One of my goals for this year is to put away more savings. “Duh!” you probably think, “who doesn’t want to do that?” And obviously, you are entirely right. Unless someone is born rich, and money’s never been a problem for them, all of us could use a bit of savings. The trick is – contrary to what those annoying clickbait ads tell you all over the internet, there is no ‘one weird trick’ to saving cash that works, because everyone’s life is very different, and what is a money-saver for one person, results in unnecessary waste of time for another, and exhaustion for yet another, and vice versa.
This article isn’t about that one weird trick, but it’s about something I, and the knitting klatsch I belong to, have began doing lately to be more budget-friendly to our less-financially-endowed members (and to those better off, too – none of us are rolling around in moolah, here, honestly), and the recipe I ended up designing as a side consequence of that.
The recipe is for a white non-sourdough bread with lowfat/fat-free fermented dairy products so common in the Nordic countries. It’s fantastic, if I do say so myself (and I do, and so does the knitting-and-eating crowd), and if you want to skip my pontification, just scroll down to it and enjoy!
So anyway – what led to the creation of this recipe is that some time ago for a number of reasons some of which having to do with coffee shop closing times in Jyväskylä, we decided to move our weekly meetings to a loosely-rotating schedule of hosting one when we can, and putting our names up for dates in advance to do so. The person hosting cooks or asks for a potluck, everyone else shows up with or without food, and with or without knitting or crocheting, and babbling and stuffing mouth holes ensues. This in itself is a great way to save money without sacrificing the activity, because the host can feed and caffeinate the entire crowd for roughly the price of a latte+donut or slice of cake in the city cafes, and all of us can cook and/or bake and/or slice fruit and brew tea.
In addition, one of the best (in cold weather, which is 3/4 of the year here in Finland, arguably) ways to feed a crowd for me is a giant pot of non-wishywashy hearty soup or stew (no bullshit cucumber-infused lukewarm water is passed for soup in this household!), and a loaf of bread. And I do love to bake, and at times, I have the time and foresight and fortitude to start 2-3 days in advance, wake up my sourdough starter, and bake beautiful no-knead wheat or rye sourdough bread. Aaaand on other weeks I am barely awake, and remember that I am hosting or that I have promised to bring a loaf of bread the night before the meeting. No time to wake up sourdough starter or faff around, and so I turn to regular baker’s yeast – the dry yeast that I keep around in little sachets in the cold pantry to have on hand in case of emergency or not-so-emergency yeast baking.
But, I do love the flavor of sourdough, and while that can’t entirely be faked, you can make absolutely gorgeous bread without the starter that has at least a hint of the character of true sourdough, but is vastly easier to handle, works reliably, and tastes amazing, because I bake it with a generous amount of one of the traditional Nordic low-fat dairy products such as quark (kvarg, kesella or rahka), or skyr (which can be bought German-made under the generic name “Isk” in Lidl). However, if you cannot get a hold of those, a strained variety of low-fat yogurt (low-fat Greek yogurt) can be substituted. The key here is the bacterially-produced acid and protein from the dairy product, combined with a lack of excessive amounts of fat, not because I avoid fat, but because in high-temperature baking (such as used for bread), fat tends to burn and generally not be one’s friend. The protein adds elasticity and flavor, while the acids (typically lactic or acetic or both) help preserve the bread and add character and flavor profile.
Not being a true sourdough, this won’t keep as long, but eh, I’d not had a problem with it not getting eaten before it goes bad. The bread will keep fine for a day or two in a plastic bag at room temperature. The recipe as given will make a very large loaf that would feed 6-8 people a large dinner alongside soup (or a family of 2 for 3 days). It can easily be halved or reduced by 1/3 for smaller appetites.
So, what do you need to make it?
- An oven and a cast iron pot with a lid, or a pizza stone and a stainless steel bowl (inexpensively acquired from IKEA) large enough to cover your bread.
- 800g white bread flour (or ‘special white flour’ in Finland which is about 12% protein).
- 20g (4 flat tsp) table salt. Or fancy salt, whatever.
- 7-12g sachet of dry yeast. (Use about half if reducing recipe – yeast amount is not precise here)
- 100g unsweetened dairy product of your choice (quark/rahka/kvarg, skyr or lowfat strained yogurt)
- 460ml or g (same, but I weigh my water) of cold tap water.
What you need to do:
- The night before you want the bread, mix up the dough: combine flour, salt and dry yeast, and mix with a whisk. Whisk the dairy into the water till no lumps are left.
- Pour the liquid into flour mix, and stir with a spatula till it forms a lump of dough. There’ll be some dry bits left in the bowl. Scrape down the spatula, put it down, and gently work the dough with your hands till no dry bits are evident. The dough will become fairly smooth and will mostly stick to itself.
- Leave it in its bowl, seal it with plastic wrap, and pop a tiny exhaust hole with a toothpick or knifetip in the plastic. If you have a few hours to bedtime, leave it at room temperature till you go to bed (it’ll rise considerably during 2-3 hours), at which point stick it in the fridge or cold pantry if you have one. I leave mine on the floor near a cracked balcony door when it is -5C out so it’s very chilled but not frozen in the morning. If you are mixing right before bed, leave it in a cool but not cold room-temperature location.
- In the morning, lightly flour your work surface, and turn the dough onto it. It’ll have tons of gluteney strands formed – use a dough scraper or spatula to get it to leave the bowl alone.
- Stretch and fold the dough a couple of times, cover with bowl and go take a shower or whatever. Give it 10-15 minutes to rest.
- Lightly flour a piece of baking parchment or heavily flour a banetton (raising basket). Form your dough into a ball, and put it in the baking basket seam-side up, or on the parchment seam-side down. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with oil, or dampen a kitchen towel very slightly with water, and cover the dough. Leave in a warm spot for 1-2 hours until it’s about 1.5-2 times its original size. You can poke its side to see if it bounces back slowly, in which case it’s ready (fast bounce-back means it can use a bit more time).
- Preheat oven with your pizza stone, cast iron pot, or just a baking sheet to 200C. If using baking sheet, preheat to 225C – it has a lower heat capacity. Read this about handling very hot cast iron and wrangling the dough into it, because I don’t want you to have horrible burns.
- Once dough is ready, invert the banetton onto a piece of baking parchment (if you proofed the dough on parchment it’s already there), and slash the dough a few times with a serrated knife. Place the dough carefully (with the parchment) into your cast iron pot (and cover), onto your pizza stone or heated baking sheet (and cover with an inverted steel bowl), set timer to 30 minutes, and reduce heat (in case of baking sheet) down to 200C.
- In 30 minutes, open the oven, and using an oven glove and/or spatula remove the lid off the pot (put it somewhere heat-safe where you won’t touch it till it cools!), or the bowl off the sheet/pizza stone. Bake bread for a further 25-35 minutes until it is a medium golden brown (pale gold is not nearly baked enough).
- Carefully remove bread from the oven. It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least 2-3 hours before cutting (else you risk gummy crumb and no one likes gummy crumb).
That’s it. This dough is remarkably well-behaved for a yeast dough, and requires no mixer or other appliances other than the stove to bake it. Its ingredients are inexpensive, and the payoff is a luxurious loaf that people are happy to eat just with butter or dipping oil, and that makes a pot of soup into a feast.
Make it, cook up some soup, and invite all your hungry friends for talk-and-eat. Enjoy more social life at lesser expense. Save money, make friends happy, and feel a sense of accomplishment when someone asks you where you bought the loaf. As they probably will.
P.S. Many thanks to A for taking the action photos! I really appreciate it!