Let the bread debates begin.

By Stacey Ballis
August 12, 2019
Photo: Aaron Kirk; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Emily Nabors Hall

I try to bake most of the bread in our house. Home-baked sourdough-based baked goods with a long fermentation period are a key part of keeping carbs in my diet and not stressing my Type 2 diabetic blood sugars.

But I came to bread baking late for someone who loves to cook and bake other things, in no small part because I live in a city full of lovely artisanal bakeries. It occurred to me that even as a bread baker, there are still some things I buy consistently, and that it might be helpful to have a handy guideline.

Obviously, if you do not live in a place where you can get great baked goods, you have a larger issue. But even if you do like to bake and eat things in the bread world, there are some things that are still better bought than made at home. So here is my list, according to my personal preferences, so take this with a grain of salt.

Watch: How to Make Zucchini Bread

Sourdough

Sourdough is a commitment; you have to maintain a starter and you have to practice if you want to get it right. If you are a casual bread baker and not a passionate one, find a local bakery that makes a loaf you love and buy as needed. If you do want to take on adding fresh home-baked sourdough to your life, find a friend with an established stable starter to get you going and use the online resources available to you to help hone your craft. 50/50 Bake or Buy.

Get the recipe: Sourdough Bread

White Sandwich Bread

Okay, as much as I love my crusty sourdough full of complexity and personality? Some sandwiches need soft white bread to really sing. Often this has to do with squishy insides that will squirt out of a sandwich made with hardier stuff. I’m talking PB&J and tuna or chicken or egg salad. I have tried many times to do the “Wonder Bread Hack”-style recipes, but at the end of the day, you are just never going to get that pillowy light texture from a home-baked bread, so this is one I buy. My preferred brand is Butternut. 100% Buy.

Get the recipe: Simple White Bread

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Unlike white sandwich bread, this bread is not relying on lightness or softness as its primary feature. While some wheat breads are softer than others, they will always have more texture and be a little heartier. So, this is a great bread to bake at home if you like. You can experiment with added seeds, grains, a blend of flours, the variations are endless. But even a basic honey wheat is easy to do at home with commercial yeast, so this is one I personally choose to bake at home. It tends to be a simple two-rise process, and I love being able to have bread without additives or preservatives. If this is the preferred everyday bread in your house, bake in double or triple batches and freeze whole loaves so that you don’t have to bake every week. 90/10 Bake or Buy.

Get the recipe: Whole Wheat Bread

Rye or Pumpernickel Bread

These breads can be a bit fussy and have a tendency towards sticky wet doughs that can be hard to handle. While home baked versions can be delicious, they, like sourdough, require someone willing to put some time in and practice They’re not breads you necessarily get right on the first try. I do make them myself, but not always. 15/85 Bake or Buy.

Get the recipe: Crusty Rye Loaf

Challah, Rolls, and Holiday Breads

Whether it is a shabbat braid or a Parker House for Thanksgiving or a cardamom-scented egg bread for Christmas, my personal belief is that all holiday breads should be homemade. They all tend to call for commercial yeast, you have family recipes either handed down or shared online or in publications, and it is the HOLIDAYS. Homemade, even if imperfect, is just the spirit of the day. Go for it. Or assign it to the guest best able to bring it to fruition. The only exception to this is if your life is so crazy that you just do not have time to add it to your list, or if your kitchen situation isn’t conducive. 95/5 Bake or Buy.

Get the recipe: Sweet Challah

Bagels

Bagel baking for me is completely about access to good bagels. If you have a bagel bakery near you that does a great job? Buy for sure. Bagels aren’t hard, per se, but they are fussy and not a quick bake, so I save them for a special occasion, a fun baking project with friends or kids, or for those who live someplace where all they have is commercial grocery store bagels or places that just sell a round bread with a hole in it that they call a bagel, but isn’t really. 20/80 Bake or Buy.

Get the recipe: Real Bagels

English Muffins

Unlike bagels, English Muffins are really easy to make and fun, especially since they are griddled and not baked. I make mine with my sourdough starter, but they are easy to do with commercial yeast, and making one batch will make you an expert. And the homemade versions are soooo much better than store bought. Preferred store brand for me is Bay’s for regular, or Wolferman’s for extra thick ones. 75/25 Bake or Buy.

Get the recipe: English Muffins

Crackers

Crackers are shockingly easy to make at home, most don’t require yeast or rising at all, and the doughs are usually very easy to work with. I have become a cracker-making fool over here, and since usually both the dough and the finished product freeze well, I make batches when I have time and bake them off or thaw as needed. Having said that, there are certain crackers you want or need for a specific flavor or texture. Ritz or other buttery crackers, Triscuit or other shredded style crackers, and specialty crackers like rice or nut-based gluten free are still ones I buy. I say these days I end up dead in the middle with 50/50 Bake or Buy.

Get the recipe: All-Purpose Entertaining Crackers

Biscuits, Scones, and Soda Bread

These super easy and superfast bakes are simply always better fresh out of the oven. Find a recipe that you love and make a couple of batches until you feel comfortable. Order them in restaurants where you are eating onsite, for sure, but for eating at home, make them at home. 100% Bake.

Get the recipe: Our Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits

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