How to Make Artisanal Bread on a Budget

An important diet and budgeting component in our kitchen is homemade bread. While baking your own bread sounds like one of those time-consuming activities, no-knead bread is one of the simplest things to make.

No-knead bread is a great starter recipe for kitchen newbies. The basic recipe is so easy that a motivated eight-year-old could learn how to bake bread. If you have the skills to make your own slime, you should be able to make no-knead bread. Plus, you can end up saving tons of cash along the way.

The ingredients

The classic No-Knead Bread recipe was developed by Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City and contains just four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and water. The bread from this recipe costs less than 50 cents per loaf to make, but looks and tastes like the rustic artisan bread you'd pay $5 to $8 for at the store. Also, the recipe is very adaptable and hard to break. It's worth reading the hundreds of comments on this recipe, because they are full of helpful hacks for every type of kitchen and baker, and they include recipe variations such as whole wheat, olive oil, sourdough, cinnamon raisin, and lots more.

The tools

Professional bread ovens have a steam element. The extra moisture during the baking process is what gives bakery bread that flaky crust. Lahey figured out how to replicate the steaming at home by using a lidded Dutch oven to trap the moisture. I use a $40, cast iron pot to bake my no-knead bread, but you can use any lidded pan that can handle a 450-degree oven temperature. One of the great things about this bread-making technique is that it doesn't require specialty, single-use kitchen gadgets. (See also: Smart New Uses for These 14 Kitchen Gadgets)

The bread math

One 25-pound bag of La Romanella high gluten (bread) flour at Smart & Final costs $7.99. One one-pound (454 grams) bag of Saf-Instant yeast costs $3.59 at Smart & Final. One 26-ounce (737 gram) box of Morton's Sea Salt costs $2.09 at Target. Each loaf of bread uses 15 ounces of flour, nine grams of salt, and less than a gram of yeast, or 31 cents in ingredients.

Even when I splurge and make rye bread from organic flour from Whole Foods or add expensive ingredients like olives or nuts, it's still hard to make a loaf of bread that costs more than $2. (See also: How to Save a Ton by Eating Soup Every Day and Never Get Bored)

Reduce the cost of baking by buying in bulk

I could reduce the cost of each loaf even further if I bought the ingredients in greater bulk, but that makes no sense for my household of two. After all, each one-pound bag of yeast makes over 454 loaves of bread! I am hoping that I can find a neighbor who wants to split a bulk purchase of baking supplies so we can both save on our grocery budgets, but so far my neighbors would prefer to pay for my finished bread, instead of making their own.

The bread schedule

The secret weapon of no-knead bread is slow-rise fermentation. Instead of manually breaking down the gluten protein by kneading the bread, you let the yeast slowly do all the work of lining up the gluten molecules. While the actual hands-on time involved in making no-knead bread is under an hour, the hardest part is waiting the full 24 hours for the yeast to do its magic. No-knead bread is the opposite of instant gratification.

If you want to make bread for gifting like I do, you might have to add bread making to your calendar so you don't forget to make the dough in advance. Fair warning: you will have to train your friends and family to give you a 48-hour notice on bread orders.

Make the dough in advance to save time

To save time, I mix the bread dough in bulk once a week and bake on demand. I make enough dough for four loaves every Saturday — two for us to eat during the week, and two to use for gifts or barter currency. I should note that the loaves I make later in the week always taste better than the loaves I bake immediately. The extra sitting time allows the dough to ferment further and develop a more complex flavor (think sourdough).

Add beer to speed up the schedule

The test kitchen of Cook's Illustrated Magazine came up with an "Almost No-Knead" version of Lahey's recipe. By adding beer as a leavening agent and doing the most minimal knead, the recipe testers found that they could make a loaf with a finer crumb and reduce the rising time of the dough to as few as eight hours. For those who don't have a subscription to Cook's Illustrated, republished free copies of the Cook's Illustrated recipes for white and whole wheat bread.

Because I am not a big drinker, I use the random bottles of beer that get left behind at every BBQ to make bread dough, so I've never actually had to buy beer for baking. But even if I did buy beer as an ingredient, one 12-ounce bottle of mild-flavored beer (it can also be nonalcoholic) will make a little over four loaves of bread, so this pricier version of the recipe is still frugal.

Freeze surplus bread

Another way to save time is to bake multiple loaves in quick succession and freeze the surplus. I like to bake this way in the summertime to avoid heating up my unairconditioned house with the oven more than once a week.

Bulk baking also saves money because you won't have to pay the extra money involved in repeatedly heating up your oven to temperature (and then cooling down your house).

The meal options are endless

I firmly believe that teachers need to be compensated for their knowledge. Since I have saved literally hundreds of dollars on bread by using Jim Lahey's original recipe that he gives out for free, I decide to buy his book My Bread as a way to show my appreciation for his work. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that his no-knead technique can be used to make everything from pizza crust, to breadsticks, to cinnamon buns. Slow-rise fermentation is a versatile baking technique that allows me to create an ever-expanding collection of delicious bread recipes inexpensively and without fail.

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