Early in 2020, many people embraced the art of baking bread as a creative way to pass the time in lockdown. A year later, that may mean some people are really into homemade bread at this point – and others are kind of over it. And that means a whole lot of abandoned or hardly used bread machines.
Bread machines, like any new kitchen technology, can be pretty intimidating at first. There’s all sorts of settings and for the novice bread maker, it may be hard to figure out how to actually use it – and how to get the results we long for. But is bakery-quality bread possible using a bread machine? Yes! And, so much more.
Once you get to know your machine — and come to the realization that the bread machine is in many ways like a mini slow cooker — you just may fall in love.
All bakers can find bread makers helpful in the bread-making process. “Novices like to put everything in the bucket, press start, and have a loaf of hot bread 3 hours later,” said PJ Hamel, blog author and baker at King Arthur Baking Company.
For the more experienced baker, there’s another way of going about it: Use the machine to knead the dough (using the dough or manual cycle), but then they take it out and shape and bake it themselves.
“This is a great option for people with physical issues around kneading (arthritis, etc.); or those who simply don’t have time to “supervise” the kneading/rising process, and want to dump everything in the bucket, press start, and come back to risen dough — ready to shape and bake — a couple of hours later,” said Hamel.
If you’re comfortable with bread making you might want a machine with programmable controls, ones you can set yourself as far as kneading time, rising time, baking time, and more. “This is useful if you know your favorite whole wheat loaf takes longer than usual to rise; determine just how long, and program it in. Ditto sourdough, which often needs quite a long time to rise,” said Hamel.
Embracing the science
A big mistake made with bread machines is not taking the ambient air humidity and temperature into effect.
Bread making is as much of a science as it is an art. “If the room the bread machine is in is hot or humid, the bread could rise at an accelerated pace causing the loaf to dip,” said Jessica Randhawa, the head chef, recipe creator, photographer, and writer behind The Forked Spoon.
“If the room the bread machine is in is cold and dry, the bread could take longer to proof/ferment, resulting in a denser loaf that did not rise to its desired potential in the time assigned by the machine before the next step,” said Randhawa.
Both of these temperature and humidity factors are not generally accounted for with bread machine timing. This is why having a thermometer and humidity sensor near the bread machine will help bring scientific facts back into the bread-making process for a better homemade bread outcome.
It’s not just about bread
Sure, you can make bread in the bread maker! But there’s so much more you can do.
For example, most bread makers have a jam setting that stirs and mixes all of the contents in the bread pan for a couple of hours (the shortest time is usually 1.5 hours). And then you have jam…or soup!
“When making soup on your bread machine, you simply put all of your ingredients in, then heat and mix them in the bread machine,” said Ed Harris, a chef who is most famous for being a winner on Food Network’s hit cooking show, “Chopped” and competing on “Iron Chef International.
”Make sure to check on this periodically during the 1.5 hours and be prepared for a tasty treat when ready,” said Harris. You may need to puree the final contents from the bread pan for a smoother consistency.
Jams and sauces are also great in the bread machine.. We all know bread machines are great for baking sandwich breads and quick breads, but one of the lesser utilized functions is the jam setting.
“Jams and sauces are incredibly easy to prepare, making your bread machine even more valuable and versatile,” said Jane Bonacci, co-author of “The Gluten-Free Bread Machine Cookbook” with Shannon Kinsella.
From fresh fruit or vegetable-packed jams to chutneys and sauces, you can have homemade treats for your family and to use as gifts for family and friends, according to Bonacci. And don’t forget that sweeter jams and chutneys can be used as a topping for ice cream for a fun and different end to any meal.
Want to make your own ketchup or BBQ sauce? “Just toss the ingredients in the machine and let it do all the work. If you have dietary restrictions, such as being gluten free, you can make your own condiments customized to your personal requirements,” said Bonacci.
So, give that bread machine another whirl. It just may become your favorite kitchen appliance.