Easy and cheap home-made bread

I baked a loaf of bread yesterday. It was delicious. It was easy. It was cheap.

Last winter, I undertook a quest to find the best whole wheat bread in a grocery store. I like sandwiches and I like toast, so removing bread from my diet isn't an option. While trying to balance cost and nutrition, I eventually discovered Rainier Organic's Sasquatch Grain & Seed Bread. At about 10 cents per ounce, this stuff is cheaper than all but the “artificial everything” breads. Best of all? Eating it is like eating a field of wheat.

Several people suggested that I might want to make my own bread. At the time, I dismissed the idea as crazy. I can remember my mother spending a lot of time kneading dough and shuffling loaf pans when I was a boy. I may be working from home now, but I'm not interested in devoting my life to baked goods.

Minimalist Bread

Still, there are few things better in life than a hunk of warm, crusty bread slathered with honey or jam. (Perhaps with a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese on the side.) So when Brad suggested insisted I try Mark Bittman's minimalist “no-knead” bread recipe, I took the plunge into home baking.

In this New York Times video, Bittman visits the Sullivan Street Bakery in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen to learn the secret of great bread from owner Jim Lahey.

Turns out this bread really is so easy that anyone can make it. And the total cost? According to Andy at The New Cook, this bread costs about 63 cents per loaf, or about a nickel per ounce. That's roughly the same price as the cheap artificial stuff in the grocery store, but you're getting a loaf of fresh, crusty bread. That's tough to beat.

(For a great variation, check out SmarterFitter's Four-Seed No-Knead Bread.)

A Perfect Loaf?

Cook's Illustated tackled this recipe in their January 2008 issue. While they admitted that it was easy, they didn't like the “bland flavor” and the unreliable rising. Using their methodology of relentless refinement, they added a bit of salt, reduced the water, and introduced a secret ingredient: beer.

Cook's Illustrated calls their version “Almost No-Knead” Bread, or No-Knead Bread 2.0. This bread is started on the first day and baked on the second. Other than planning ahead, it's almost effortless and results in a wonderful chewy bread with a crunchy deep-brown crust. Here's the recipe (with some minor modifications from us):

Almost No-Knead Bread

  • 3 cups unbleached flour (15 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water, room temperature or just slightly warm
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager, room temp and flat (note: we use a pale ale)
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar (note: we use white balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe's)

Day one
If necessary, heat water and beer in microwave to make them closer to room temperature. Whisk flour, yeast and salt in a large shallow bowl. Add water, beer and vinegar. Using a rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up from the bottom until a dry, shaggy ball forms. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours, until the surface is covered with bubbles. Total time for day one: about ten minutes.

Day two
Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead 10-15 times. Wash out the dough bowl and lay a 12×18 piece of oven-safe parchment paper inside it and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Shape the dough into a ball by pulling edges into the middle. Transfer dough — seam-side down — to the parchment-lined bowl and spray surface with cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with a finger (about 2 hours).

About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position and place a 6-8 quart Dutch oven (with lid slightly ajar) on rack to heat. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Lightly flour top of dough and use a very sharp knife to make one slit, 6 inches long and 1/2″ deep. Carefully remove hot Dutch oven from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment paper and lower into Dutch oven. Add lid and place in oven. Immediately lower temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue cooking 20-30 minutes longer, until the bread is a deep brown and sounds rather hollow when tapped.

Remove and transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Total time for day two: about ten minutes.

For more on this recipe, check out the Cook's Illustrated web site, or visit Breadtopia (a blog devoted to bread!).

Delicious!

Kris and I have been making this bread for three months now, and it's fantastic. I'll admit that it's not the healthiest stuff (it's little more than flour and salt, after all), but it's delicious — especially with home-made strawberry jam. Along the way, we've learned a couple things. If you have a good kitchen scale, for example, we recommend weighing the the flour rather than measuring by volume.

Also, in the winter, our house is too cold (54 degrees) for this to rise properly overnight, so we use a water/beer mixture that feels slightly warm to the touch to give it a kick start, then turn on the oven light and put the dough into the gas oven.

The cost for a single loaf of this bread runs about $1.50. The flour is about 60 cents, the yeast is about a quarter, the beer costs about forty cents, and the other ingredients cost a few cents each. So, for a little more than the cheap bread in the grocery store, you can have a loaf of actual artisan bread.

The real joy is the ease of this recipe and the sense of accomplishment from baking your own bread. Your friends will be impressed!

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Mandi
Mandi
12 years ago

You should look into getting yeast in bulk, which would lower your cost per loaf. 🙂 I buy mine from the local Amish store, though I bet you could get it from a health food store or perhaps a warehouse store.

Joel Carry
Joel Carry
12 years ago

Now you really make me hungry 🙂

YardBird
YardBird
12 years ago

Will have to check to see if they have a bread machine version.

Rachel
Rachel
12 years ago

We used to make our own bread with our bread machine. Super easy, super cheap!

Unfortunately for us having fresh, hot, delicious bread around also lead to super fast weight gain!

Whoops! 🙂

Ms. Penny Pincher
Ms. Penny Pincher
12 years ago

We’ve been looking for an easy and tasty bread recipe so thanks! We bought my in-laws a bread maker a few ago for Christmas and to this day, they say it’s the best present we ever gave them. My partner and I don’t won’t to splurge on one so we’ll just do it the old fashioned way 😉

Sara
Sara
12 years ago

I like a 100% organic whole wheat bread, so I discovered the recipe in the old cook book Laurel’s Kitchen or Laurel’s Bread Book a few months ago and have been turning out great whole wheat bread ever since. I buy my supplies in bulk, I bought a stand mixer at a yard sale to help knead but I still each batch (two loaves) about 200 times. The dough is very soft so that is not too much effort. I spend about 20 minutes every 2-3 days to make it and I calculate the cost per loaf to be about… Read more »

Angell
Angell
12 years ago

it sounds fantastic – have you factored the electricity costs of the oven (and possibly microwave) to the $1.50 total?

Beth
Beth
12 years ago

There’s a new book out, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, that takes this concept and stretches it every direction the authors can think of. The recipes are all redacted to make two loaves and can be halved or doubled, the dough can be refrigerated for up to two weeks or frozen for up to two months after preparation, and there are infinite variations from heavy peasant bread to pizza dough to brioche. I usually make basic dough on Sunday night and put a loaf in the oven while showering and dressing for work for that night’s dinner. Once… Read more »

nmh
nmh
12 years ago

I know it was said earlier but it bears repeating . . . Buy Bulk Yeast!! If you get the 3 packets it costs $1.25 for for 3/4 oz (at least here), if you buy 39 oz at Costco its $3.50. Thats about 9 cents an oz versus 42 cents per oz. So if you bought the big bag at the same price as the packets it would be over $16 — thats a bit savings!! Yeast will last a long time in the freezer we put it in an airtight plastic container way at the back and a small… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
12 years ago

I just started to bake again. I made the world’s heaviest bread using steel cut oats and whole wheat flour. It is not a sandwich bread but toasted- even plain- is good for me. I am going to try the Mark Bittman recipe and look for the Laurel’s kitchen recipe-I may have that book in my basement.

Anna
Anna
12 years ago

Ditto on the Costco yeast. A packet of yeast equals 2 1/4 teaspoons. Packets used to contain 3 teaspoons, so if you are using an old recipe, adjust accordingly.

Carmen
Carmen
12 years ago

My husband and I (both avid GRS readers) decided to take a stab at making our own sandwich bread versus buying it this year. We had a bread machine from our wedding collecting dust. We went through three loaves a week of Martin’s 100% Whole Wheat Potato Bread (which we found to be the healthiest and most delicious sliced breads for our kids). So, now @ ~$1.50/loaf instead of $3.20/loaf we are making whole wheat potato bread at home and saving about $265/yr. Also, the fresh bread is wonderful, there are no preservatives, and the kids love to help make… Read more »

monica
monica
12 years ago

Thanks for the link! Glad you’ve been enjoying the bread, though I must disagree with your comment about bread not being healthy! If you use good, unprocessed flour, then bread is a perfectly healthy part of a balanced diet – that’s one of the beauties about baking bread yourself, you get rid of all the nasty additives that come with packaged bread. Plus, do try out the no knead with 100% whole wheat flour. This is my staple bread. It takes a bit more water but otherwise it’s just as easy. I concur with the comments about buying yeast in… Read more »

Leo
Leo
12 years ago

I’ve been making this bread for months too, and have improvised a lot of delicious and healthy variations. The white flour can be mixed with ground flax seed, toasted walnuts, herbs, and a variety of whole grain flours. For whole wheat I typically use 2 cups white flour and 1 cup whole wheat (plus some honey in the water/beer mixture). I also have bought discount bulk supplies of yeast and flour on Amazon.com grocery, which offers free shipping for orders over $25. I think the bread is a delicious, healthy and frugal alternative to grocery store bread!

Chris M
Chris M
12 years ago

There’s also an excellent article on making homemade bread over at The Simple Dollar. It has lots of helpful comments too!

http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2007/11/04/homemade-bread-cheap-delicious-healthy-and-easier-than-you-think/

icup
icup
12 years ago

I too need to get out the bread maker. My sister gave it to me a couple months ago, but I have just been lazy.

jeffeb3
jeffeb3
12 years ago

10 minutes? that’s a little off. It will take me ten minutes to look up “knead” in google. I also don’t have a dutch oven. And what about clean up? This is easily going to eat up an hour.

Rina
Rina
12 years ago

This recipe sounds delicious, can you use bread loaf pans instead of a dutch oven?

Amy Jo
Amy Jo
12 years ago

I second the recommendation of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Next time we are over, I’ll bring it for you to look at. Also, a great place to buy fresh, bulk yeast is Limbo, next door to Trader Joe’s!

Ruth
Ruth
12 years ago

You can usually pick up bread machines at yard sales really cheap. Then you could make any kind of bread or dough (we use ours most for homemade pizza). Also, if you use it to bake the bread it would save on electricity over an oven.

That One Caveman
That One Caveman
12 years ago

Just this weekend, I made my first “real” loaves of bread. I opted for a kneading recipe and loaf pans, but it was still a wonderful experience.

It was so much fun and so cheap, I’m hoping to replace all of our bread usage with homemade bread by the end of the year.

leigh
leigh
12 years ago

i actually like traditional bread recipes. i find baking rather meditative and therapeutic.

this is bad when i get upset about something, because the kitchen gets filled with baked goods… and then we eat too much!

J.D.
J.D.
12 years ago

Jeffeb3 has a point: the first time you make this, it’s going to take more than twenty minutes of work. But once you know what you’re doing, it really is that quick. And tasty. Hm. Time for breakfast: toast and jam!

monica
monica
12 years ago

FYI: You don’t need a dutch oven to make no knead bread. I use a stainless steel pot from IKEA, kinda like this one:

http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40101158

And this is how it turns out:

http://flickr.com/photos/spacekadet/488556015/

allen
allen
12 years ago

Bread is not bad for you. Carbs are not evil. 😛

That bread looks DELICIOUS though! Good enough i’m going to ask for a Dutch Oven for my b-day… darn it, that’s months away! 😛

Joe
Joe
12 years ago

My wife makes bread every week, it’s great for sandwiches, french toast and whatever else. It saves at least $3.00 a week in bread, around $150 a year. It also tastes much better and has no crappy presevatives.

Cheap Like Me
Cheap Like Me
12 years ago

I blogged about this in March, and did a cost comparison: http://cheaplikeme.wordpress.com/2008/03/10/dealbusters-incredible-professional-bread/ My loaf came out at $0.41 (using Costco yeast and bread flour, part whole-wheat flour, and no beer), including energy costs. With flour costs having risen, it would now be about $0.49. A great deal. I’m not sure why yours is so much higher. In my opinion, the main drawback to this recipe is the large amount of cleanup involved (flour gets everywhere when I flip it into the pan, but that could be user error). And of course, heating our kitchen up in the summer … I’ll… Read more »

Helen
Helen
12 years ago

If you want to try one of the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day recipes, here is a slightly tweaked version at the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/dining/211brex.html So much easier. There is no “wait a billion hours, then try not to burn yourself on a heated pot.” And a batch of dough keeps up to 2 weeks in the fridge, so you can just pop it in the oven whenever you want. There are other recipes from the book floating around the web if you Google, but it’s a book worth getting. You don’t have to use a pizza stone, there… Read more »

anon
anon
12 years ago

“Also, in the winter, our house is too cold (54 degrees)”

your house is 54 degrees in the winter? theres something to be said for saving money but that is CCCCOOOOLD. I draw the line at about 68. anything lower and i’d have to wear my outdoor gear inside.

meggan
meggan
12 years ago

We keep our winter heat at 55 in Alaska, and we’re just fine-no outdoor gear. 😉 Using the CI recipe, I have managed to burn the bottom of the loaf twice, horribly black, in our Chantal dutch oven. It just doesn’t distribute the heat evenly like cast iron. I saw on the CI forums I wasn’t the only one with this problem, and I bake bread weekly. We put the dutch oven on the highest rack that it fits, we don’t preheat the lid, and we don’t actually take it out of the oven to transfer the loaf. Just pull… Read more »

Amy
Amy
12 years ago

I used to live in AK, it’s amazing how used to subzero temperatures one becomes. You find yourself saying “it’s warm out today – it’s only 30 below!” Anyway, great bread recipes. I’ve been making bread for years now (started the practice in Alaska, actually) and there’s simply no substitute for homemade now. You can never go back. I also really love the process. I used a more labor-intensive recipe which demands I stay home for 6 hours to tend it. This works great on the weekends as it saves me money I would probably spend on gas and entertainment/restaurant… Read more »

Angie
Angie
12 years ago

I’m another person who regularly uses a breadmaker with Costco yeast. I make about 6 loaves a week for our family of four, plus I use my breadmaker to make speciality breads such as stollen at Christmas, quick breads, pizza and cookie doughs. There’s way less mess and cleanup as everything mixes and bakes in the same pan. I have a regular recipe that I use for our normal everyday bread, and it takes me about 3 minutes (I’ve timed it) to get the ingredients into the breadmaker. I use only 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of the regular Costco yeast… Read more »

RacerX
RacerX
12 years ago

The accomplishment side reminds me of an interview with John Lennon right before his death (The Playboy Interview’s With John Lennon) he talks about baking bread and the accomplishment one feels afterward, unlike almost any other cooking. Almost a primal thing.

Andy
Andy
12 years ago

Thanks for the link! Fresh bread is one of my favorite foods. Nice job.

Micah Mae
Micah Mae
12 years ago

Hi everyone, I was wondering (with all the talk of Costco yeast)…at what point does it become worth it to join a warehouse club like Sam’s or Costco? We are a family soon to be of 3, so is it worth it?

Alisa
Alisa
12 years ago

What time are we eating tonight?

Anna
Anna
12 years ago

I think Costco is worth the $50 a year (less than a dollar a week) for the “free breakfast” they serve every day! Seriously, they give out so many free samples that you can make a meal of it. I don’t actually go there every day for breakfast, but I have done it more than once!

ccherry
ccherry
12 years ago

I love bread, don’t have a bread machine, and want immediate gratification so the bread recipe I use, and modify lots by adding cheese, herbs, and even honey is: 3 cups self rising flour 3 tablespoons sugar 12 oz beer mix, put in bread pan or make a rounded loaf and put on a cookie sheet then bake at 350 for about an hour since I also live at altitude (over 4300 ft) I modify this by removing two to three tablespoons of flour and making one of my tablespoons of sugar a little light- this is a winter bread… Read more »

Funny about Money
Funny about Money
12 years ago

That is one gorgeous loaf of bread! I’ll be trying that out this weekend. Beer. Brilliant idea!! If you have a bread machine, you can use it to knead and rise dough and then, after the dough has risen, take the stuff out, shape it as desired, and bake it in the oven. For some reason oven-baked seems to taste ten times better than bread-machine baked. Costco yeast seems to be livelier than the stuff that comes in packets. As Angie points out, you may not need 3 tsp (1 Tbsp) to get the desired results. You can store yeast… Read more »

Funder
Funder
12 years ago

I *love* no-knead bread – thanks for the great post (and comments!) with the additional recipes. One tip to add:

If you don’t have a dutch oven and don’t want to invest big money in a real Le Creuset, the stoneware insert from your crock pot works just as well. (If you don’t have a crock pot, they only cost $15 at the grocery store.) Mine has a glass lid with a plastic handle that I don’t trust at oven temperatures, so I use another lid that fits well enough to keep the steam in.

Leslie
Leslie
12 years ago

I’ve made homemade bread for years making variations that include whole wheat, soy flour, potato water, mashed potatoes, powdered milk, honey, large flake oats (whirled in the blender until flour), ground flax seed; and a sweetened version with added raisins & cinnamon for breakfast. With a hearty soup & homemade bread–it’s a great mid-week meal. Also easy is pizza dough: Sprinkle 1 tbsp (1 pkg) dry yeast in 1 cup warm water mixed with 1 tbsp honey. After 10 minutes, stir in 2 tbsp olive oil & 1 tsp salt; add 1 c all-purpose or bread unbleached flour & mix… Read more »

STL Mom
STL Mom
12 years ago

Pizza dough is a great way to start making your own bread. In the summer, you can even cook your pizzas on the grill and keep your kitchen cool. Leftover pizza dough can go in the fridge for days and then used to make breadsticks. Mmm…

Rick Mansfield
Rick Mansfield
12 years ago

I’ve just added a link to your post in our newest “Cast Iron Around the Web” entry at http://www.cookingincastiron.com

Nicki
Nicki
12 years ago

I’m curious to know if anyone has used pyrex? Bittman mentioned that pyrex could be used.

Coupon Artist
Coupon Artist
12 years ago

Sounds great! I make a lot of homemade bread in my breadmaker (purchased at a garage sale for $5) and I love the way the house smells! Do you also make homemade jam to put on top?

Narinda
Narinda
12 years ago

I was amused to see this post because I had just baked my own loaf of bread on Sunday–what a funny coincidence! I started baking bread in college for the sheer novelty of it, but I became addicted to it. I have a batch of dough rising in the fridge right now (I made the dough this morning and will bake it tonight) and I think I’m going to experiment with cinnamon rolls next.

I never said I did it for health reasons. :n)

Also: I love the variety in your posts!

Trish
Trish
12 years ago

This is a great article, I can’t wait to try this out. I’ve come here through outside links a few times, and I think I’m going to have to subscribe. You’ve got a lot of clever articles.

Charlotte
Charlotte
12 years ago

J.D.,

Do you spray the dough on top or just the parchment paper?

Why do you start with 500 temperature then lower to 425? I have a convection oven which theoretically has a constant temperature. Can I just set it to 425? I don’t want to heat up the house too much. Also, why do you have to pre-heat 30 min. in advance? Does it make a difference or you just meant enough time to reach the temperature?

Thanks,
Charlotte

brad
brad
12 years ago

I don’t know how anyone could conclude that the basic Bittman no-knead loaf is “bland.” I make it with organic bread flour (made from red wheat) and the flavor is incredible just on its own: flour, salt, yeast, and water. The secret to the flavor is to use good wheat and the long, slow rise time. Even all-purpose white flour makes good bread this way, but bread flour makes a noticeable difference. With recipes like this, I find it’s a good idea to follow the recipe exactly the first time, just to see what it’s supposed to be like, before… Read more »

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