Tag Archives: baking

My $75 Loaf of Bread

I am trying to adjust to my new normal. As a public employee in Wisconsin, transitioning from a teacher contract to an employee handbook, life has become very uncertain. People expect change to happen at work each year. But this school year, the wide variety of changes feel like a roller coaster ride with mainly a series of plunges and I am not a thrill seeker.

So, to give myself a feeling of control, and financial as well as mental stability in this time of cuts and uncertainty, I put myself on a strict monthly budget and took a second job at night.

Looking for a positive spin to this new need for frugality, I decided to resurrect the motto of my grandparents “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Dad grew up on a Depression era farm in North Dakota. He didn’t know he was poor until he was an adult and was informed so by people who had money. While his family was not rich in dollars, they were rich in food, family support and laughter. One of my fondest memories of my ‘granny’ is spending time in her kitchen as she created the most incredible baked goods.

I have longed to recreate the homemade bread that I can still taste if I close my eyes. I remember watching Granny hold a huge loaf of bread against her chest as she walked around the dinner table slicing portions for all of us to savor fresh from the oven. And I have thought, I can make my own bread. It will be delightful and… save money.

Finding a bread recipe that is equal to my memories has been a challenge. And, the flops I have created in my kitchen over the last few months have been disappointing.

Recently, I found a recipe for no-knead bread that was intriguing. Unfortunately, the recipe (adapted from Jim Lahey) called for a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic). I went to my cupboards and like Old Mother Hubbard my cupboards were bare and did not hold a covered pot that could withstand 450 degrees in the oven. So, I went shopping. With my coupons, I purchased a cast iron pot for $71.43. Seriously. That was more than I planned (certainly not in my budget) but I really wanted to make this bread!

Following a recipe I found on The New York Times website for No-Knead Bread, I set to work. I mixed up my ingredients and then waited for 18 hours. As my dough did its thing, I was reminded of all of the dough Granny had in various stages of proofing in covered bowls in her pantry all those years ago.  I always thought it was weird (and slightly unsanitary) that she let dough sit out for what seemed like days.

As one day turned into the next, my dough was finally ready. I flipped it into my heated pot and baked my bread with fingers crossed. The smell of baking bread infiltrated every corner of our home. I could hardly wait to taste my first slice and when I did, I closed my eyes and savored.

I finally realize the secret of bread, which I wish I had learned from my experiences long ago…Great bread takes time.  And, as it turns out, a little bit of money.

I plan to stir up my fifth batch of bread dough this morning. Each time I bake a loaf, I divide my number of baked loaves by my original $75 investment (the cast iron pan + ingredients). Today’s loaf will bring my cost down to $15 a loaf. Makes me smile.

No-Knead Bread - Finished Loaf (294068096)
No-Knead Bread – Finished Loaf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Cookie Love

“Cooking is Like Love. It Should Be Entered Into with Abandon or Not at All.”
~Harriet Van Horne

Once upon a time there was a woman with two daughters. To them she bequeathed her appreciation for food made with the freshest ingredients. Raspberries picked in the backyard. Corn grilled in husks over an open flame. Meat marinated in thick homemade sauces. Desserts blended with butter and real cream.

Each year, at Christmas time, the daughters helped prepare traditional foods for the holiday season. A favorite, treasured recipe was for spritz cookies. This cookie had a soft, buttery texture that touched the tongue gently then exploded with flavor. “Hellooooo” this cookie announced as it woke up the senses with eye closing pleasure. As the taste faded, hands would reach for another cookie to extend the experience. After all, if one cookie is good, two will be even better.

What makes this cookie so delightful? To one daughter, the mother said it was the extra half cup of butter. To the other daughter, she said it was the rich egg yolks. The daughters agreed these ingredients were important but knew its true magnificence came from heartwarming memories associated with a loving mom.

Mom has been gone these past 18 years but whenever we make her spritz we feel her presence. Her voice, her image and her mannerisms are resurrected as we bake and taste these delights. Family traditions, especially ones involving multiple senses, provide comfort and remembered love. And that is what makes this cookie truly spectacular. Love you mom.