Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Better Use for the Bread Machine

"Bread is the king of the table and all else is merely the court that surrounds the king. The countries are the soup, the meat, the vegetables, the salad but bread is king."
- Louis Bromfield

I love fresh baked bread. No, let me stress this - I love fresh baked bread! The aroma is one of my favorite scents in the world. For years I would bake my own from scratch, enjoying the therapeutic process of kneading the dough and watching it rise, knowing that it is a living thing filled with live yeast cultures. Each loaf had a personality of its own. It was all very personal and the end result gave me a whole new appreciation for this staple food. My mother, in an effort to encourage this new found love, bought me a bread machine for the holidays one year, not realizing that for me the joy was in the handling. I never used the machine and exchanged it for some much needed knives.

Egg Bread

As time went on, I found myself with less time to bake and would just buy my bread from the store. I still tried to stay with the rustic loaves when I could, occasionally buying the pre-sliced stuff off the shelves at the supermarket. It was on one such shopping trip a couple of years ago that my wife Kat and I realized just how much we were paying for this item that is essentially flour, water and yeast. Kat remarked that she had an old bread machine in the basement and we decided to start using it, in an effort to save a little money.

Her old Breadman took a little getting used to. In the past when I had made bread, I would start with a sponge or starter, and build the loaf from there. Bread machine recipes called for just throwing everything into the machine at once, turning it on for a few hours and - hocus pocus - you have bread! There were several problems with it though. The biggest issue was that the loaves tended to be rather inconsistent. Every bake cycle was identical, with the same rising times and baking times. Each loaf, however, was individual and the exact same recipe would vary based on the measurements, temperature of the kitchen, humidity, etc. Some loaves would rise too much, some wouldn't rise at all. I had no success whatsoever with whole wheat and rye breads. The loaves looked weird too, real boxy, not at all like the loaves I was used to. There was a big hole in the bottom of each loaf caused by the paddle from the machine. In addition, the odd shape made it difficult to fit into the toaster unless it was sliced horizontally, top to bottom. All in all, it was very unsatisfying.

Then I decided to try something different. I started a loaf in the machine and let it get through the second kneading cycle, about 40 minutes into the process. Then I pulled it out of the machine and placed it into a greased container to rise. From there on, I treated it like any other bread recipe, giving it one more knead and forming it into a loaf. I baked it in the oven and it was spectacular!

Since that day, I have never used the bread machine for anything other than a bread mixer. One of the benefits is that, even though the machine is designed to make 1.5 lb loaves, I can now make 2 lb loaves, as I am not baking the bread in the machine. Which brings up an important point. When you remove the bread from the machine, remember to turn the machine off! I forgot to do that once and found my kitchen filled with a nasty burning smell - never a good thing!

Here is a basic Egg Bread recipe that I am actually baking as I write this.
3/4 c milk or buttermilk (I used buttermilk.)
1/3 c water
2 T butter or oil
(I used butter.)
2 eggs
3 c unbleached white flour
1 c whole wheat flour
3 T sugar
1 t salt
1 t yeast
Place all ingredients in your bread machine and set for basic white bread. After the second kneading cycle, turn off your bread machine and place dough in a large bowl that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Flip the dough over so both sides are greased. Cover with wax paper or plastic wrap and let rise for 60-90 minutes. The bread is done rising when it has doubled in size. Place loaf on a lightly floured surface and form into a loaf. You may use a loaf pan if you like, or you may form it into a rustic loaf in the shape of your choosing. Loosely cover with the same wax paper/plastic as before, sprayed with a small amount of non-stick spray if necessary to prevent sticking. Allow to rise for 60 minutes or so. When the bread is nearly done rising, preheat the oven to 350. Just before baking the bread you may, if you choose, apply a wash using a pastry brush. Using water will cause to crust to be crispier, egg white gives a shiny appearance, egg yolk causes the crust to darken, and milk makes the crust softer. You may also add seeds to the top of your loaf at this point if you are using an egg wash. Bake the loaf for about 40 minutes. For an extra crispy loaf, you may spray the loaf with water once or twice while it bakes, or you can place an oven safe dish of water in the oven with the bread. The bread is finished baking when the internal temperature reaches 205 degrees. Remove the loaf from the oven (and pan, if you're using one) and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

A couple of tips. First, don't give in to the temptation to slice into the bread early! As delightful as warm bread is, it ruins the loaf when it is sliced too early. What I used to do was make 2 loaves, one smaller than the other. I would eat the small loaf warm and allow the larger loaf to completely cool. Best of both worlds! Second, when buying yeast, be smart and go to the bulk section! The jars of yeast you find in the baking aisle run about $5 for a little jar. Winco (a Kroger chain) has it bulk for $3.01/lb.! That's a lot of yeast! For about $1 I got more than I would have gotten buying the $5 jar. I win!

Happy baking, friends! Remember, good bread is the greatest of all feasts!


  1. This is exactly how I have used my bread machine for years. I have always disliked how it bakes the bread, but it saves me a lot of time and hassle by doing the initial mixing, kneading, and rise. I have stone bread pans that I use for the second rise and baking. I love (LOVE) my stone bread pans. (Dawn)

  2. Don't give into the temptation.... blarg! I live to ruin your loaves! And really. Was the last one ruined? No.