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 photo Bread for Goldilocks.jpg

This homemade bread costs just under 76 cents a loaf to make. It has a tender crust and the perfect crumb. It makes amazing sandwiches and toast, and when it gets a bit stale, it makes wonderful croutons, bread crumbs for adding to meat loaf, and is excellent for making bread pudding.

The recipe started life as the recipe for Oatmeal Bread in the Fanny Farmer Cookbook's 1986 edition. I made the recipe a few times and it was good, but it was a bit heavier than desired. The Thrifty Mister is a huge bread fan, and we'd previously been spending $4-$5 a week on a loaf of bakery bread for his lunches, so I had the incentive of saving around $200 a year to come up with a great homemade bread recipe.

So I started tinkering and came up with what we call Perfect Bread:

Makes two large or three small loaves

1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
4 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 packages fast-rising yeast
1/2 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
Note: you will need to also have an extra tablespoon of vegetable oil for oiling the bowl the bread will rise in, and a couple extra tablespoons of whole wheat flour for kneading the dough.

Note #2: I make this recipe with a Classic Kitchen Aid stand mixer. If you don't have one, then roll up your sleeves and get ready to knead by hand like your life depends on it. It's good exercise!

Start like this:

Mix the flours, oatmeal, yeast and salt together well in the Kitchen Aid mixing bowl with the beater paddle attached. Add the vegetable oil and beaten egg and let the mixer stir it all together.

Pour the milk and water into a two-cup microwave-safe measuring cup and microwave for 1.5 minutes. Stir with a spoon to make sure there are no super-hot spots in the liquid. Turn on the mixer and slowly drizzle the hot milk mixture onto the flour. This will quickly make a soft dough. Turn off the mixer and scrape the dough from the paddle blade, using a rubber spatula.

Change out the paddle blade for the dough hook. Let the mixer knead the dough on low speed for about ten minutes. You will have to stop the mixer several times and use the spatula to scrape the dough off the hook and reshape it in the bowl so that it kneads evenly. Add a tablespoon or so of whole wheat flour if needed.

Once the dough has been kneaded for ten minutes and is easy to handle, pour about a tablespoon of vegetable oil into your cupped hand. Rub it on the dough ball and on the inside of the bowl. Now you are ready to set the bread to rise the first time.

A foolproof way to have a warm place for bread to rise:

My kitchen is cold year-round. It has granite counter tops and a stone tile floor, so it's never warm enough in there to just set a bowl of dough on the counter and let it rise. So I lay a heating pad on a large towel, turn the pad on low, set the bowl of dough on the heating pad and cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap. Then I wrap the rest of the towel around and over the bowl, snugging the towel around it so that the low heat from the heating pad stays inside the towel.

You can also set the dough bowl in a bowl of very warm water and wrap a towel around it to hold in the heat.

Set the bowl of dough in the warm spot in your kitchen. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and cover the bowl with a towel. Let the dough rise for one hour.

Peel back the covers and gently punch down the dough. Cover it back up and let it rise again, which will take only about a half hour the second time around.

After the second rise, punch the dough down again. Turn on the oven to 375 degrees F. at this time. Grease your loaf pans with vegetable shortening or butter.

(Note #3: My loaf pans came from Dollar Tree and work just fine for baking bread. I also have a slightly larger Pyrex loaf pan that was a wedding gift 30 years ago.)

Divide the dough into two or three equally sized balls, and then shape them into nice long ovals. Place an oval into each prepared pan. Cover the top with plastic wrap and put them back on the heating pad to rise while covered with towel.

If you're not using a heating pad, place the pans on top of the stove. It will be warm there while it's heating up.

Let rise until doubled in size, which takes only 20 minutes or less. Place the pans in the oven on the center rack. Make sure there's adequate air space between the pans and the sides of the oven.

Bake until medium-golden brown -- approximately 20-25 minutes. The bread will sound hollow when tapped with a fingertip if it's done.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for a few minutes. Run the blade of a knife between the bread and the side of the pan, and then turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack to cool down. Can be sliced with a serrated knife while still warm.

Cost breakdown:
Bread flour -- 59 cents
Whole wheat flour -- 32 cents
Oatmeal -- 15 cents
Egg -- 17 cents
Yeast -- 66 cents
Oil -- 9 cents
Milk -- 11 cents
Sugar -- 21 cents
Salt, water, plastic wrap -- let's say 5 cents
(All ingredients, except for the whole wheat flour, were bought at discount grocers such as Aldi, Save-a-lot and Big Lots. Your prices may be higher.)

Cost per loaf, if making three loaves: 76.6 cents. Hands-on time to make it: about 30 minutes.

This bread freezes well. Once it's fully cooled, put the loaf in a gallon zip-top bag and gently press out the excess air in the bag. Seal the top and pop into the freezer. When you're ready to use it, set the bag on the counter a few hours before hand.

We store our bread in an old-style (but new) steel bread box. It's a Brabantia roll-top stainless steel bread bin that cost about $35 on Amazon. It's to the right behind the bread in the photo above. I love this bread box and it's totally a buy-it-for-life purchase.

You might wonder how it can keep unwrapped bread fresh, but it's made with a ventilation hole at the back that has a silicone plug in it. If you live somewhere with low humidity, you take the plug out. If you live where humidity is high (we do), the plug stays in place. It keeps our homemade bread very tasty and fresh for about five days. After that, it will get dry, but still makes great toast and croutons. Even a large loaf rarely lasts five days in our house, as everyone wants a slice either as a snack or to go with a meal.
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