Dough proofer. First on my really shocked list is an electric bread dough proofer for $170.00. I think they do use one on The Great British Baking Show, but they’re always time constrained on that show. All the many bread books I have suggest a long, cool rise for best flavor and texture. I use a plastic underbed box, 28-quart, under $10 at most stores. Three of them fit easily on my dining table. Each tub fits over three loaves of rising bread or pans of rolls. If it’s really cold in the house or I’m in a hurry, I just fill a couple jars with hottest tap water and stick them under the tub for extra warmth and humidity. Gosh, I just saved $160. When baking day is done, I nest the boxes and shove them in a closet.
For the first rise, a stack of tubs that once held penny candy or bubblegum on a convenience store counter work perfectly. These tubs are the perfect size to rise to double or more a dough from 6 or 7 cups of flour, which makes two big loaves. Just ask nicely next time you see a tub full of gum somewhere, take it home, wash thoroughly with a bit of bleach and leave it open to air out a few days. Wash again, stack and store. My stack of six tubs is 25 years old and still holding. I suppose you could buy a full tub at Sam’s or somewhere, give the gum out for Halloween, and still save a huge amount over the same sized container for over $10. You will have saved $10, but I have six and usually at least two in use. Is that $60 saved? Or only $20?
Bread machines. Speaking of machines, if you’re thinking about a bread machine, before you invest in a Zojirushi for over $300, consider a less expensive machine to make sure you will make good use of it and to also determine whether you actually want a more expensive machine. I often bake small loaves, rolls, and flatbreads in my toaster oven and, for a full-sized sandwich loaf, am more than happy with a Cuisinart Convection Bread Machine. I’ve had mine over 10 years and it’s still available in several stores for $99, (often with free shipping).
Loaf pans for bread are priced in some catalogs at around $15. I confide that I bought eight identical loaf pans at the Dollar Store for $1.00 each back in 1999 and these pans, all seasoned now, are still in use and bake beautiful, evenly browned crust. I give them a quick squirt with oil spray and the loaves drop out when they’re done. My tubs and loaf pans look a little grungy now, 20 years in hard use, but they work perfectly.
Yeast. While we’re baking bread, if you do bake often, buy yeast in the 1-pound package available from several online sources, including Amazon (Prime), King Arthur Bread Company, Bob’s Red Mill, as well as the wholesale houses like Sam’s and Costco. You’ll save at least 50 percent.
You certainly don’t need to spend $12 on a special jar for yeast. A quart jar (even just an empty mayo jar) holds 1 pound, works just as well, didn’t cost anything, and fits on the freezer door shelf. I break up cheap $1.00 sets of measuring spoons and keep a teaspoon and a tablespoon measure in the jar. Same for the salt pig next to the stove.
Thermometer. One place I learned to spend more to spend less at the end is for a candy-jelly thermometer. Wal-Mart and the grocery stores offer this thermometer for around $3, especially around the holidays. After a few disasters, I realized that the cheap thermometers are a waste of money. Invest in a good one. Mine is a Wilton that cost $15.00. Considering batches of failed fudge and jelly, that’s a big saving.
On the other hand, the Therm-pro instant-read thermometer for about $12 works perfectly well to check meat and loaves of bread. No need to invest hundreds for a professional model.
Baking stones. There are oven liners and stones available at kitchen and baking stores. They must be wonderful, but they’re so expensive. Instead, head to a flooring store or big-box hardware. Look for quarry tiles or Saltillo tiles from Mexico. I found 6-inch quarry tiles for just 49 cents each. The 12-inch is $1.58. Pick up enough to line the bottom of your oven — be sure to leave space all the way around for heat to circulate. Get a couple extra just in case. You just created close to a brick oven for less than $3.00. I put six in my oven in 1999. I never take them out except every few years to scrub them clean. Put the tiles on the bottom shelf of a gas oven, on the oven floor for an electric oven.
Marble countertop. While you’re there, pick up a 12- or 18-inch marble tile for $4 or $5. Use the marble tile as your cold countertop to roll pie crust or puff pastry. I keep mine out of the way standing on edge behind the rest of my cutting boards. No need to spend $100s for a marble countertop.
The first mention in writing of scones was way back in the 16th Century. I’m pretty sure neither housewives nor castle cooks had fancy baking trays divided into eight proper wedges. Surely they simply patted out their rich scone dough into a rough circle, cut the dough into wedges and baked on the baking tray or laid out directly on the oven floor. Today, that method will save you something over $30.
Add spice, diced fresh or dried fruit, chopped nuts, citrus zest, etc., to suit. Notice you don’t have to cut in any cold butter. Easy! See the next installment of this post sereis for clotted cream to go with them.
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-inch pizza pan or other baking sheet with parchment or non-stick foil.
2. Mix dry ingredients. Beat the egg in 2 cup measure. Note volume and add cream, which will come up to about 7/8 cup. Add the vanilla then whisk together.
3. Add the wet mix to the dry and stir just to combine. Always use a light touch, folding rather than stirring hard, with scones or biscuits. You don’t want to develop gluten. Add any raisins, cut dried fruit, etc.
4. Wet your hands so dough won’t stick. Pat into 8- or 9-inch rough circle, ¾-inch thick, on the pan. Leave top rough. Brush with cream and sprinkle with turbinado. Score the dough into wedges with a bench knife or other cutter.
5. Bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes. Let the scones cool then cut through on the scored marks and separate the scones.
If you love cookbooks, you can browse book stores, of course, or Amazon. But, before you buy, check Better World Books. I’ve often found coveted books for under $4.00, nearly always at a steep discount. Many are used, some even a bit soiled, but Better World is also a charity that contributes books for world literacy. If you browse through, you’ll find some fascinating books on all topics of cooking and baking, even separated by country if you’d like to explore more international cooking.
Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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