[Poverty Recipe] Endless Bread for under $4

I've seen a few posts here and there about "I have paid all my bills, I have $28 in my checking account, how do I make it last until I get paid in two weeks?" and this post is an attempt to give you at least one option.

'Biga' is Italian starter dough. In ancient times, Italian artisan bakers didn't have instant yeast like we do today, so they would save a small portion of the dough used each day, and use it as the starter dough the next day.

You can make biga and keep it on your counter or in your fridge, and it will allow you to continue to make bread forever as long as you continue to 'feed' it, hence the title endless bread.

You primary ingredients for biga are all-purpose flour, instant yeast, and warm water.

I use Gold Medal all-purpose flour, which costs $1.98 at my local Walmart for a five lb bag. You can find store brands much cheaper than that, even as low as $.99, but I like GM flour. What brand you use is immaterial, use your favorite brand or a cheap store brand near you, they all work.

Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast sells for $1.39 for three packets at Target near me, some places sell one packet for $.99 or less, you only need one packet for our recipe here. If you like to bake and want to get three packets, go ahead and spend the $1.39, but we only need one packet for this recipe.

So, we've spent $1.98 on a 5 lb bag of flour and $1.39 on three packets of active dry yeast, so we've spent $3.37, under our $4 limit.

Making the biga is simple.

Open the bag of flour, measure out three cups of flour, and pour into a large mixing bowl. Take the packet of yeast, measure out 1/2 a teaspoon, and sprinkle it over the flour. (I've seen estimates that each packet contains 2.25 teaspoons of yeast, but just measure out 1/2 a teaspoon. This is why we only need one packet of active dry yeast.) If you don't have something to measure half a teaspoon, a tablespoon equals three teaspoons, so 1/6 of a tablespoon is 1/2 a teaspoon. If you end up putting in 1/3 of a tablespoon, or one full teaspoon, don't sweat it. You only need 1/2 a teaspoon to make the biga, but it's not going to be an issue if you use a little more in the recipe.

Take a wooden spoon (recommended, but any spoon will do, even plastic ones), and stir your flour and dried yeast for 10-20 seconds, just mix them up a little.

Now pour in 1 3/4 cups of warm water. You do not want hot water, it will kill the yeast. Warm water. Measure temp with your fingers. Think baby bathwater warm. Lukewarm is also fine.

Stir all of the flour, yeast, and water together for approximately four minutes. You want to incorporate all of the flour and yeast into the water. When all of the water and flour is incorporated, it will make a soupy wet consistency.

Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 8-24 hours. You will see the biga bubble as the yeast feeds on the flour and begin to rise and fall over the 8-24 hours, this is normal. You can use the biga after 8 hours, but the longer you wait, the more character and flavor develops, so waiting 24 hours is best.

After 24 hours, you have your starter dough.

If you don't want to refrigerate your biga, you can keep it at room temperature and use it to make bread every day for the next two weeks, just make sure you leave save some of the biga to act as your starter for the next day. If you refrigerate your biga, you can use it to make bread once a week, and keep it for perpetuity as long as you keep 'feeding' it after every use, hence endless bread.

When 'feeding' biga, you replace what you take. So if I take one cup of biga to use as my starter in a recipe, I replace it with half a cup of water and half a cup of flour. You pour the water and flour into the bowl with the remaining biga, give it a good mix to incorporate it, and voila, your feeding is done. You don't have to replace at a 1:1 ratio, I just find that it is the one that works best for me.

I currently have a bowl of biga in my fridge that is still going strong into its third week. I know of a case where a famous pizzaiolo in California and NY had his biga for going over seven months when he was interviewed for an article several years ago. As time goes on, the new flour entered in with the feeding continues to grow and feed on itself, and you essentially replace all of the original biga. You have basically created a living organism that provides you endless food just by feeding it every day or once a week.

You can use the biga to make you basic Italian bread, make pizza dough, make rolls. I have used it to make Italian bread, pizza dough, sandwich rolls, and bread sticks these past two weeks.

Basic Italian bread recipe

One cup of biga
3 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1-1.25 cups of warm water
1 tablespoon olive oil or cooking oil

Take your one cup of biga, and put it into a bowl. Pour half of the warm water into the bowl, let slowly massage the biga in the water with your hand, letting is saturate. Pour in three cups of flour, one at a time, mixing it into the water and biga with a spoon or with your hands. Pour in the teaspoon of salt. Mix it until all the flour is incorporated and you begin to get a shaggy dough. If you're doing it with your hands, this will take one to two minutes of mixing. If you're using an electric mixer, this will take about one minute for the dough to form.

After the dough has formed, shape it into a ball, and leave it in the bowl for 20 minute. Set a timer, and walk away. After the 20 minutes has passed, spend 30 seconds to one minute kneading the dough with your hands into a soft, supple ball. The dough should shape easily into a smooth, satiny ball.

Top the dough ball with one tablespoon of olive oil or cooking oil, put it in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise until doubled in size. It may take up to 3 hours, that's fine, let it take as long as it needs, if your kitchen is warm, it may rise faster.

After it has doubled in sized, remove the plastic wrap, punch it down, and take it out of the bowl. Roll it into a ball again, and cut the ball in half. You easily have enough dough for two loaves of bread.

Using your hands, shape the dough into two elongated strips, almost like you're shaping sub bread.

Line a baking tray with parchment paper. If you don't have parchment paper, lightly flour the bottom of the tray so the dough doesn't stick. Put the two dough loaves on the baking tray, and let rise for a second time for one hour.

At the 45 minute mark, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

After the second rise, the dough will flatten a little and spread out. Put the tray in the oven, and bake at 450 for 30 minutes, or until the crust turns a nice golden brown color. If you think it is done before 30 minutes, remove from the oven, and tap the bottom of the loaf. If it is done, it will sound hollow.

Let cool for 15 minutes, and then slice and eat. It tastes great by itself, but even better with butter or cream cheese. You make this right, you will never need to buy garlic bread or fresh bread from a bakery again.

Italian bread

Crumb shot

You can literally make this bread every day for two weeks so everyone has something to eat while you wait for your next paycheck.

Edit to fix spacing.

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