If you don’t have a bread machine, you should give one a try. They’re easy to use, and they make really, really good homemade bread, pizza dough, and fresh dough that you can use to make other things, like homemade rolls. When I first bought one, many years ago (I am still on my first), I struggled with the idea that it was somehow cheating. Of all the concepts that one could struggle with, this one is particularly stupid. Bread machines make perfect dough, and they make delicious bread that tastes every bit as homemade as bread from dough that was hand-kneaded.
One wonderful use that I found for the bread machine is to throw together the ingredients for cinnamon bread late on Christmas Eve. Bread machines have timers, so that you can put all the ingredients into the machine, then delay the time that the bread-making starts. By doing this, when we wake up on Christmas morning, the house is filled with the smell of fresh cinnamon bread as it bakes.
In addition to cinnamon bread, I also enjoy making French bread and dough to make cloverleaf rolls. (Just roll the dough into three balls, and they bake together into the cloverleaf shape). I make the French bread or the cloverleaf rolls on evenings when I’m making soup, so it feels more like a meal.
The pizza dough produced in the bread machine comes out just right every time. It’s ridiculously easy and it tastes better than a store-bought crust.
The bread machines can either make the dough itself (that you can bake in your own oven) or they can make the dough and bake it into bread. Making the dough takes about an hour and a half, while making the bread takes about three hours.
As any bread machine book will tell you, the most important aspects of making bread are to measure out the ingredients precisely, and to put ingredients together in a specific order. Liquids (which should be warmed to about 80 degrees) go in first, then the dry ingredients. If using butter, it should be cut into four pieces and distributed into the corners. The yeast should be put in last. Make a tiny “well” into the middle of the flour, and bury the yeast in it. Also, the bread comes out better when using bread flour, which is easy to find with the other flours in any grocery store.
It’s simple to make wheat bread and all other types of specialty bread. More often than not, I make a loaf of basic French bread, using the recipe that came with the machine: 7 ounces warm water, 2 ½ cups bread flour, 1 teaspoon sugar, ¾ teaspoon salt, 1 ½ teaspoons butter, ¾ teaspoon fast rise yeast.
Today I visited a friend who had just used her machine to make dough for a loaf of Challah Bread. I watched her split the dough into three equal pieces, braid it, and then seal the ends with a squeeze. There aren’t many more comforting things in life than watching somebody work with a mound of homemade dough. Except eating it after it becomes bread.