Why buy a bread machine?
I have a constant emotional conflict - aesthetics or practicalities?
It's actually very useful to know how to hand mix. The hands-on approach brings you into contact with what happens when flour and water, salt and sugar, oil and yeast combine and the chemical and physicial reactions that turn ingredients into product.
But, behind all this, there is a world of delusion and illusion. Artisan bakers on your High Street or in those trendy little Victorian passageways in towns and cities the length and breadth of the land often give the impression that all their bread is produced manually until it reaches the oven door.
Even the term 'artisan' suggests a non-mechanised, traditional method of production.
We have to be careful, there's a lot of hype out there: smoke and mirrors and passing trends. No doubt there are those artisan bakers who actually produce commercially-available bread from start to finish. They will probably produce a very limited number of loaves daily and charge a premium for their troubles.
Next time you're in your preferred bakery, ask if they make it on the premises. Do they have a machine to mix their dough? Will they show it you?
Your supermarket might look like it has a 'fresh bread' section, but it probably arrives part-baked and they simply 'finish it off'.
Bottom line is - all we're trying to do at home is to make tasty, healthy bread that, hopefully, doesn't look like it's been in a disaster zone and might actually look artistically pleasing.
There are three stages of bread production.
- The mixing of ingredients,
- The formatting of dough into the shape of a loaf,
- The baking of that loaf into bread.
I started my days in one such bakery. Long before it was Allied Bakeries in Bredbury, Stockport, it was Sunblest. In those days, we'd load the ingredients into the mixers and watch the magic happen. We'd actually handle the bread at most stages. I worked the night-shift with George, who lived with his mother after an acrimonious and failed marriage. Living with his mother in his late 40s must have been considerably worse. In the early hours of the morning, he would get so worked up about anything, he'd take it out on the Hovis. He's shout and rant, walk away from the line with two loaves and curse both of them. I presumed one was the ex-wife and the other bore him.
However, in calmer moments, when he was more lucid, George would teach me the basics. I learnt how to mold loaves. He told me about the differences between flours and how yeast worked.
None of this was of any use at the time. We turned out steamed sliced white, tinned bread and Hovis - by the thousands, day after day, night after night.
A couple of years later, I found myself at a small bakery on Ynys Môn, the Isle of Anglesey. Here we still mixed by machine, but at least we dropped dough into tins and loaded the ovens by hand. We made baguettes and baps by manually rolling them and setting them aside for the morning shift to bake.
The point behind all this is that there is nothing wrong with using a machine - especially if it does a better job with less effort. After all, as Brian Melbanke writes in his 'Philotimus' (1581), "It is smal reason you should kepe a dog, and barke your selfe."
So, what have we established?
- It's useful to know how to mix ingredients by hand. What needs to be done in what order, and why?
- Once you know, you can always draw on these skills.
- A machine has infinitely more time and patience than you.
- A machine may well do a better job.
- You are still and always in control - you are still and always the 'artist' and the 'artisan'.
Here, I want to show you what can be achieved if you are lucky enough to own a bread machine.
I've always bought Panasonic. I always will. I believe that they are, by a long way, the best machines out there. I have two. Why? because, it means that I can heat the oven up once and use the whole oven for a decent volume of bread.
A bread machine has two functions:
- It makes loaves - working through the whole process from start to finish : mix, knead, prove, knead, prove and bake.
- It makes dough - it takes it to the stage where you can take over. It simply mixes, kneads and first proves.
Every loaf looked the same. It was the same shape - it might not have had the same ingredients - but there's a uniformity to a machine-baked loaf. Small, medium or large; light or dark baked - they all look like the pan in which they were baked. And, they all have the same tell-tale hole at the bottom where the paddle has been.
During the holidays, I'd often let the machine make the dough. Then, I'd tip the dough out onto a floured board and 'create'. I'd produce baps, bagels, brioche, boule, bloomers and baguettes. I'd make wholemeal and fruit bread, finger rolls and muffins. I'd fill the freezer and these would be our 'stand by', our treat at weekends or when we were too tired to remember to load up the machine on a weekday.
Each programme on the machine does a different job. It waits (autolyses), it mixes, it kneads and gives your dough time to rise. It tells you when it's finished and keeps everything nice and warm. It even senses the outside temperature and humidity and adjusts accordingly. Baking in the summer is different from baking in the winter.
Some dough programmes are short and some are longer. It depends on what the ingredients need. For example, a pizza programme will produce silky dough in a scant 45 minutes, whereas a French bread recipe may take six hours. if you decide to use final stage and bake the bread, the machine will hold the dough until the heating element reaches the right temperature and then bake it for just the right amount of time.
My bread machines are out on the worktop in the utility room - it's become something of a mini bakery, especially since Lockdown when I started BreadClub20. Never put them in a cupboard out of sight. If you do, you won't use them. They'll be like the other electrical gadgets you bought on a whim and rarely see the light of day. The waffle iron? The popcorn maker? That chopper and grinder you thought would be indispensable...but actually isn't?
Do you need a bread machine?
Are you a person who:
- wants to bake healthy fresh bread rather than constantly going to the bakers or the supermarket?
- wants to fill the house with the smell of fresh baking with the least amount of effort?
- wants to start bread making without the fear of 'getting it all wrong'?
- would like to venture beyond some day into making your own bread - but might be grateful for the fact that the machine will do the early work for you and do it well?
- is an experienced bread maker who would like a backup for those times when you're too busy to start from scratch?
That's how my daughter started. She bought a machine for fresh bread every morning - to feed the family.
Now, six months later, she's free-forming foccacia and other flatbreads. She's making rolls and baguettes - all from scratch. And yet, when she needs a loaf but hasn't the time to produce one..the machine takes over.
Now, the big question is...do I still use my machines. Sometimes - yes. It depends.
If I simply need a basic dough then there is nothing to produce one as easily or as successfully as a bread machine. If I need to 'feel' my way through a recipe or know that the process needs handling in a specific way, then I turn to my large stainless steel bowls and my Dutch whisk (sometimes called a Danish whisk or a brodpisker)
|Dry ingredients in, water and seeds at the ready. |
Let's not be snobby about this....you are producing quality bread, free from additives and chemicals, free from preservatives and enhancers. At a fraction of the cost - no transport costs, no waiting in the queue, no risks and it's better than any air freshener in filling your house with the smells of fresh baking.
So, everything is in the pan and we're ready to go?
Not quite ready? Well, you can always delay the start using the 'stand-by' function. Because you're using dried milk (enriched with Vitamin C of course - which is not only good for you but also helps to feed the yeast), you can delay the start for up to 13 hours.
I'm choosing a Basic Bake Mode - it'll take 4 hours from start to finish. (I never use the rapid mode that produces a loaf in under two hours - it takes time for magic to happen). I'll choose a 'medium' size from the menu and a 'medium' crust.
And off we go.....time to go to the supermarket, sort out this evening's dinner and wash the cars.
FOUR HOURS LATER...
Now, let's repeat the process but, this time, we'll use the bread machine as a dough mixer.
USING THE BREADMAKER TO MAKE THE DOUGH
Into the pan, place the same ingredients:
425 gms strong white bread flour
Now cover this with
310 mls water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
Remember - it's all in the quality of the ingredients and also 'dry in first, wet in after'.
1 tablespoon brown linseed
This time, I'm choosing a Basic Dough Mode - it'll take 2hr 20 minutes from start to finish. I don't need to choose the size or the crust for the loaf as I'm not taking the machine to that stage.
Here are the two loaves again?
Machine and by hand
Which looks better?
Whichever one it is, the only thing that separates them is what happened to them when the dough had already been formed by the machine.
Let's take a look inside....
Machine and by hand
If you want to see what hand mixing can produce, check out the Split Tin recipe at https://breadclub20.blogspot.com/2021/01/split-tin-loaf.html
Here's the inside shot of the fnished Split Tin loaf