I LOVE BREAD. That’s no secret! I’ve found my soulmate in the most delicate piece of crusty on the outside, soft and pillowy on the inside – bread. Nick and I recently made an impulse purchase which has turned out to be the BEST thing we’ve ever bought – a bread machine! Ever since then, we’ve been on the quest to bake the best loaf of bread we’ve ever had. Thinking of getting a bread maker? Need some convincing to try your hand at baking you own bread? Looking for a healthier alternative to store bought and preservative laden breads? Read on!
Why bake your own bread?
- Your house smells like a bakery. Nothing like the sweet scent of freshly baked bread wafting over you as your head pops off your pillow in the morning. It makes waking up so much more pleasant!
- It’s cheaper. Most loaves only require bread flour ($3-4), yeast ($5), water, and some salt and sugar ($2). If you buy all of those ingredients, you can probably get 6-8 loaves out of the ingredients meaning each loaf only costs $1.30-$2. It’s actually EVEN cheaper than that – the yeast will last you a while and you can get even greater cost savings by buying yeast at Costco and splitting it with your baker friends.
- It’s healthier. You add the ingredients so having control over what goes in. Need a lower carb version or want to go healthy with whole wheat? You can work the recipe to meet your needs. Baking bread at home also means NO PRESERVATIVES! For example, a store bought loaf of Sara Lee Honey Whole Wheat bread contains: Enriched wheat flour [flour, malted barley flour, reduced iron, niacin, thiamin mononitrate (vitamin b1), riboflavin (vitamin b2), folic acid], water, honey, whole wheat flour, wheat gluten, yeast, sugar, wheat bran, soybean oil, salt, calcium propionate (preservative), datem, monoglycerides, cellulose gum, calcium sulfate, monocalcium phosphate, cornstarch, soy lecithin, citric acid, grain vinegar, potassium iodate. All the italicized ingredients are avoided if you baked the bread fresh at home.
- It allows for creativity. Craving an olive loaf? How about an ale bread? Want to recreate Macaroni Grill’s incredible Rosemary Olive Oil Loaf? You can go nuts – literally, nut breads are delicious!
- It’s always fresh. You can make bread whenever you want! It always tastes better fresh and warm.
The Bread Maker vs. The Bread Baker
Bread making and baking from scratch is an art. For those of us who are still amateur bakers, the handy dandy bread machine saves the day.
Now, you don’t need a fancy machine to bake delicious loaves of bread from scratch. You can always try your hand at making a loaf from scratch – King Arthur has some really great tips, videos and forums here for the first time baker. There is something really therapeutic about kneading dough and watching dough rise… For those of us who can’t be trusted to put in the time or pay attention long enough to make sure that the bread rises perfectly – I’d recommend investing in an automatic bread maker. All you do is measure and pour in the ingredients, set the machine (you can even set a delay so you wake up to fresh bread in the am), and the machine does the rest – including the baking!
Now the bread maker has more benefits than just helping out those of us with limited attention spans. The machine kneads dough effectively and makes sure all ingredients are effectively combined and combined at the right temperature. Kneading takes a surprising amount of energy – it’s a good arm workout! Finding the right surface to use for kneading is also tough not to mention the cleanup of the surface before an after for food safety reasons. I have a marble pastry board from Sur La Table at home for this purpose. If you want to try kneading on your own, keep and eye out for sales and coupons, I was able to get mine for $30.
Finding the right temperature and humidity for the dough to rise is also tough. Being from Colorado, the colder and drier air makes it tough to allow bread to rise effectively. If you don’t have a breadmaker, I’ve found that putting the dough in a large oiled glass bowl, covering in saran wrap, and letting it rest in a warm place is the best tactic. The perfect warm place? – On top of a load of freshly dried (and washed of course) laundry in the drier. Just make sure the drier isn’t on – duh. Weird, I know but it works like a charm. Just make sure you cover the bowl so you don’t get an lint in your dough… yuck! You can also put it in a dishwasher that has just finished running as well (but again, make sure it’s not running and your dough is covered…)
Finally, the bread maker bakes the loaf perfectly and with the right level of humidity. Coming from a dry state, this part is tough to do on your own but you can hack it with a baking pan full of water on a different shelf in the oven with the loaf. You can also use the bread machine to knead and rise the dough, and bake it on your own.
Overall, having tried my hand at both methods, I’ve achieved much more consistent results using a bread maker. For me, the bread maker is easier to use and the consistent delicious results help motivate me to keep making my own bread instead of defaulting to running out to the store. But, I highly encourage anyone who is interested to try your hand at baking bread from scratch. It is surprisingly therapeutic after a long day and you’ll feel a nice sense of achievement when it turns out well.
For those interested in a bread maker – it’s the best investment I’ve made so far! Nick and I recently purchased a Cuisinart Automatic Convection BreadMaker BMKR-200 series from Costco ($99). My mom uses a more affordable Hamilton Beach bread maker(~$50) and it has worked well.
The quest for the best loaf will never end for bread lovers like Nick and I. But here is our favorite recipe to date. It’s quick and easy and results in some pretty delicious bread! We’re still experimenting to improve our favorite breads and you can be sure a recipe or two will be posted here soon 😉