A loaf in the gadget

I hadn’t used my bread machine in months – I’d been pre-occupied with a couple of other recipes. Last year, at the Times-Gazette cooking show, I picked up a recipe for flatbread where you would make up a quantity of dough ahead of time, keep it in the fridge, and then pinch off a handful and cook it on the George Foreman grill (!!!) whenever you needed it.

Then, I found a recipe for a loaf bread that worked much the same way, and I’ve made that many times since the first of the year, including making loaves of bread for the Times-Gazette’s Relay For Life bake sales. The loaves are round and sort of lens-shaped; they bake on a pizza stone.

But tonight, for some reason, I felt like just dumping everything into the bread machine and pushing the “start” button. The machine is showing its age – it makes this slipping sound on and off when it’s kneading, and I have no doubt that it’s just going to stop working one of these days. But for the moment, it still works. There’s a loaf cooling in my kitchen right now, and the apartment smells wonderful.

I still remember reading a description of a bread machine, before they became affordable or plentiful, in the old DAK catalog. It cost hundreds of dollars, but it sounded amazing. You just dumped in the ingredients, and a few hours later, voila!

Later, after the machines became commonly available, someone gave my parents one as a gift. They used it either once or not at all, and it wound up in a yard sale. When I asked about a price, Mom quoted something, but then later decided she was going to give each of her children in attendance one item they wanted from the sale, and I wound up with the bread machine. I used that one for several years, and when it broke down, maybe five years ago, I bought my current machine, for about $45, at Walmart.

Yes, it’s a gadget. It’s a guy thing. It’s what Alton Brown dismissively calls a “unitasker” on “Good Eats.” But it’s still a pretty amazing thing.

Dough re mi

As I posted a few months back, I have become a big fan of a bread recipe that lets you make up a big batch of wet and sticky dough, without kneading. You let it stand at room temperature for a couple of hours then store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. Whenever you want to make a loaf of bread, you guesstimate and take out about a pound of dough, shape it with floured hands into a ball, let it sit on the counter for 40 minutes up to an hour, and then slash a few vents in the top and bake it on a pizza stone. It yields a nice round lens-shaped loaf.

When the Times-Gazette’s “Press Power” Relay For Life team held a bake sale a couple of weeks back, I made two loaves of bread – but neither sold to the general public. My fellow RFL committee member Judi Burton told me to hold one for her before the sale even started, and my T-G co-worker Mary Cook bought the other.

Well, Judi and Mary, I didn’t say this at the time, but I was kind of disappointed in the way those loaves turned out. All three of the loaves from my next batch after that were much better – they rose more and looked more attractive.

The T-G is having another bake sale this Friday, and I made up a fresh batch of the dough tonight. (You don’t want to let the dough go longer than two weeks, but the yeasty flavor and aroma improves over the first week, week-and-a-half.) The dough is going through its initial rise right now; I’ll put it in the fridge at 10 tonight and leave it there until Thursday night. Last time, I had somewhere to be Thursday night and had to wait until I got home to make my two loaves (and my pizza stone isn’t big enough to bake both at the same time). So far, I don’t have any commitments Thursday night, and so I think I’ll save all of this batch and make three loaves for the bake sale. Hopefully, they’ll turn out well.

Loafing on a Saturday

I have really enjoyed the recipe I got during last fall’s T-G cooking show for a yeast-raised flatbread dough which you keep in a bowl in the fridge, using a bit as you need it. It keeps up to two weeks in the fridge, and the yeasty flavor changes and improves during that time. It stirs together in a bowl, with no kneading required.

So, I found this recipe for a loaf bread which works pretty much the same way. It makes enough for three or four loaves. Like the flatbread recipe, you don’t knead it; you stir it together into a sticky dough. You let it sit on the countertop loosely covered for a couple of hours for an initial rise, then cover it tightly and put it into the fridge.

When you get ready to bake a loaf, you sprinkle a little flour on the surface of what’s in the bowl to make it easier to handle, then pull out the desired amount and shape it easily into a little round loaf. You let the round loaf rest on the counter for 40 minutes or an hour before baking. The yeast is still quite active, and the loaf rises well in the oven. You bake it on a pizza stone on the middle rack, with a pan of water on the bottom rack to provide steam, which helps the crust.

When you pull it out of the oven, it looks a little – no, exactly – like this:

bread2

I’m about to go for a walk, and when I get back it will have cooled and I’ll get a slice and taste it. It smells pretty darn wonderful.

As with the flatbread recipe, the dough lasts for two weeks in the fridge. The recipe says that, also like the flatbread, the yeast flavor develops during that time.

Another option for baking the loaf is to use a slow cooker, and I may try that next time. If the crust isn’t brown enough to suit you using the slow cooker method, you just put the bread under the broiler for a few minutes.

Unleavened

I admit it; occasionally, my mind wanders during church.

Today, during a hymn, I started thinking about the bread I had baking in my bread machine, so that it would be waiting for me when I got home.

This morning, I loaded the ingredients into the machine. I had a half an onion, and so on a whim I chopped it up and threw it in with the rest of the dough. When I reached for my bread flour, I wondered whether it would be enough – and I’d already loaded the wet ingredients into the machine. But it worked out perfectly. A few tablespoons were left in the plastic container in which I store my bread flour. After the initial mix, the dough was a little wet, so I went ahead and dumped that flour in as well. Perfect.

Well, as I thought about the bread in church, something occurred to me. I’d been so worried about whether or not I had enough flour that I had forgotten to add the one item which comes after the flour.

Yeast.

Pretty important to yeast bread.

I stopped by the grocery store on the way home from church and bought a new bag of bread flour. Sure enough, when I got home, there was a rubbery, unrisen lump sitting there, hot and ready, in the bread machine.

I guess I’ll have bread with supper instead of lunch.

For the man who likes to loaf

I know some people are suckers for gimmicky kitchen appliances. If I could afford it, and had a bigger kitchen, I would probably have a lot more than I do. Many people buy some device, go crazy with it for a few weeks, and then it’s abandoned to the closet, and eventually to the yard sale. Alton Brown, from whom I learn so much on the Food Network, calls gimmicky devices “unitaskers” and says that there should be only one single-purpose device in your kitchen: the fire extinguisher.

Some people consider a bread machine a gimmicky kitchen appliance. But I’m on my second bread machine (I blogged back on Labor Day weekend 2008 about the transition). I use mine frequently, although I admit I will go in spurts.

My current bread machine cost me all of $43 at Walmart. I just checked the Walmart web site, and while they list some bread machine cookbooks and ingredients, they don’t list any bread machines. I hope that doesn’t mean the bread machine is losing favor, because I think it’s a modern miracle. There are plenty of machines still on Amazon, although none as inexpensive as $43.

If you’ve never used a bread machine, it could not be simpler. You dump all of the ingredients into the machine — starting with the water, then the dry ingredients, then the yeast perched right on top, high and dry, especially if you’re going to use the timer to delay the process. If you aren’t using the timer, you turn the machine on and it begins mixing.

About 10 minutes later, if you are awake and available, you can open the door and gently touch the ball of dough. It should be slightly sticky, like a Post-It note, but without leaving a big glob of dough on your finger. You can add a little bit of flour or a little bit of water if necessary. I seldom find it necessary, and have no problem using the timer setting overnight or when I’m away.

Once you’ve completed this optional step, you’re through. Go read a book, clean the house, or take a walk through the neighborhood. The machine will knead the dough, let it rest, knead it again, let it rise, and bake it. After two and a half hours, your home or apartment will be filled with the incredible aroma of baking bread. After three hours, the machine will beep at you. Open the door, lift out the non-stick pan (using oven mitts or heavy kitchen towels!), turn it upside down and shake your perfectly-brown loaf of bread out onto the countertop.

The only downside is that because of the kneading blade built into the bottom of the pan, your loaf will have a strange indention which will make a few of the middle slices unattractive. Another seeming downside is that — since this is real homemade bread, without preservatives — it will dry out and get stale faster than the chemically-preserved sandwich bread you buy at the store. But the loaf is small enough, and delicious enough, that leftovers shouldn’t really be a problem. Anyway, there’s always French toast, or breadcrumbs, or what have you.

I sometimes enjoy trying a slice of the bread while it’s still warm, with butter on it, but that lets some of the steam escape, and I imagine it may extend the life of the loaf to let it cool completely before cutting into it.

I’ve shared before that I like substituting the sugar in the standard recipe with molasses, which gives the bread a somewhat different color but a great flavor. There are all kinds of recipes available, in the instruction book and in numerous cookbooks, and there are boxed “bread machine mix” products as well, in case your kitchen doesn’t have hard-to-find niche products like flour, water, salt, sugar and yeast.

You can also use the bread machine to knead and rise yeast dough for other purposes, such as rolls or pizza crust. Most, if not all, bread machines have a special setting for this. When the dough is ready, you take it out and shape it yourself.

Anyway, my bread machine is a wonderful thing.

Today’s kitchen tip

If you have a bread machine (and if you don’t, why not?) and if you use recipes instead of those boxed bread machine mixes, get a jar of molasses and substitute the molasses, tablespoon-for-tablespoon, for any sugar called for in the recipe. It adds a nice flavor. If it’s a white bread recipe, the molasses will give your bread a darker, whole-wheat-like color — unfortunately, I doubt that it’s actually any healthier than regular white bread, even though molasses does have a little bit of calcium, iron and magnesium.

Cheese bread

Cheese bread

I made another loaf of bread tonight. I used the same basic white bread recipe as the other night, except that I used olive oil instead of butter and added some shredded cheddar cheese. I thought the cheese might make the bread heavy, so I added a tiny bit more yeast.

It certainly looks like it turned out well. I’m letting it cool right now, but I’m not sure how much longer I can wait.

Bread update

Well, I made bread again in the new bread maker tonight — this time, not with a mix, but with a fresh new bag of bread flour, using the basic white bread recipe in the instruction manual. And I had the proper setting for the size loaf I was baking.

I am very pleased. Texture, flavor, crust are all great.

Bread update

Well, my first loaf of bread was not up to expectations, but it’s not the bread machine’s fault. It’s so hot and humid that I had to add more flour to the dough, and I didn’t add enough soon enough. I also missed the fact that there are different settings for 1 1/2-pound and 2-pound recipes. So my bread didn’t rise as much as it should have, and it’s a little too dense. But the flavor is good, and the bread machine did everything it was supposed to.

A Labor Day-saving device

When I was much younger, I was on the mailing list for a Sharper Image-like catalog whose name escapes me — it was the founder’s initials, if I recall correctly, and the founder wrote most of the descriptions in the catalog.

I could never have afforded to buy anything from this catalog, but I was fascinated by it. One of the miracle devices it advertised was some sort of wondrous robotic machine into which you could simply dump flour, water and yeast. The machine would mix, knead, rest, re-knead, rest, punch down, rest and bake bread. You could even set a timer and it would work overnight.

Eventually, of course, bread machines went beyond the realm of high-priced specialty catalogs and became available at reasonable prices in regular stores. I wanted one, but I never got around to buying one. Then, someone gave my parents one as a gift. I think they used it once — they at least unpacked it — but it wasn’t really their cup of tea, and it went into their yard sale one year, maybe a decade or so ago. I asked my mother how much she wanted for it. She quoted me a price, but then at the end of the day she made a Maternal Command Decision to let each of her children have one item from the sale, and — over my protests — gave me back my money.

I loved my bread-maker. I didn’t use it every day, but I used it frequently. I’m sure you can get a better loaf of bread the old-fashioned way, but this machine does a great job — and a fresh, hot loaf of bread for which you control the ingredients beats a pre-packaged loaf pumped full of chemicals to keep it soft for an unnaturally-long period of time in transit and on the store shelf.

This morning, I had some sun-dried tomatoes (left un-used from a recipe to which I’d planned to add them) and a box of white bread machine mix. I decided that it would be yummy to chop up the sun-dried tomatoes finely, and throw them — with a little basil and parmesan cheese — into the bread mix.
Continue reading