Baking Bread for a Peak Oil World: Energy Returned on Energy Invested Promotes a Green Diet

According the Department of Health and Human Services, the production of processed food requires “large amounts of materials and energy.” Bread is a staple of the U.S. diet and consumers often forget it is a processed food. A loaf of bread purchased on a quick trip to the grocery store requires hours of human energy to bake fresh bread at home in a bread machine. The ratio of energy returned on energy invested (ERoEI) is way out of balance.

Fortunately, the benefits of baking bread outweigh the human energy that is required to make it. Once consumers are reminded how fresh bread is supposed to taste, it is impossible to settle for the store bought variety. Even first failed attempts are superior to bland processed bread. If the baker persists, the following steps will promote a green diet and help save the world.

Human Energy In

Begin by combining the dry ingredients: flour, salt, and brown sugar. Make sure to break down any lumps of sugar–they will leave holes in the bread. If the flour is stored cold, give it time to warm to room temperature. When the dry ingredients are thoroughly mixed make a well in the center of the bowl.

Next, dissolve the liquids: sweetener, shortening, and water. The hotter the water, the easier it is to form a smooth solution. Hot water is especially helpful when dissolving old-fashioned lard for shortening or heavy molasses as sweetener. Once the solution is mixed, let it cool to lukewarm while preparing the yeast.

The water for the yeast should also be lukewarm. Dissolve the yeast separately and let it stand for five minutes. Time the preparation so the dry ingredients and liquids are at the correct temperature when they yeast is active. If the dry ingredients are refrigerator cold or the liquids are too hot, it will kill the live yeast.

When all is ready, pour the liquids and yeast in the well of dry ingredients. Mix from the center and slowly fold the dry ingredients along the edge. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for ten minutes adding water or flour as necessary. The dough will be the right consistency when it is soft and springs back without feeling sticky.

Form the dough in a ball, and let it rise covered for at least an hour. Bread dough rises best at a temperature of 80 degrees. When it has doubled in size, cut the dough in half and reshape it into loaves. Set the loaves in greased bread pans and cover again. Let them rise another 45 minutes.

While the loaves are rising, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Make a couple of shallow slashes with a serrated bread knife. Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees and then reduce the heat to 325 degrees for the last 45 minutes. Immediately remove the hot loaves from the pans and thump them to test for doneness. The finished loaves will sound hollow. Set them on a cooling rack.

Save the World

A list of ingredients is posted below for those who have not tasted fresh bread in a while-and still doubt it can save the world. In return for human energy in, there are the the benefits of a green diet and less dependence on processed food. Baking bread recipes is a delicious way to promote more balanced ERoEI. The future will rely on such human energy investments for a thriving peak oil world.

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