For my birthday this year, I did something I said I would never do. I bought a bread machine.
I've known many people who owned bread machines, and I have eaten and enjoyed their creations. But using a machine takes all the tactile fun out of the baking process: the kneading, the punching down (a terrific stress reliever), the shaping of the loaves. I still believe that, but the last time I made a loaf of yeast bread was at least five years ago when I made some hot cross buns for Easter breakfast. I just don't have the time or the work space to spare anymore.
There were several factors that led me to change my initial judgment about owning a bread machine. First, while Johanna was still dairy and soy intolerant, I started really reading bread labels and discovered that most store-bought bread contains both milk and soy. And after almost a full year of avoiding foods with these ingredients, I no longer felt good about eating breads with ingredient lists that took up an entire side of the wrapper. Sure, all of the ingredients have been approved by the FDA (or USDA; I'm never sure which agency regulates what), but do I really want to subject my family to all these additives when the only requirements for bread are flour, sugar, salt, yeast and liquid? I found one brand of bread that is made from no more than half a dozen ingredients, but it costs almost $5 a loaf.
The cost was another factor. Has anyone else noticed that bread prices have gone up recently? I used to watch the sales and pick up what I thought was good bread on a 2-for-$4 sale, but I can't remember the last time I saw prices that low. Additive-free fresh bread from the farmer's market tastes much better than store-bought bread, but can only be bought once a week and goes stale before we eat it all. And it's between $6-8 per loaf, so it's not very economical.
I think the final factor may have been the St. Patrick's Day potluck at church. I found enough time to throw together a couple of loaves of whole wheat soda bread (NO RAISINS, butter, sugar, eggs or baking powder in the real deal, thank you!) and, as we were eating up the last few slices at home, Steve remarked that he could eat this bread every day. That got me thinking, and I realized that even though the loaves are quick to mix and shape (no kneading or rising), I still can't always count on having an hour at home to bake them.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the obvious solution to our bread quandry was to purchase a bread machine. So I did a lot of research online and finally ordered the small model that had gotten the best reviews. We were hooked from the very first loaf. I love that I control the ingredients. I love that I can take 5 minutes to add all the ingredients to pan and then come home to a fresh loaf three hours later. And I especially love the fact that instead of having to clean up two mixing bowls, a spoon with caked on dough, a rolling pin, a pastry cloth and two loaf tins, all I have to do now is rinse out the baking pan and kneading blade.
I'm looking forward to the beginning of this year's CSA season in a few weeks, and I think homemade bread will complement the fresh local produce nicely. I just wish I'd reconsidered my opinion about bread machines a long time ago. I still miss working with the dough with my own hands, but my enjoyment of a fresh loaf of bread every few days more than makes up for the loss.
Never say never...