Experiments in bread

Posted on 6 October 2012 in Food and Drink (No comments)

Brioche in the bread machine

As noted in my last post, I recently bought a breadmaker.

It was a bit of a big decision for me as, for as long as I've been baking bread in the house, I've always done it by hand and suddenly buying a machine to do it for me felt a little wrong.

So I decided to do some research and see what other home-bakers thought about them.

Sadly I didn't keep hold of all the blogs and articles I reviewed but it seemed people basically fell in to two camps:

  1. those who think they're wonderful things because they're flexible, you can set them on timers and (if you invest in a good model) bake a better loaf because they knead the dough better
  2. those who think that nothing can ever be any good if the home-baker doesn't do everything manually.

I understood the arguments in camp 1. Especially about the bits about kneading dough better. And frankly a machine can - and will - knead dough far better than a human. They don't get tired. They don't get fed up. A machine can just go off and do its thing.After all, your average artisan baker won't sit in their bakery kneading by hand. No. They have great big whacking machines for that. The machine does all that hard work leaving the baker time to get on with the important stuff - sorting out recipes, shaping dough in the right way and so on.

Having said all that, you might understand why I didn't buy the views of camp 2. After all, if it's good enough for the artisan, award winning baker, why would it not be good enough for my home?

There was one website however that took the second camp even further, arguing that breadmakers make the user a slave to the breadmake's set recipes and programmes. That all imagination and experimentation is simply impossible.

That was an argument I didn't buy at all. For starters as someone who made bread by hand, it was rare that I deviated from my bread recipes. Indeed, whilst I had a plethora of great recipes, more often than not I was baking a simple white bread, or a wholemeal/white mix. If I did seeded bread, it was because I had a packet of seeded flour.

But also I didn't feel it reflected well the many types of people who buy breadmakers. After all, if someone has never made bread in their life and they go out and buy a breadmaker, what chance is there of them rushing off and suddenly being hugely creative with their new purchase? Chances are that they'll stick to the range of recipes offered by their breadmaker recipe book.

For the more imaginative baker on the other hand, there's certainly nothing to stop the breadmaker user experimenting. I've only had mine a few weeks but it didn't take me long to start tweaking recipes. I knew from my hand baking that a loaf made with with 75% white flour and 25% wholemeal spelt is rather nice. There's no recipe for that in my breadmaker manual, but it was pretty obvious that putting the breadmaker on a white bread setting would be fine.

In fact the breadmaker has allowed me to try new recipes more than I did before. My model has a nut and raisin dispenser so I made a fruit loaf. I've tried making fruit loafs by hand but the raisins always seemed to sink to the bottom (or on the floor of the kitchen), so I gave up. My breadmaker has no such problems. And as for seeded bread? Well why stick to a standard supermarket seeded flour mix when I could just shove various seeds in and see what comes out?

I've actually got big plans for my breadmaker. It has a dough only mode meaning I can shape the bread as I wish. But that also means I can try some slow fermenting bread. This is where you mix up a "culture" or "starter" and leave it for a bit (overnight for example) to mature and develop flavours. Once matured you put in more flour and water, and mix the bread as normal. Ciabatta is an example of bread made this way, but it works wonderfully with all sorts of breads, especially when you use wholemeal flour and it's all possible. And it's all possible with a little experimentation. Some people have even reported some success with sourdough in breadmakers.

As for today's adventures in baking, well I've always wanted to try baking brioche but for some reason, never did. Until today. As I type there's a batch rising in the breadmaker, whilst I get on with the other task of decorating a bedroom. And if it's anything like the other bread I've baked so far in the machine, well it's going to taste great. And all for a few minutes work. Fantastic.

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