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.