I’m on a quest to minimize the amount of single use plastic packaging in our household. This week: bread bags.
Why cut back on plastic bread bags? After all, most bread bags are made out of Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE), a plastic considered safe enough to store many kinds of food, and for baby bottles?
Because even though it’s “safe,” it doesn’t degrade, and most municipalities don’t accept LDPE for curbside recycling collection. Several grocery store chains have bins in front to collect it, but honestly, how many of us actually follow through there? Better to reduce waste in the first place. Besides, good bread doesn’t need a plastic bag. Many communities have wonderful bakeries which sell fresh bread in paper bags, or no bags at all.
If there are no bakeries around (or even if there are), you can make your own bread. It’s unbelievably easy. Doesn’t require a special machine, a lot of time or space.
Here is a fantastic, classic New York Times No-knead Bread recipe.
If you really get into it, try Scribbler’s Magic No-Knead Sourdough Bread. You’ll need:
Heavy pan with a lid
The key to excellent bread is a good sourdough starter. The easiest way to find one is to ask around. Sourdough bakers generally enjoy being asked about sourdough and are happy to share.
If you don’t have a friend with a starter or want to start fresh, dried starter is available in grocery stores. I used a packet of San Francisco sourdough starter. To get it going, it needed (A) a daily feeding for seven days and (B) warm temperatures. I kept the light on in the oven and bumped the temperature up a little in the mornings to keep it as close to 80˚F as I could. The starter had strongly sour scent after the first couple of days, then mellowed, and ended up yellowish-white, bubbly, with a mildly sour smell. It looks like pancake dough.
The more often you bake bread, the more “wild” yeast floats around in the air in your kitchen. This enlivens a starter, and makes the whole process easier.
Scribbler’s Magic No-Knead Sourdough Bread
- 3 1/2 cups flour. Bread flour is recommended but not necessary.
- 3/4 c “fed” sourdough starter (see links on feeding sourdough starters, above)
- 1 1/4 c lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
- In a big bowl, stir salt into flour.
- In a small bowl, mix lukewarm water with starter.
- Pour starter/water mix into dry ingredients. Stir just until mixed and most of the flour is absorbed. It will have a doughy texture. Add a little water if it feels dry.
- Cover the bowl. To avoid Saran-type plastic, I use waxed cloth and rest a towel on top. You can also use just a towel. This will leave a skin on top of the dough, which is not a big deal.
- Let rise 12 – 14 hours. I set it out at night and bake in the morning. The dough will rise 2 to 3 times its original size, be light and a little bubbly.
- Dump into an oiled dutch oven or heavy pan with lid, gently loosening the dough from the sides as you pour so you don’t deflate too much of the rise. Cover with a lid.
- Put into a cold oven. Set the temperature for 500˚ F (260˚C).
- Set the timer for 30 minutes.
- When the temperature reaches 500, turn down to 475˚ F (246˚C).
- At 30 minutes, remove the lid. Bake uncovered for another 17 – 20 minutes, until the crust is nice and brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped. For a softer crust, leave the lid on longer and/or bake for a shorter time.
This is a dense, crusty loaf that slices easily and keeps well.
Now— how to store it without a plastic bag?
I use an expandable breadbox by Prepworks (no, they aren’t paying me for this promo). Shop around. There are a lot of options.
A bread box does an excellent job of keeping bread fresh. Yes, my box is plastic, but hopefully it will last years and be recyclable when I’m done with it.
Have questions? Tips? A favorite breadbox? What’s your favorite bakery or bread recipe?