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Making Bread While You Loaf

Today's automatic bread makers are mouth watering deals

by Jim Bray

"I never thought I'd live to see the day you bake bread!"

I can still remember those immortal words, as my wife buttered her first slice and chowed down. It was good. Okay, it was a little funny looking, but it tasted great.

That was when Panasonic first introduced its "Bread Bakery" bread maker. This, however, is now, and time and technology march on. Panasonic is now trying to outflank the many pretenders that have come onto the market since their first little gem, and the price has also come down steadily.

These machines turn making bread or dough from a yucchy experience in which one must get one's hands dirty into an easy, joyful delight, with a tasty reward at the end. How easy? All you do is throw the ingredients into the little bin, place it in the machine, put yeast into the container, press "start" and leave. No foolin'!

When you return, it's to that heavenly smell of freshly baked homemade bread, a smell that can't be described, but which everyone knows and loves.

Memories of yeast gone by…

To put into perspective what life's like with a bread maker, let me tell you of my experiences when we tried out Panasonic's first machine, ostensibly to review, but we ended up refusing to part with it.

I still remember that first loaf, which I made on the timer that let us delay the arrival of our baked bundle of joy for up to thirteen hours. That loaf came out a little strange to say the least; how would I have known that ignoring the directions and putting in as much yeast as the little container would hold could possibly cause me trouble? What am I, a baker?

Well, wouldn't you know, the thing bubbled up inside the machine and baked all over the inside top of the bread maker, ending up looking more like a little brown chef's cap than a loaf of bread. Smelled good, though! Emergency surgery was necessary and the huge, bulbous "chef's cap" of bread was cut from the top, leaving a normal looking, though decapitated, loaf underneath.

Then came the taste test. Ambrosia! Pretty good bread, too. We dove in like fiends and, when we finally surfaced for air, the loaf was gone. Including the bulbous part.

Cleanup was a horrible experience because of the mess I'd made. Once the unit was carefully scrubbed, however, we tried another loaf. And another. And another.

We ended up trying so many loaves you'd think it would be enough to put one off fresh bread, but it didn't. On the contrary, after Panasonic took back the demo unit (pried from my clenched fingers) I paced impatiently, waiting for them to hit the market, then ended up rushing out to the store in a buying frenzy.

We still love it and use it regularly, but now, of course, there's newer, better ones that sell for hundreds less and doesn't that just figure?

Newer Wrinkles…

Oh, sure. Now you get features like "Light" and "Rapid" settings for those on a diet or a tight schedule. There are settings for whole wheat flour and different types of dough (though not long green dough).

And you can be as creative as you want. Though I'm as comfortable in a kitchen as a lawyer is comfortable discussing his own integrity, I've made garlic bread, cheese bread, and the world's finest pizza dough (Though my wife argues that last point).

You can make California Raisin bread, which is great except I guarantee you won't sleep for all the singing coming from inside the machine!

The cloud around the lining…

One possible drawback to these things I'm raving about like they're cures for cancer is that the loaf is only about half as long as the ones you buy in the store, though it's taller. Of course, they're now offering machines that make traditional sized loaves, too, but we haven't yet tried one.

But ending up with a junior-sized loaf can also be an advantage, because the bread doesn't get stale. The small size makes the loaves ideal for a couple, or a single person, because you don't end up with half a loaf (which is still better than none) hanging around, breeding all sorts of disgusting things. On the other hand, our family of four can wipe out a loaf fresh from the machine in less time than it took Saddam Hussein to head for his bunker a few years back, so it can be nice to have a spare around in case of emergency. Or try the new, giant sized economy model mentioned above.

Then again, even with the pint sized loaves, the next one is only a couple of hours away...

Real drawbacks? Yeah, right. Besides possible weight gain, operator error is about the only thing that comes to mind; we've only had one major disaster in the years since becoming the proud owners of the Bread Bakery, but no matter how hard I try I can't blame the machine for it:

I set the thing to have a nice, freshly baked loaf ready when we got up in the morning. I threw all the ingredients into the bin, set the timer, and sallied forth to bed. Everything appeared normal.

The next morning I was awakened by howls of laughter from the kitchen, and my wife informed me I had forgotten to attach the little kneading blade to the bottom of the bin. The resulting "loaf" of "bread" resembled something from a Wes Craven film and we now use it as a doorstop.

We wonder about the models with a little window in the top, though. We tried an early one, to compare it with our venerable Panasonic, and while the bread was good, the Panasonic's was better. Dunno if it was the window or whatever, but we wonder. Some also seem to be built decidedly cheaply, and this is generally cause for alarm no matter where you find it.

We've also heard of some people having problems with the loaves not rising properly, though after my initial gaffe we never had that problem. Some people swear by special "bread maker" yeast packets, too, though we've only ever used regular yeast and have had outstanding results.

In fact, we'd invest in an assault rifle before we'd part with our little Panasonic darling. Even though the newer models are faster, cheaper, and more flexible...

Besides, a bread maker is sure to pay for itself over the years if you use it regularly (and why wouldn't you?) and even if it doesn't, who cares? It's a terrific gadget that performs better in the kitchen than I do, and is worth its weight in titanium.

Look at it this way: it's cheaper than a VCR and it won't rot your mind.

Now THERE'S food for thought!

 

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September 24, 2008