I first started making bread when I was in college in the firm belief that I could make more bread for my money than I could buy. I still believe that I was right at the time but with the higher cost in flour and other ingredients these days versus the lower cost of mass-produced bread I’m not as sure as I used to be about that. The situation with the wheat crop in China might not help either – it depends on whether they manage to achieve the yield they need. Wheat prices are already high compared to previous years and if they have to start importing then it may affect prices again.
A couple of years before my girlfriend moved in I purchased a bread maker – a Morphy Richards Fastbake. It was all new to me as I was used to making bread in the oven and it took a while to get used to. The idea driving the purchase at the time was to free up time but I wasn’t sure if the quality of the bread would be the same. I read through the recipe’s that came with it and I liked the results. It had a delay function so I could load the ingredients at night, set the delay and wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning.
I think the trick to using it is to make sure it’s clean (before and straight after using) and if it needs the ingredients placed into it in a specific order, stick to that order. Mine has a notification sound that allows you to add in fruit, seeds, etc. into the mix at the appropriate time. That function allows you to vary the recipe according to the type of loaf you want to make, e.g. a fruit loaf. It did well enough to convince my mother to purchase a bread maker and she’s making good use of hers.
Nothing on earth quite beats the taste and smell of a freshly baked loaf of bread, a Quiche comes close but it’s not the same. In Beaumaris on Anglesey in North Wales there was (and probably still is) a bakery that we used to walk past in the morning when I was holiday there as a child. The smell used to catch you before you were within eyesight of the shop, and you’d be hard pressed to walk past without entering it to buy. The smell is heavenly, it’s one of those smells you instantly associate with food and if you sit there long enough letting it waft around you you’ll be wanting something to eat before too long. My advice, don’t bake a loaf when you’re hungry 😉
This week I’m teaching my girlfriend how to use the bread maker. I’m using the recipe that comes with the machine for brown bread – sometimes I do half and half (white/brown flour). The bread makers are a great time saver and its fabulous how quick and how versatile they can be. Some can make a loaf within an hour and some can be used to make cakes and jams as well. I’m still not completely convinced it can compete with the more traditional methods but I have no complaints about the results.
Overall, I think the modern bread makers are extremely good. The results are nice but they do have their limits, as long as you work within those limits you can achieve a lot with one. The nice thing is, you can use them just to prepare the dough and then use the oven if you want to produce a cob or another complex loaf shape. I like my bread maker, it’s a handy tool to have as long as you remember that fact – it won’t replace your ability to create, it only supplements it.
Some people say the secret to a good loaf is the freshness of the yeast you use, some people say it’s in the kneading. I believe there are lots of other things involved as well…
- make sure everything is clean
- know when to stop kneading the dough, too much or too little is bad
- have a nice warm and dry place to allow it to rise
- don’t disturb it whilst it’s rising
- ensure it’s covered (I always use a clean tea towel) and be patient
- I let it rise twice kneading it back again between rises, with a 3rd rise just before baking
- remember the tap test, if you hear a nice hollow sound when you tap the bottom of the loaf you’ll know it’s done OK.
The alternative is to get yourself a decent bread maker, sit back, let it do all the hard work and then decide whether you want to bake it in the machine or in the oven.