If you have the skill to make bread at home you’ll reap benefits in cost, taste, and health. But, for most preppers the key benefit is having access to this staple food even when the grocery store isn’t open. Needless to say, we’re also preparing for a time when the bread-machine won’t be functioning.
During a SHTF event, having warm fresh bread can be a huge morale booster, never mind a way to get calories, warm calories, in your belly. Bread will combine well with essentially anything else you’re eating. And, if you have leftovers, you can do what people used to do with tough bread: make croutons, bread pudding, crumb toppings, or throw it into a soup.
Plus, unmilled grain will keep in your storage room for a long, long time. If you’d prefer not to mill your grain, a few bags of flour are an excellent addition to a store room too. As they only last a year or two, you’ll want to rotate them out. Which is great, because that will give you opportunities to learn how to bake bread.
Just after SHTF is not the time you want to learn how to make bread. You’re going to waste ingredients. Once you develop the skill, you can easily pull something edible out of even less than ideal ingredients, but your first few loaves are likely to be poor.
So, in this guide we’ll talk you through the basic ingredients of bread making, and how to have them on hand for when SHTF. We’ll discuss a few basic bread recipes, including unleavened bread and corn bread. We’ll talk about the all-important skills that go into bread making, like proofing yeast and kneading dough. By the end, you’ll be ready to start making your own bread, by hand.
A Prepper’s Guide to Bread Making
Essentially any grain, ground into flour, can be used to make bread. While the bread most people eat today is from wheat, American pioneers preferred corn, because the food was available, new, and also well-suited to most of the growing conditions in America.
If your plan is to grow your grain, ensure that you have a healthy stock of seed and know how to process it into flour (and have done it once or twice). If you plan on storing your grain, make sure you’ve practiced baking with each kind (it’s smart to store more than one kind, for variety and health). Make sure you have a hand grain mill.
The amount of water you put into the dough determines how much bread you’ll get out. So, if you have a water problem, making bread may not be your best option.
Then again, you can combine water with other ingredients to make more (and more delicious) bread. These other ingredients include potato water, milk, eggs, sugar, and much more.
Yeast is the essential leavening ingredient in most breads. It can be purchased in dried form and can keep, as long as it’s cold, for a year. Even when dry, it is a living organism and can’t get too hot– or it dies (its supposed to die in the oven).
Freezing it is generally fine though, and there’s no need to de-thaw, you can pop the frozen yeast right into your mixing bowl and it will work out. While some people report their frozen yeast has lasted for years, its usually not reliable past a year.
So what do you do if you lose your yeast, run out, or didn’t bring any to your bug-out location? Wild yeasts are all around us, so you can “catch” some. Here’s how:
How to Make Your Own Yeast
- Start with a glass container, and a coffee filter or other covering that will allow in air
- Pour in one cup of warm water and one cup of flour. Stir and cover.
- Wait 24 hours
- Pour half of the mixture out, and add one cup of warm water and one cup of flour. Cover again.
- Repeat every day.
As Carla Emery puts it in “The Encyclopedia of Country Living,” four things can happen. Sometimes nothing happens, in which case you move your container (perhaps near an open window) or you start again from scratch.
Sometimes a mold develops but it smells gross, so you toss it. But, sometimes a yeast develops that smells good. If you smell a bready aroma, or alcohol, that’s a good sign you’ve caught something good (as yeast gives off alcohol when it works). Sometimes though, it makes gross bread.
This is because other than brewer or baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae and its cousins) there are a whole bunch of other yeasts, like Cryptococcus and Candida albicans, which will rise a bread but will taste horrible. The later of those causes yeast infections in women.
Speaking of which, one woman has used her natural yeast to make bread. She used only a bit of it, with normal sourdough starter for the rest, otherwise it would have not tasted good. You can find the right kind of yeast on grapes, other fruit and potatoes, which Off Grid News suggests you can add to the mixture to speed things along.
The last thing that can happen in this process is that you catch a yeast that makes great tasting bread. Success! You may also catch a Lactobactillus, which, in addition to a bread yeast, is the starter for sourdough bread.
There’s another option though. If you’re using stored yeast and you realize you’re running low, you can put some of the yeast into equal parts warm water and flour, and let it reproduce. Feeding it regularly is the key to success. Although, it may sour over time as wild yeasts and/or a Lactobactillis come in. I did this, mostly because I’m cheap and got tired of buying yeast at the store, and so far there’s no souring to speak of.
4. Other Leavening
You can use the yeast that occurs in alcohol to leaven bread, there’s plenty of great recipes online, including this one from Jamie Oliver.
Baking soda and baking powder can be used in quick breads, which are sweet breads, like banana bread or apple bread. These recipes can be a great way to make flour into something edible when SHTF, but its not the daily staple we’re looking for. There are some breads that use baking powder and are technically “unleavened”, and we have recipes for some below.
The last component of a basic loaf of bread is salt. For most preppers storing a relatively large amount of salt is par for the course. There are plenty of good survival uses for salt, and some believe it will be the number one bartering item if the world as we know it ends. As for making it yourself, you’d need sea water, or to be in an area with naturally occurring salt, so if that’s not an option for you, stock up.
Plenty of recipes include this step directly in the instructions, but some don’t. Essentially, proofing is the process of ensuring your yeast is alive and working. You take as much yeast as the recipe calls for, put it in some warm water (not much, perhaps a quarter cup for your average loaf) sprinkle a little sugar, and wait.
In five to ten minutes the yeast should have created some froth. If not, it’s not working. Make sure that you compensate for this extra water by adding less into the dough.
Why proof? You want to make sure your yeast is working before you add the flour, otherwise it’s a waste of resources. But, if you’re sure your yeast is good, you can skip it. Just make sure that you’re still adding the water called for in proofing into the recipe.
Kneading is a skill that many people end up enjoying. It’s like a moment of quiet Nirvana, that is, once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Otherwise, the quick, rocking horse motion might look odd, and complicated.
It can help to know why you’re kneading. The process of stretching, folding, and even hitting dough helps gluten develop. This is the essential protein of bread. If it isn’t developed, the dough will have a poor texture.
So, most styles of kneading involve folding the bread in half, then pushing down and away. Then you turn it 90 degrees and repeat the process all over again. If the bread calls for a wet dough, this will be more difficult. Some breads even call for the dough to be slapped against a table as part of kneading. But, for the most part, the instructions in the video below will show you just how you should be kneading.
You’ll see this instruction on every bread recipe: “knead until smooth and elastic” or some similar instruction. But what does smooth and elastic mean and how do you know you’re there? The video below, from King Arthur Flour, will show you what properly kneaded dough looks like.
Another way you can tell if your dough is ready is by paying attention to how sticky or “tacky” it is. In the beginning most dough will be very tacky. But, if you kneading it, without adding too much flour, slowly it will become less tacky. It’ll feel smooth and won’t cling to your work surface nearly as much.
If you’re having difficulty kneading out dough, allow it to rest for a few minutes and then return, it will be easier.
Types of Breads
Typical White Bread
For your daily bread you want a simple, quick recipe that is easy to memorize. My personal daily bread is from the “Fannie Farmer Cookbook” by Marion Cunningham, the thirteenth edition.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or shortening)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 cup warm milk
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 package dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons)
- ¼ cup warm water
- 6 cups white flour
- While Cunningham’s recipe calls for proofing yeast, combing hot milk and water, and waiting for it to cool, then adding the yeast, I have no patience for that. I throw everything in a bowl, and mix, except the flour.
- Add 3 cups of flour and mix until well blended and not lumpy (or just a little lumpy—I’m impatient)
- Add 2 more cups of flour until dough forms.
- Knead gently for two minutes, adding remaining flour, until no longer tacky. Then let rest for ten, under a wet cloth.
- Knead until smooth and elastic.
- Place in a lightly greased bowl, cover with damp cloth.
- Allow to rise, doubling in bulk.
- Punch down and shape into loaves.
- Place in greased loaf pans, cover with damp cloth, and let double again.
- Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes.
- Continue baking at 375 degrees F for additional 30 minutes.
There are many other good breads in Cunningham’s book, not to mention the type of old fashioned cooking skills that will be of use if SHTF, so I strongly recommend you get your hands on a copy.
Another good, basic, bread recipe can be found in “Bread” by Jeffery Hamelman. It has a compartively long rising time, but that’s one of the secrets that makes it taste so good, despite having no fancy ingredients in it.
This is the only recipe in his second edition that call for the bread to be kneaded by hand (and it isn’t in the first edition at all). He has his own technique of kneading, but I have to say that I don’t enjoy it. Kneading as covered in our earlier section will do fine.
- 5 1/2 cups bread flour
- 2 cups water
- 2 3/8 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
- Mix dry ingredients together.
- Pour in water.
- Mix gently, but thoroughly.
- The dough will be particularly wet, but knead while adding as little flour as possible.
- Let rise for 50 minutes, then punch down. Repeat twice.
- Shape into loaves, place into greased pans, allow to rise for a final hour, perhaps 15 minutes more. Hamelman specifies to let dough rise at 76 degrees F.
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Place pan of water in oven and allow to steam.
- Place bread in oven, allow to bake for 5 minutes.
- Lower heat to 430 or 450 degrees, depending on how well your oven keeps heat. Cook until its a nice brown.
I can’t say enough about “Bread,” Hamelman’s book is full of great advice on every aspect of bread making, and includes hundreds of recipes for every time of bread imaginable. Although, for a prepper, there are more practical bread making books around.
You prefer a whole grain bread? Say no more, Gaye has you covered with this recipe.
Most unleavened bread won’t cook unless its flat. So, if a bread is flat it’s an indication that it’s unleavened, using baking soda, eggs, and/or whisking to make it lighter. To give you some variety, I thought I’d include a tortilla recipe. This one is from Carla Emery’s The Encyclopedia of Country Living.
If you have the 40th anniversary edition, this recipe appears on page 218, along with other unleavened breads. Emery uses corn flour to make these tortillas, but you can use any kind of flour, including masa flour.
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup boiling water
- a pinch of two of salt (Emery doesn’t specifiy)
- 2 teaspoons bacon grease (substitute with any grease: oil, lard, etc.)
- Mix ingredients.
- Divide into small balls.
- Roll out very thin, 1/8 inch thick ideally.
- Cook on a flat cast-iron griddle at high heat (I have fried mine in a more modern pan, they turn out fine, just not as authentic).
- Take care not to burn, they need only a few moments on each side.
There are plenty of sweet Southern cornbreads that call for eggs, buttermilk, butter, cream, and more. But, I want to give you a corn bread you can make when you’re low on these ingredients. For these purposes I found the best plain cornbread at Southern Bite.
- 2 cups corn meal
- 2 tablespoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ to 2 cups boiling water
- oil to fry
- Oil skillet and heat to roughly 350 degrees F, when its shining but not burning.
- Combine ingredients in mixing bowl. If the batter is not pour-able, add the additional water a bit at a time.
- Pour about a fourth of the batter onto the pan. Cook until brown around the edges, flip, and cook for three more minutes.
- That’s one cornbread done. Continue cooking the rest of the batter in batches.
If you’re bugging out and need to cook, it would be helpful to have this recipe on hand. Bannock is a kind of scone made over an open fire. Both the Scottish and the Aboriginal Peoples of North America had recipes for this kind of bread.
The best recipes create a dough that is sticky and thick enough that you can wrap it around a stick and cook it over the fire. Traditional recipes call for some kind of fruit or nut to be mixed in– but it is optional. Once you pop the bannock off the stick, you can drizzle honey or jam in the hole it left behind.
See the video below to learn how to make it:
This bread is frequently hailed on survival and prepper sites as the “survival” bread. Let me be honest with you, I’ve made hard tack and it’s disgusting. I think the only reason sailors and civil war soldiers ate it is because they had no choice (and those who baked it were probably more skilled than I).
However, this bread will last forever, seriously, as long as the moisture is drained from it. You’ll know when that has happened because it’ll be as hard as rock. It’s not so much that you can dip the bread in a liquid to soften it, but that you have to. Soup is probably the best use of this bread. Gaye has a recipe for you here.
Bread-making is an enriching skill, and an absolute must for preppers. There’s much more you can learn to make by hand for when SHTF, from noodles, to artisan bread, to crackers, to English muffins, to pretzels.
But hopefully, we’ve given you somewhere to start. But, don’t forget, you won’t have access to your favorite online recipes when SHTF– print them off.
Author Bio: Ellysa Chenery also writes for Young Domestics and Western Journalism. She loves adapting traditional skills for new situations, whether in the wilderness, garden, or homestead. Her favorite smell is carrots fresh from the dirt.
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