Once in awhile, something will catch my eye at a store, and while it looks intriguing, the price just isn't there for me. But I'll remember where and when I saw the item, as well as its price, and check back occasionally to see if there's been any change. On Tuesday night, one of the things I've been eyeballing hit an attractive price point. So after months of looking at it, poking it, and passing it by... I finally bought it: A loaf of Tuscan bread from the Kroger deli.
How could I not? It was marked down to half price ($1.49) because it was expiring. I figured if we ate most of it over the next few days before it spoiled, we'll have gotten our money's worth. As of tonight it's half gone, there are no signs of spoilage, and let me tell you right now — it's a damn fine loaf of bread.
I hate buying bread. My eye drifts to the list of ingredients half a mile long, chemicals, coloring agents, and so forth... and I always think of how bread is an ancient food, and thus, likely to taste better without all that crap added to it. And it does. I've found I can make a one-pound loaf of bread for less than 60 cents, so not only can I make bread at home which tastes better, it costs less than what you'll get at the store. I make it in a bread machine because I'm lazy — and yes, the cost I have listed includes the electricity too. Here's the recipe I usually use, which I've done so many times I have it memorized.
- 2 teaspoons of yeast
- 1½ cups of white flour (unbleached)
- ½ cup of whole wheat floar
- 1 teaspoon wheat gluten
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk powder
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon wheat germ
- ¾ cup water
Just throw everything into your bread machine (the order depends on your machine, so check your manual), set it for a light crust, and rock and roll. Your house will smell wonderful for hours afterwards, and you'll have a nice loaf of basic bread with no artificial junk in it.
Sometimes I'll get creative and tweak the ingredients a bit. Most sugars are interchangeable, as are most fats. So, for instance, you could substitute maple syrup for the sugar or olive oil for the butter and still have something pretty edible, though you may have to experiment to get the correct amounts, and the flavor may be a little different. The flours can be mixed in different proportions as long as it comes to about two cups, though wheat flour makes for a stiffer bread and a harder knead, so make sure your machine can handle it. Salt regulates how much the yeast rises — using less of it will make a fluffier bread, and more sugar will usually make the yeast more active as well.
Fresh yeast is probably the most important ingredient. Without it your loaf will resemble a paperweight. I buy mine in a jar and keep it in the refrigerator for months at a time with no problems. Fresh flour is important as well — I keep it in the fridge too. And generally speaking, I use the simplest ingredients I can find... unsalted butter, for example. Unbleached white flour. Whole wheat flour. Even the water is purified.
This Tuscan loaf has a nice crisscross pattern on top sprinkled with a liberal quantity of flour, and the ingredients list is short and fairly chemical-free, which is good. Tuscan bread usually contains no salt; this loaf has a small amount but it doesn't seem to have impacted the flavor. It's got the slightest tang to it, barely perceptible, a crust which is somehow crispy and chewy at the same time, and a basic essence hinting at tiny cottages in medieval European forests.
Not too bad for a buck and a half at Kroger.