Oh beloved bread machine, where would I be without you. Slaving away half the day making lumps of dough, heating up the entire house with an oven in the summer when heat is the last thing we need. The customized little loaves you yield make my family so happy and I’m happy that their happy and we’re all happy when mom’s happy. <insert sound of record scratching>
Seriously, I think my bread machine is one of the best things since….since…well, since sliced bread. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the traditional way of making bread and I have done my share of it and thoroughly enjoy it, but when you have a full-time job plus a myriad of other activities spinning around in your world, making bread the old-fashioned way becomes a rare treat. Then there’s the satisfaction of controlling the ingredients and knowing you’re making something wholesome for your family (if you choose your ingredients wisely). For me, it also means that I can also control the carbohydrates while still allowing the rest of the family to make yummy sandwiches and without paying $9 a loaf for bread. Just using stevia instead of sugar makes a big difference. However you do need one special ingredient, rapid rise bread machine yeast and on a side note, expect to have to experiment with making decent sourdough bread in a bread machine. Expect to end up buying sourdough starter. Breadtopia.com has a great one. Bread dough is also better to use in a bread machine, but not crucial.
Now a little bit about bread machines. There so many on the market and some are better than others. The biggest loaf you’re probably going to get is a 2lb loaf, but beware, you may not be able to find a bag to put it in as it will be a big loaf with slices approximately 4”w x 8”h or so. My bread machine will make a 1lb, 1.5lb, or 2lb loaf. More often than not I will use the 1lb setting because this makes better sandwich bread slices. Why did I bother to buy a machine that can do a 2lb loaf, do you ask? I’ll tell you; because 1lb machines don’t make loafs, they make unruly cubes. Plus, since I can use my machine to make bread dough and bake it off myself (after a final rise outside of the machine) the larger capacity comes in handy when we have guests.
Now that we have sizes down, let’s think about brands. I am on my third bread machine in a little less than a couple of decades and it is by far the best I’ve ever purchased. Good capacity, lots of versatility (it will even make jams, puddings, batter breads, and of course, pizza dough) and good, sturdy construction. My machine is a Breadman Pro breadmaker (pictured above). I got it in a warehouse sale at CHEFS catalog for an undisclosed amount. I adore it. Some other top rated machine brands include Zojirushi, Cuisinart, De Longhi, and Salton. Expect to pay about $100 to $150 USD for a good machine. Your machine will come with an instruction manual and recipes to get you started. From there, it’s easy to find other recipes on the web.
Keep in mind the main difference between baking bread in a machine and baking bread from scratch is that the machine is doing all the work, rising, and baking for you. The best breads start with a good recipe and these are not an exact science due to factors such as humidity, altitude, and quality of ingredients. Also, ingredients should be room temperature and the water should be warm enough to help activate the yeast (about 80˚F). Once you get the hang of it, you can make homemade bread any time you want. A favorite at my house and a big hit as Christmas gifts one year is an Italian herb bread that I got in my first bread machine user guide that I tweaked and kind of made my own. It’s simple enough that a beginner can easily make it. Here’s mine.
Bread Machine Italian Herb Bread – Yield 1-1lb Loaf
¾ cup + 2 tbsp. water
1-1/2 tbsp. Oil
1 tbsp. Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
1 tbsp. Dry Milk
2-1/4 cup bread flour
1-1/2 tsp. Dried Italian Seasoning
2 cloves of garlic (crushed)
1-1/2 tsp. Active Dry Yeast
Select your machine’s French bread course and hit start. Take a peek after a few minutes to make sure the dough is not too dry or wet. If it is, follow the recommendations in your machines user guide.
Do you have a favorite kitchen machine, gadget, or helper? What makes you so fond of it?