There's tons of free info online, plenty of books that are available at the library. Flour, water, and salt are all extremely inexpensive. Even a 5 lb bag of really good flour like King Arthur Unbleached is just a few bucks.
If you create a sourdough starter you don't need to buy yeast. Using accepted home methods you don't even need a mixer for a lot of bread doughs.
This is a great sourdough starter video tutorial:
Table of Contents
What bread baking equipment you will need
If cooking is an art, baking is a science. You'll want to be as precise as possible. Have a scale, weigh everything exactly, calibrate your oven, mix things consistently, take note of humidity, etc.
Some of this equipment requieres an investment, but you will use that stuff your whole life. Bread is going to be almost free for you after some time.
If you want more consistency you can consider getting:
A Dutch oven is probably the most important accessory you can buy if you're serious about baking bread. You can't really make a good loaf without trapping the moisture in some way. It's an investment.
Get a food scale for more consistent measurements. Once you really learn to bake bread you won't need a food scale. I'm doing everything by heart now and experimenting more.
Get a proofing basket for fancy lookin bread. A proofing basket is a good investment if you're serious about this. It's cheap too. It can also be called a banneton. Proofing baskets should be made out of wood and come with a liner or without one.
Buy cooling racks, but most people have these already. Get a proper cooling rack if you're planning to really get into this hobby. It really helps when you're baking a lot of loafs.
Get a dough scraper. It's useful too. It allows for handling of high-hydration dough without making your hands messy. It works well for scraping leftover dough from your work surface and for cutting your dough. A large plastic dough/bowl scraper really upped my game and saved so much time and frustration from the dough sticking to the counter.
And then there different types of flour. Rye is best for starters cause it’s the most biologically active. Soft white is good for delicate things like pastries, tortillas and stuff and it will also lighten/fluff up your breads if it’s partially mixed in. Buckwheat has a hearty/earthy flavor if you want a little of that.
For me I take it one step further and buy grains and grind my grains into flour using an electric mill. I fancy hard red wheat the most. It's expensive but has an incredibly deep taste.
Best bread baking book out there
Flour, Water, Salt, and Yeast by Ken Forkish.
I definitely recommend this book!! Super helpful because it goes into detail about the science of breadmaking, and the role each ingredient plays, rather than just giving you recipes to blindly follow.
Forkish's pizza dough recipes are also amazing. I never thought I could make restaurant-quality pizza at home, but his Overnight Straight Pizza Dough really turns out THAT well for me every time.
How to save money on bread baking equipment
Goodwill and some antique stores will sometimes have Dutch ovens for cheap. They'll be old and probably have roosters or flowers all over them, but as long as it's not rusty it should be fine.
A simple sourdough bread recipe
- You will need some flour, water, and salt.
- Just add 4 oz or water to 4 oz to flour in a jar with a loose lid on it, keep doing that every 12 hours until it doubles in size.
- Once it doubles in size in 12 hours, use 2 1/3 cups of the starter you just created, with 3 1/3 cups of flour and 1 tbsp of salt.
- Knead it for about 20 minutes.
- Let it sit between 4 and 24 hours in the bowl, then punch it down, split it in half put it in 2 bread pans, bake at 475 for 35 minutes.
- Boom, cheap sourdough.
A simple regular bread recipe
Typically salt is the key to bread flavour, using a "pinch" is not enough, I work on a 2% basis (yeast varies depending on your time).
So for a "regular white" 70% hydration recipe it would be:
- 500g flour
- 350g water
- 10g Salt
- 7g Yeast (active, dried, or 20g fresh compressed).
10g of salt is not a small amount, its between a teaspoon and a tablespoon in volume.
The recipe makes 2 loaves.
Regular bread is much easier to work with than sourdough, but has a less rich taste.
My first fail at baking bread
The first time I tried baking bread I had a few spices at my disposal. I wanted to be fancy so I started adding a few dashes of different spices. All the spices were labelled in Spanish so I didn't really know what each one was. I was looking for cinnamon so I added a spice labelled "Comino". I later realised this was Cumin, which is more common for stews I believe.
Another problem was I added the spices late so they weren't mixed properly. So I was eating the bread afterwards and it was ok, then I would bite a pocket of Cumin bread and it tasted like old soggy socks. It was horrible. It took me a while to figure out what was happening.
Sometimes I regret my homemade bread is so tasty
Once brought a homemade bread to a potluck with the then inlaws. Everyone loved it. They loved it enough that there was a vocal disappointment when I didn't bring one the next time we were invited over.
We had dinner with them almost every week. Every time after that, my mother-in-law would call the day before to remind me to bring bread. It became a chore.
Is baking bread yourself cheaper than buying it?
I find the active time on sourdough to be way, way less than on yeasted breads.
I spend 10 minutes active time mixing the dough, 8-10 hours passive time raising it, with an optional 2 minute turning/kneading time in there, another 10 minutes shaping, a further 2-4 hours passive proving time, and then the time it takes to bake, most of which is passive time. The sourdough starter involves feeding it about 4 times a week; a cup of flour and 5 minutes each time, max.
Using this approach I can bake bread (even during the work week) without any real time imposition. It's extremely easy, cost effective, and tasty. Probably my collection of thrift-shop baking vessels is the most expensive and time consuming aspect of it all.
As for cost? My bread is way cheaper than commercial bread of any kind. A loaf costs me about 4 cups of flour, about a heaped teaspoon of salt, and water. The cheapest possible sliced white bread around my neck of the woods is about $1.50 and it is pretty unappetising. Standard sliced white is about $3.00-$5.00, depending on brand, and sourdough similar to mine but much smaller loaves, $6-10 each.
Baking bread saves a heck of a lot more per year when you have a family. Four people with a couple of slices of toast each at breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, we easily go through a loaf a day, saving about $4/day or $1300/year.
Then start adding in hamburger buns, dinner rolls, and other one offs, you're up to at least $1500 per year.
From there, start making non-yeasted baked goods. Cookies, muffins, granola bars. I'd say that if you have teenagers in the house you can save at least $2500/year and everyone is eating food that is both tastier and healthier.
How to get really good at baking bread
Keep a log!
Yep, I do this, and it's invaluable. I have a spreadsheet that lists every variable and a cell for notes/photos, which is insanely useful.
I also make bread pretty much every weekend and I usually make two loaves, but change one variable between the two of them, to get a much better understanding of how the changes affect the outcome. For example, this past weekend, for the final proof I sent one loaf directly to the fridge to retard and let the other proof at room temp for just over an hour. When I baked them the next day the difference was astounding!
Always remember that sticky dough makes good bread! Try working with very high-hydration dough and very high temperatures in the oven. That's the secret to amazing loaves.
I've baked through 200lb of flour and now I am baking my way through Jeffrey Hamelman's bread Bible.
I tried baking bread on and off for literally decades before it all came together for me. The turning point for me was the gift of a sourdough starter that really worked. That was before Youtube and all this Internet info and I just didn't know how to make proper starter by myself. Once you get a good one, everything else just falls into place. Or at least it did for me.
Why I love baking bread so much
Hearing crackling of my first loaf of bread is something I will never forget.
Making a perfect sourdough loaf is a 3 day process and if you try to rush any step, you can always tell in the final bake. Take your time. It's a lesson in baking and living life that I'm still working on 🙂
How baking bread changes once you get the hang of it
I don't weigh or measure, and have had very few failures. It's more about the look/feel of the dough.
It's practice/repetition, I think. After a while you just get to know what's going to work, from previous experience.
That, and responding to the way the ingredients are. Flour seems to vary a whole lot in how much water it can absorb, so if it looks dry, I add more water. Also sourdough starter changes with the seasons and so you have no choice other than to be more flexible with it, and let it rise until it's 'done' (or conversely stoke up the oven a bit ahead of schedule).
So just keep baking, and one day you'll find yourself thinking, 'hmm, this needs more X or Y' and you'll be on your way.