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bread making basicsLast week, we took a look at the differences between conventional bread and organic bread. The lower price of conventional bread also includes chemical dough enhancers, preservatives, and other “junk” you wouldn’t normally choose to eat. Organic bread uses organic ingredients and leaves the “junk” out.

The trade off is a higher cost and shorter shelf life. Don’t want to spend $5+ on a loaf of bread? Then let’s make our own! We’re going to learn how to make two basic recipes: a basic sandwich bread and a crusty artisan-style bread.

The Science of Bread Making

Disclaimer: I am not a master baker, not even an ametuer baker. I like baking, have learned the basics from some good sources, and taught myself some more lessons along the way. The goal of this article is to encourage you to try making your own bread and (hopefully) pass along some knowledge to help make it as fun as possible!

There are four key players in bread: wheat flour, water, yeast, and salt.

  1. Wheat flour – provides the structure for a great bread and feeds the yeast. Two proteins found in the starchy endosperm of the wheat berry (gliadin and glutenin) form a completely new protein (the infamous gluten) when combined. Gluten is responsible for the glorious chewy, springy texture of the bread and helps hold the air bubbles produced by yeast.

  2. Water – hydrates the flour, helps feed the yeast. The amount of water you use affects the dough’s hydration level. Doughs can vary from 60-80% hydration. The higher the hydration level, the “stickier” the dough. The hydration level affects the end result, causing the difference between something like 60% hydration sandwich bread (few, small air bubbles) and an 80% hydration ciabatta (large air bubbles), for example.

  3. Yeast – live organism that produces air bubbles and causes rise, leavening. There are lots of different types of yeast, but you will always be safe choosing instant yeast. This type of yeast doesn’t require any “proofing” and can be used in any recipe. The yeast feed off the starch in the flour and produce gas, which gets trapped in the gluten network, which causes your dough to puff up nicely. Store in fridge, replace every few months.

  4. Salt – chemically, this doesn’t do much for the dough, but it is needed for the flavor. Don’t skip it.

To sum up: the water hydrates the flour, which produces gluten and feeds the yeast, which produce air that gets caught in the gluten, causing a beautiful rise and fluffy dough. Salt makes it all taste good.

Basic Homemade Sandwich Bread: Step-by-Step

A basic sandwich bread has tons of uses and freezes well. You can use unbleached white flour, wheat flour, or multiple different grain flours. Wheat flour will have more nutritional benefits than white flour, but use what you want and enjoy it. Seriously. This is bread making not filing taxes. Have fun! By home-baking, you’re already producing a healthier product than anything you can buy on the shelves!

Basic Homeade Bread


  • Sandwich Bread Ingredients: yields 2, 1-lb loaves
  • 5.0 - 6.0 cups of flour (bread flour, white, flour, whole wheat flour, etc.)
  • 2.0 cups of lukewarm liquid (all water, or 50/50 milk/water for a softer texture)
  • 2.0 teaspoons active dry yeast (instant yeast, bread machine yeast)
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil (or melted butter, ghee, melted coconut oil, etc)
  • 2-3 Tablespoons sweetener (honey, organic sugar, coconut sugar, etc) - omit for savory breads, like garlic or herb or pizza dough (details below)
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (more or less to taste)
  • Optional: 1-2 Tablespoons Vital Wheat Gluten, good for working with 100% whole wheat flour
  • Optional: 1 Tablespoon Rice Bran, for softer bread
  • Optional: 1-2 Tablespoons flaxseed meal, for extra fiber and nutrition


  1. -In a large bowl, add the warm water (about 80º is ideal, more than 130º can kill your yeast) and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes. (If nothing is foaming or bubbling after 10 minutes, your yeast may be old and you may not get the rise your dough needs.)
  2. -Add the milk (if using), oil, sweetener, and salt. Mix to combine.
  3. -Add in about 1-2 cups of your flour (and other optional dry ingredients) and stir. Now, gradually add in more flour, holding the last cup of flour to use as needed. Stir well.
  4. -Let sit for 10 minutes. (Why wait? The water is hydrating your flour and the little bit of stirring you’ve done has begun forming gluten. This rest will help soften your flour, releasing more gluten-forming proteins. This rest is especially helpful for whole grains.)
  5. -Continue stirring. If your dough is sticky (totally normal), gradually add more flour.
  6. Knead.
  7. -When the dough becomes too thick to stir, begin kneading (by machine or by hand). “Kneading” is basically just mixing with your bare hands (or machine). -By hand - put the dough on a clean, floured surface (or get a pastry cloth, details below) and mush it around. It will get easier to work and less sticky.
  8. -If the dough is really sticking to your mixer or hands, add a little more flour, just a tablespoon at a time.
  9. -How sticky should it be? It should stick to your finger but pull off entirely without leaving much behind.
  10. -Note: It’s easy to add more flour, but trying to add more water is very difficult. Add flour slowly.
  11. -Knead for about 10 minutes. Return dough to your large bowl, cover it with a flour cloth, oiled plastic wrap, or whatever else you have available. I like to use a repurposed plastic grocery bag.
  12. First Rise and the Magic 17. “Let the dough rise,” is probably one of the more confusing parts of this process. How long will that take? It depends. Yeast love an 78ºF environment. I don’t know when/where you’re reading this, but it’s 7ºF outside right now and about 64ºF in my kitchen. When it comes to yeast, “17” is the magic number. For every 17ºF below this happy 78º threshold yeast will need twice as long to do the same amount of work. That means that if it normally takes yeast 40 minutes to rise in 78º, my 64º kitchen will need about 70-80 minutes to get the same results. A 70º kitchen would need about 60 minutes. This magic formula is handy for setting expectations but not foolproof. Watch your dough, and when it’s about twice as big, proceed. Estimate 40-90 minutes.
  13. Form your loaf (or rolls). Confusing part II. Don’t “punch down” your dough. That’s just insulting the yeast. They just spent an hour pumping all those beautiful air bubbles into your dough. Gently dump your dough ball onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Divide the dough ball into two roughly equal halves and have two loaf pans (about 9”x5”) ready. Gently encourage the dough into a rectangular shape. Fold up the bottom end of the rectangle, then the top (like folding a letter). Fold it in half and pinch the edges closed. Confused? Check out this video on The Kitchn for a quick demo.
  14. Only have one loaf pan? No loaf pan? No problem. When life hands you dough, make rolls. Continue dividing the dough into equal parts. When you have a roll-sized bit of dough, shape it into a roll! This can be a simple ball, roll the dough and tie it into a little knot, or put three smaller balls into a muffin pan for a clover leaf shape. Hot dog buns, hamburger buns...get creative and have fun. If the dough is too sticky to work, roll it in a little flour.
  15. Second Rise. Let the dough rest and grow again, shorter this time. It should grow about 1.5 times the starting size. Estimate 20-45 minutes. More time is not always better. Too much air in your dough can overwork the gluten network, making it crash. Your dough will fall. Err on the lower end of the scale until you get the hang of it.
  16. Preheat your oven during the second rise, 425º F. You won’t bake at this temp, though.
  17. Slice. When your loaves/rolls are ready to bake, slice the top of your loaf with a serrated knife, about ½” deep. 1-3 slashes will do the trick. This releases a little extra gas and will make a prettier, more even loaf/roll.
  18. Bake it! Put your loaf and rolls into the oven and LOWER THE TEMP to 375º. Bake rolls about 15-20 minutes, loaves 30-40 minutes.
  19. Remove from oven and check for doneness. If you have an instant read thermometer, check the internal temp. You want about 200º F. No thermometer? Flip the loaf out of the pan and thump the bottom. It should sound hollow.
  20. Enjoy!

Troubleshooting Tips and Fixes:

-Your dough never grew? Old yeast or water was too hot. Roll it out flat for flatbread.

-The dough grew well but collapsed? Too long of a rise time. Consider repurposing as a pizza dough, just add some garlic powder and brush with olive oil before baking.

-The bread is too crumbly? Not enough water in your dough. Toast it and grind it up for breadcrumbs.

-Rolls are rock hard on the outside? Overcooking. Repurpose for croutons or breadcrumbs.

-Overcooked on the outside, undercooked inside? Test your oven’s temperature, it may run too hot. Lower temp and/or reposition rack.

Do you have any more sandwich bread making tips (or stories) to share?

Crusty No-Knead Artisan Bread

Love the idea of homemade bread but don’t have free time? No problem. Sandwich bread requires more hands-on attention to get those small air bubbles, but for a great, crusty rustic-style bread, you get to skip the work and just enjoy the benefits! This is my favorite recipe. It’s frugal and a gift from the heavens, and we’re just going to enjoy it.

The Science

What traditional bread making recipes accomplish with hands-on work, no-knead recipes accomplish with time. Using slow fermentation and less yeast, the gluten network slowly develops, the dough slowly rises, and flavor is born.

A Secret

Most no-knead recipes have you create the dough, let it sit out for 8 hours, and then form your dough ball to bake. Here’s a secret….you can create your dough, let it sit in the fridge for 18-48 hours, tear off and use just what you need, and have fresh bread in less than an hour…any time you want it! With just 10 minutes of hands-on work, you can have a stash of amazing artisan bread dough ready to use as needed for DAYS. The dough will keep about 3-4 days in the fridge.

No Knead Artisan Bread Ingredients

No Knead Artisan Bread


  • 3 cups of flour (bread flour, whole wheat flour, unbleached white flour, etc.)
  • 1.5 cups lukewarm water (about 80ºF, 130º+ will kill your yeast)
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • Optional: if using whole wheat flour, 1 Tablespoon of Vital Wheat Gluten will help


  1. Mix. In a large bowl (or your mixer bowl), “wake up” the yeast by sprinkling it over the warm water. Let it sit for a few minutes. Add all the other ingredients and mix well, about 3 minutes. If using a mixer, combine everything and mix on low, using paddle attachment not the dough hook, for about 3 minutes. It should be a goopy, sticky, messy dough, and that’s OK!
  2. Rest. Scrape down the bowl, cover it and let it sit on the counter at room temp for about 8 hours, OR pop it in the fridge for at least 12 hours. That’s it.
  3. Proof.
  4. -For room-temp dough: Turn dough out onto a lightly oiled (not floured) surface. Shape your dough into a ball, making sure to stretch a nice, smooth top. Oiled or watered hands help here. The dough is sticky, and that’s ok. Let it rest for about one hour.
  5. -For fridge-temp dough: remove the amount you want to use and let sit at room temp for about 2 hours. Then proceed as above.
  6. Preheat. About 20 minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 450º F, lower the rack to the bottom third, and preheat a large (about 5-6 qt) high-temp safe pot. I use my cast iron dutch oven. You want something with a lid or the ability to cover with foil.
  7. Bake. Gently transfer the dough to your screaming hot pot without burning yourself, please. This bread is really good, but not good enough to justify 2nd degree burns. Dumping the dough into the pot is completely acceptable. Cover the pot with a high-temp safe lid and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  8. The bread is done when the internal temp is about 210º. A solid, hollow “thump” is also a good guide, if you don’t have a thermometer.
  9. No oven-safe pot to use? No problem, but we’ll need to create steam to produce a great crusty bread. When preheating your oven, place an empty metal cake pan or sheet pan on the bottom rack to preheat (middle rack doesn’t move). This pan will not be used for baking, it will be used for steam. Shape the dough as above, let it proof, but instead of transferring to the hot pot as above, bake on any pre-heated surface (not the steam pan on the bottom rack) - cookie sheet, baking stone, cast iron skillet...etc. Place your dough in the oven to bake and then pour a cup or two of water into the pan on the bottom rack, the one not holding your dough. Quickly shut the oven. The steam generated will create a gorgeous crust. Bake as above.

Do you have any other no-knead bread recipes or tricks to share?

Getting Creative

These two bread recipes are very different but very useful. Get creative and make even more types of bread! All “extras” should be added during the kneading stage, unless otherwise noted.

Cinnamon Raisin Sandwich Bread – mix in cinnamon, raisins

Chocolate Walnut Sandwich Bread – mix in chocolate chips, walnuts

Garlic Rolls – add 2 teaspoon garlic powder during kneading and/or roll dough in garlic oil (olive oil warmed with minced garlic + salt) before forming garlic roll knots

Cheese Bread – work in 1 cup of coarsely grated hard cheese (asiago, parmesan, etc.)

Herb Bread – add 2 tablespoons of assorted herbs and salt (parsley, oregano, basil, thyme, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, rosemary, red pepper flakes, etc.)

Cinnamon Rolls – after first rise, roll dough into a flat rectangle. Smear with softened butter and generously sprinkle a cinnamon/sugar blend. Then roll up and slice. Let rise until doubled and bake, OR place in baking dish, 1-2” apart, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Let warm to room temp before baking.

Seed Bread – mix in nuts, sunflower seeds, pepitas, etc.

Honey Butter – serve fresh bread with homemade honey butter! Combine equal parts honey and softened butter and whisk until smooth.

Pizza Roll Up – roll out the half the dough after the first rise into a rectangle, about 10” wide on the short side (a little less dough than you’d use for a 1 lb loaf). Leaving a 2” border, spread pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese, chopped veggies, and other toppings. Roll it up as if for cinnamon rolls. Pinch all edges shut to prevent leaks. Fold ends under. Place it in a loaf pan, let rise, bake.

Bread Making Gear and Tools

bread machine

Getting serious about the bread making thing? You can do everything by hand, but there are lots of wonderful tools (some as affordable as $5) to speed up and simplify the process. Here are a few recommendations:

The Zojirushi Home Bakery – add your ingredients, push a button, and get a perfect loaf every time. This brand is strong enough for whole grain flours, and customizable for home-milled grain. Timer feature lets you add ingredients  ahead of time and schedule a later baking time. If you plan on making all your sandwich bread and are short on time, you will LOVE this. If you are home a lot, it might be overkill. This is an investment for convenience. $250

Pastry Scraper – a cheap, basic tool. Perfect for cutting and dividing dough. A must-have. $6

Plastic Bowl Scraper – perfect for encouraging dough out of a bowl, $5

Pastry Cloth – create a non-stick work surface for kneading. Then fold it up and store in the fridge until the next time you need it. Reduces cleanup time! $6

A Mixer. I feel the need to explain this. If you make bread from scratch often, a mixer will save you time and mess. Most mixers can handle one batch of dough at a time. If you bake whole grain bread once a month or so, you can skip this section. However, if you bake with whole grains or freshly-milled grains regularly, your mixer may sound like it’s dying. (I had a KitchenAid Pro mixer that stopped itself during a kneading cycle, because it wasn’t strong enough to work the whole wheat dough.) If you are looking to make multiple batches at once or use whole grains frequently, a stronger mixer may be in order. If you need to upgrade your stand mixer for more strength or capacity, you want to consider the Ankarsrum. Is it a necessity? NO. I’m only sharing this, because there are many people who bake bread daily or bake with whole grains. For those people, this would be very helpful. After years of yelling at my old mixer and practically giving up baking altogether, this came into my life. It works, always. It can handle anything. It can make over four batches at once in its ginormous bowl. Instead of spending 8+ hours per week baking, I cut it down to 2 hours. This is an investment in convenience and efficiency. Not a necessity, but helpful in the right situation. $800.

Loaf Pan – a good loaf pan will be handy for making sandwich bread, banana bread, and more. I love USA Pans, because they are truly non-stick and Teflon-free.

Instant Read Thermometer – for checking doneness, $19

Dough Bucket – if you love the no knead bread method, this large bucket is great for holding dough in your fridge. $17

Dough Whisk – this little handheld tool is great for mixing dough by hand. $9

If I had to recommend ONE tool to buy? The pastry cloth, hands down. It helps keep my kitchen clean, and that’s priceless! What other tools or tips do you have for bread making?

Next week

We’re going to continue our research into organic vs. conventional grains and talk about corn. Unlike wheat, it is genetically modified in the US and heavily subsidized. How is organic corn different? Does buying organic corn have any health or nutritional benefits? I don’t know yet, so we’ll learn together!

The following is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.