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Bread : To bake or to buy, that is the question...

I like baking bread! I love experimenting with different ideas, techniques, shapes, glazes, and ingredients. I'm not the worlds greatest cake baker - my friend Maureen holds that title, but I seem to have an affinity with bread baking. The other day a friend of mine asked where I was buying my bread and was very surprised to discover that I baked it all. He said he was paying $6 a loaf for stuff that looked like mine.

It got me to wondering if it was better to buy or to bake bread - what are your thoughts?

Here's what I do...

Bread is a food staple. There aren't many people in our culture who don't eat bread at some point of the day - as toast for breakfast, sandwiches or wraps for lunch, as a roll on the side with dinner or even as the base of the pizza!

You can buy it as cheaply at about a dollar a loaf for the supermarket branded white mass produced stuff and up to $10 a loaf for the hand made, filled with good stuff, artesian loaf from a specialised bakery.

So why would you bake over buy?

I cant remember why I made my first loaf but I know I was in my early twenties and the man of the moment thought it could be used as a door stop - which between you and me had already occurred to me. I played with making bread randomly through my twenties never really getting the hang of it and buying the cheaper supermarket stuff which sufficed for my lifestyle at the time.

 Once I settled into a relationship in my mid thirties, I started growing roots and my single lifestyle gave way to a more complex and contented lifestyle that involved a bit of navel gazing about life, the universe and everything. This lead to starting out on the frugal, crafty eco friendly journey that I'm still on and bread making rose higher on the "things I'd like to master" list.

I got a bread maker for my birthday (or was it Christmas) one year and that started a bit of a bread making frenzy that went for a few years. I loved the timer on the machine that let you wake up to the house filled with the small of freshly cooked bread! I also loved that the recipes hardly ever failed (unless you didn't put the yeast in and produced another door stop!) and that people were always impressed with your bread. Some people served home made cookies when visitors dropped in - I served warm from the oven bread. And they loved it.
But I think what really pushed the bread making into the foreground was our Sunday night pizza nights. We hosted international students for an English language school for years and years and since the buses home from the city stopped early on Sunday, the students had to be home about 5.30pm or they'd have to walk the last 10kms! Since everyone was home early together it became an end of the weekend ritual to make, bake and eat pizza together. The students would bring friends home, neighbours would drop in, family would visit - it was a very social night - all based around pizza.

When the bread machine finally gave up the ghost, I kept making pizza dough by hand and discovered that I could make really easy rolls from the same mixture. They needed to be eaten the same day there were made but with young men in the house the problem wasn't getting the rolls eaten but keeping up production!!

As my food knowledge grew and I started reading books by Michael Pollan, Joel Salatin and seeing videos like Food Inc, I started adding bran, grains, nuts and other bits and bobs to my bread. I experimented with all sorts of ingredients. I liked to cook (it runs in the family) and so as I figured out what worked and what didn't, my loaves got more successful and I got more confident. I think that is part of the key to incorporating home made bread into your daily routine (if that's where you want to go) is that the more you make, the more success you have, the more confidence you have and it becomes a positive upwards cycle.

Then as I got more interested in the food I was putting into my body, I read more, gained more knowledge and put those theories to the test with my own experiments. These days we eat meat more as a condiment/flavour ingredient than as the starring role. We eat a lot more veges and try and stay away from processed foods that come out of packets and have ingredients that I cant buy and I cant pronounce. And I bake bread from scratch nearly every day. Its a bit like cleaning your teeth. Its just something you do every day and don't really put much thought into when it gets done - it just happens!

To be fair, when we lived in Brisbane and had full time jobs, bread making was more of a weekend thing or when I found my self with a late start or a half day. Its become more of a daily part of our lives since we moved to the Hinterland and are 40km from the nearest shops! So for our lifestyle, baking fresh each day makes more sense than buying it. We can and do buy bread and pop it in the freezer but due to the amount of power cuts we have here, its not wise to rely entirely on the freezer for food storage. I tend to pop in a loaf or two of home made stuff into the freezer that got made but wont be eaten immediately or a couple when the local café has a slow weekend and lots of bread to get rid of before they close for a few days mid week.

So to buy or to bake?

I bake (more or less) out of necessity most of the time - and because I can, and because I enjoy it. The advantages of making are that you know what's going into the bread, the pride of accomplishment, compliments and the house smelling of baking bread!

The disadvantages are that you have to have the ingredients on hand and enough time to mix, raise, knead, proof, bake and cool the bread before you can eat it. Also a lot of the ingredients are going to come from the big supermarkets so you have to decide if this is a business that you want to support.

When I lived in the city, convenience and reliability of buying a loaf won out more often over the time needed to commit to making one. Being able to guarantee the quality of your bought bread is another important factor in buying bread over the chance of a loaf that doesn't make it out of the oven edible, and on time... Of course with the purchased loaf, you don't always know what goes into them and I notice the ingredient list on a supermarket loaf is longer and way harder to decipher than any recipe that I (more or less) follow...

Also - the purchased loaf can be filled with exotic ingredients you don't have on hand and wouldn't know where to start looking for. It gives you the opportunity to try something that you've heard about but wouldn't necessarily try to make your self.

Of course if you purchase from a small artisan type baker you'll also be supporting a owner operated sort of a set up rather than a corporation (a tendency I'm developing) and they will be happy to chat to you about ingredients and any other questions you might have.

I have a brown rice loaf proofing on the bench at the moment. If I get off the computer in time it may even get cooked in time for (a late) lunch but if not, yesterdays "herbs from the garden and home preserved garlic loaf" has enough left for a few pieces of toast to go with some soup!

I found I enjoy making bread more, the better I get at it. Its a skill worth developing for the lifestyle we currently lead. I may not have got this good if I had stayed in the city!!

So where do you sit on the buying or baking spectrum?

Score card:
Green-ness: ?/5 Depends entirely on where you are on the spectrum. Buying or baking is a complex question!
Frugal-ness: ?/5 Again, depends on what your times worth, what you are putting into the loaf and your goals and lifestyle. Who said bread was simple?
Time cost: About 4 hours from go to whoa if you make it and of course how and where you buy it!
Skill level: Basic bread is quite basic - complex bread, more complex. Choose your own level!
Fun-ness: Marvellous fun to make and eat and just as much fun to discover a yummy bread you have never met before at a new bakery!


Marigold Jam said…
You have inspired me to have a go at baking my own again. I used to do it all the time but have got out of the habit in recent years. I like the way you suggest doing both buying and making as it gives one the opportunity to try different types of bread before having a go at making it and as you said it supports the individual artisan bakers too so a win/win situation. I love reading your posts and am currently using a bar of home made soap from grated scraps like you mentioned in one of your posts so keep the ideas coming!
Practical Frog said…
Thanks Marigold Jam! Enjoy your bread baking! Kara
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