Sunday, March 21, 2010

Whole Wheat Rye Loaf and a Lesson in Economics

OK, so I won't really bore you with a lesson in economics.  Supply, demand, equilibrium, free trade yadda, yadda, yadda.  I was an Economics major in college, so I know exactly how dull that all can be.  There is a very important and relevant theme throughout economics, though, that I think we need to talk about - saving money.

Here's a condensed version of Microeconomics 101 (I lied; I am going to bore you): Consumers won't pay above a certain price for a good simply because it's in their best interest to save money so that they can keep as much of it as possible.  Suppliers, on the other hand, demand that consumers pay above a certain price for that same good because they, too, would like to get their hands on more money.  Everyone's really looking for the same thing - to keep as much money in their own wallets as possible.  

The bread market is no different than any other economic market out there.  Suppliers, be they large manufacturers or small local bakeries, need you to buy their bread for far more than the cost to make it in order to make money.  You, on the other hand, would like to keep that money, right?  Luckily, there's an easy and delicious solution here:  

Make your own bread! 

I'm not saying that the little old woman down the street is diabolically planning to chip away at your life savings by charging $6 or more for a loaf of her wonderful bread, because she also needs to pay the bills.  What I am saying is that, if you can't afford to pay the lovely woman down the street for her healthy, natural, and scrumptious loaves, making your own bread is a far better alternative than buying cheaper sandwich loaves from the store.  I'm not saying that's the worst thing in the world either, but why not avoid the preservatives and processed ingredients if you can? 

Sar and I recently took Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois out from the library.  Not only is the book filled with delicious recipes, it proves that baking bread is not inconvenient.  Additionally, I'm here to prove to you exactly how economical it is to turn your kitchen into a pseudo artisan bakery.  For the Whole Wheat Rye that I made from the book (I won't post the recipe, since I didn't really make many changes, so please check out the book or the authors' website) I needed the following ingredients:

White whole wheat flour, dark rye flour, bread flour, yeast, salt, and water.  

This is what they cost here on the UES:
King Arthurs brand white whole wheat flour - $5.69 (5 lbs)
Bob's Red Mill brand dark rye flour - $3.24 (1 lb 6 oz) 
Gold Metal brand bread flour - $4.89 (5 lbs) 
Fleischmann's brand active dry yeast - 2.69 (3 packets)
Salt & Water - basically free
Grand Total - $16.51

To make the bread I mixed all of the dry ingredients together and then added the water and mixed it until just combined - no kneading in this recipe!  This is what it looked like in the bright afternoon light of our kitchen:

I let this sit, covered with plastic wrap and out of the sun, for 5 or 6 hours until it looked like this:

Once the dough reached that stage, I took half of it it out and shaped it into a boule.  This was extremely challenging given the stickiness of the dough, but some extra flour on my hands and sprinkled on the dough made it possible.  I sprinkled some corn meal over the top and let the boule rest for another 40 minutes.  Here it is looking very controlled:

Once the boule finished resting, I quickly slashed the top with a serrated bread knife and popped it in a 450 degree F oven for 30 minutes.  Ta-da!!

Now, if you breakdown the prices shown above into the amount that you spend on just one of the two amazing loaves the recipe made, the total cost per loaf is only $1.47!  This would probably be even less if you live somewhere that grocery prices aren't as absurdly high.  The cherry on top is that this bread took less effort than navigating the narrow aisles of Manhattan supermarkets and schlepping a sub-par loaf back to your apartment.  Alternatively, the price should be enough for you to graciously say "good-bye!" to that kind old woman at the bakery down the street.  


PS - I'm here to tell you that caraway seeds are NOT a necessary part of a good rye bread.  Since Sar and I are officially done with our feud, I'll say it loud and proud - I absolutely hate caraway seeds.  

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