An Ode to the Bread Machine in an Era of Artisan Bread

Thank you

I am an artisan home bread maker. Crispy loaves of bread come out of my dutch oven pot cracking delicately as they cool. It’s a beautiful sound matched only by the delicious taste.

What about a 100% whole wheat sandwich bread? It requires a special kneading and stretching technique that takes 30 minutes. The dough rests over night in the fridge, takes two hours to rise after shaped and another 35 minutes to bake but, I end up with two perfect loaves of healthful, tasty, soft bread with a perfect crust.

Slightly sweet, beautiful knot rolls, perfect for fancy dinners or a simple soup meal? I can do it in my sleep.

But, lately, I just don’t seem to have enough time (or, If I have time, I lack the energy) to make bread by hand.

It’s Fine

When the pandemic began in March of last year, our local grocery store was short on not only flour and yeast but also packaged bread. We were able to get flour from the local mill around the corner. (uhhh…60kg of it because they only sold it in 20kg bags and one needs different types of flour to make bread!)  My husband, who is always wants to make sure we have what we need, borrowed his mother’s bread machine just in case, just to be sure we’d have bread in a pinch. And also because he was curious to see what the bread would be like.

This bread maker, hardly used, was top-of-the-line in the 1990s. The recipe booklet only gave measurements in cups not weight, which bothered me as a seasoned baker. It also made it difficult to use the local flour, which reacted very differently in the recipe, probably because of a weight discrepancy.

But, the bread was almost- fine. And, once we had access to commercial “grocery store” flour again, the bread coming out of this old machine was completely fine.

With two young children and working full-time, there’s not always time to make bread the way I’d like to.

You know that almost-no-knead, baked in a pot bread? Sure, it’s quick if you make one loaf. But, I can’t seem to stop myself from making at least 3 loaves because 1)  the recipe uses beer and I don’t want to waste the rest of the beer, which I don’t drink and, 2) if I’m heating my oven to almost 500F, why stop at just one loaf? So, this quick bread making still takes over 3 hours of overseeing the baking.

I’ve come to appreciate the simplicity of putting ingredients in the little rectangular metal pail and turning on the machine. It even has a timer so I set the bread the night before and have a fresh loaf in the morning.

Does it make 100% whole wheat bread? Nope! Is the flavour amazing? Nope! Is the crust to die for? Nope!

But it’s soft, pleasant bread and it’s fine.  That’s how I’d describe sliced grocery store bread but this is cheaper and made at home.

So, I tip my hat to the bread machine, still a handy little robot in the age of artisan home bread making.