Saturday, January 20, 2018

Thrift Week 2018, Day Four: Brian's Basic Brown Bread

So far, my food-based Thrift Week celebration has focused strictly on dinner recipes—which also provide leftovers that double as lunches. But if we're really going to cover a full week of frugal eating, we also need to talk about breakfast. What does a frugal morning meal look like?

In my case, it's almost always the same thing: a cup of cocoa and a couple of pieces of toast. The easiest way to make this breakfast would be to grab a loaf of bread from the store, which has around 20 slices, for about $2.50. That comes to a quarter for two slices; a bit of margarine or butter adds another penny or two. Add a packet of Swiss Miss, and the total comes to around 37 cents, which is not bad at all for a whole meal.

However, at our house, we prefer to cook from scratch, which is usually tastier as well as cheaper. We used to make all our bread in a bread machine, until it died a tragic death back in 2013. Rather than replace it, Brian decided to try making our bread the old-fashioned way, actually kneading it by hand. This requires a little more planning, since it takes the better part of a day to get from flour to finished loaf, but most of that is just rising time; the only hands-on part is the kneading, and Brian actually seems to find that a soothing activity.

So Brian now makes all our bread, using a variety of recipes—some from books, others of his own invention, such as Granola Bread and Mega-Fiber Health Bread. He'll whip up one of these special breads if I request it, but his default loaf is an unadorned whole-wheat bread that I've dubbed
Brian's Basic Brown Bread 
  1. Dissolve 4 tsp. yeast in 1 3/4 c. warm (not hot) water.
  2. Combine this in a large bowl with 3 1/2 c. whole-wheat flour, 1/4 c. honey (or brown sugar), 2 tsp. salt, 3 Tbsp. unsalted butter (or other oil), 1/2 c. wheat bran, and 2 Tbsp. wheat gluten. (You can leave out this ingredient, but the bread will rise much better with it.)
  3. Knead the dough for 10 minutes.
  4. Cover and allow to rise in a warm, moist environment for about an hour, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size. Brian usually puts it in the oven (switched off) with a damp cloth over top of the bowl and a pan of hot water underneath.
  5. Punch down the dough, knead it again briefly, and divide it up into two loaf pans.
  6. Return the pans to the warm, moist area and let the dough rise again until it puffs over the top of the pans.
  7. Bake at 375°F for half an hour.
The ingredients for this bread cost us $1.92. We get three of the ingredients from the bulk bins at the Whole Earth Center: wheat bran ($1.28 per pound), wheat gluten ($5.46 per pound), and yeast ($4.59 per pound). We most recently bought whole-wheat flour and butter at the Shop-Rite: $2.99 for a 5-pound bag of flour, $1.99 for a pound of butter. The honey came from Costco, at an impressive price of $11.99 for a massive 5-pound jar, and the salt probably cost a penny or less. That $1.92 makes two loaves, and we probably get 15 slices from each loaf, so my two daily slices cost around 13 cents.

For my morning cocoa, however, we actually pay more by cooking from scratch. That's because sugar and cocoa are two of the ingredients I always insist on buying organic, since conventional methods of growing them are so damaging to the environment. Fortunately, we have currently found sources for both that, while still pricier than their conventional equivalents, are quite a bit cheaper than what we've paid in the past. First, we got a 10-pound sack of organic sugar at Costco for just $7.99, or around 80 cents a pound—less than half what we used to pay at Trader Joe's. And then we discovered a half-pound bag of organic, Fair Trade "cacao powder" at Trader Joe's for $3.99, which is noticeably less than the $10.65 per pound we used to pay (including shipping) to buy our cocoa by the pound from Dean's Beans. (Yes, I'm aware that raw cacao powder is not the same thing as cocoa powder, which is heated to high temperatures to soften its bitter flavor, but the stuff from TJ's isn't labeled as raw cacao. As far as I can tell, it's just cocoa that hasn't been Dutch-processed, which is fine by me, since I think that process just emasculates the flavor.)

I make my cocoa with 1 teaspoon of organic, Fair Trade cocoa powder (4 cents), 1 teaspoon of organic sugar (1 cent), half a packet of artificial sweetener just to cut the sugar content a bit (less than 1 cent), a cup of skim milk (14 cents, since we got a really good deal on that at Costco as well), and a few drops of our homemade vanilla extract (about 1 cent, as I've estimated it costs about 50 cents per ounce to make). That's 21 cents per cup, while Swiss Miss packets bought in bulk cost only around 10 cents apiece. But my homemade stuff is lower in sugar, richer in nutrients, and, if I do say so myself, a lot tastier. I consider the extra 11 cents per cup to be money well spent.

So, all told, my morning breakfast costs around 35 cents: 13 for the bread, 11 for the cocoa, and 1 for a teaspoon or so of Blue Bonnet spread, our preferred margarine. And with all that nice, healthy fiber in the homemade bread, it's satisfying enough to keep me going until lunchtime. But if you can't be bothered to make your own bread and cocoa, you can make this same breakfast with store-bought ingredients, and the cost will be about the same.

By the way, the crossword puzzle shown at left in the photo is also part of my complete breakfast. It's the daily cryptic crossword from Best For Puzzles, which you can pick up here. Be warned that this is a British-style puzzle, so the clues are very different from what Americans are used to. If you've never solved a cryptic crossword before, check out this tutorial first. And be aware that you may encounter answers, like British TV shows or cities, that aren't familiar to most Yanks.

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