornbread isn't worth it--it's so easy to make and the crust is no longer crisp after being frozen
  • dough does freeze, but I find that the baked goods freeze better
My Go-To Recipes:

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