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Bread Machine Bread that Doesn't Suck

So, I've been talking about my experiments with the HPI Bread Machine, but I don't think I ever described the actual techniques/recipes. Skip if you're not interested in making bread...

I love making and eating good homemade bread, but wanted a process that required less babysitting. I know people will say that making bread isn't hard... and it's not. But it does require a certain amount of scheduled "foolin' with" and my schedule wasn't being accommodating. Add to that the fact that we have no house A/C and running the oven on hot days isn't a good idea. And loaves of decent bread at the store (even the loaf breads) were getting annoyingly expensive. So, we bought this bread machine.

Making bread with this thing was about as easy as falling off a log. Unfortunately the taste of the loaves was in keeping with that metaphor... about as tasty as pulp. The problem wasn't the machine -- it mixed, rose, and baked perfectly. The problem wasn't the recipe -- it had the right proportions of flour, salt, yeast, and other ostensibly tasty stuff. The problem was that bread that only has a brief rise just isn't that good.

Now I wasn't expecting this thing to spit out baguettes or boules or Bavarian sourdough. But I was expecting tasty sandwich and toast bread... and I wasn't getting it. I began to understand why bread machines are one of those things that people often buy and abandon (like exercise machines). I mean, if I wanted Wonderbread, I'd just buy it. So I began to research how to make better bread in my machine.

Many bread machine recipes have lots of mix-ins. And I'm sure some of those loaves are OK. But I'm not interested in cranberry chive bread or cheddar chipotle bread. I don't mind a nice raisin or herbed loaf, but I wanted bread that was good on its own merits, not because I added two cups of stuff. Other bread machine recipes are meant to be pulled from the machine for a reshape, slow final rise, and then baked in the oven. This makes sense, particularly for rolls, twists, braids, etc. No amount of fiddling is going to make my bread machine bake anything other than rectangles. But I wanted a loaf that would be tasty without the extra steps and bake in place -- especially in summer.

Then I found this wonderful article. It contains a basic formula that you can use to transform any bread machine recipe into a sponge version.

In summary, you take the water, a cup of flour, and about half the amount of yeast and start them mixing in the machine for 10 minutes. Stop the machine and layer on the rest of the flour, any oil, salt, sugar, etc. -- but no additional yeast. Then reset the machine on a timer for 8-12 hours. Basically, you have a sponge on the bottom of the pan working all night long and when the timer starts the next morning it mixes the sponge with the rest of the ingredients and makes the bread as usual. The sponge will actually bubble up through the other ingredients by morning. This formula worked wonderfully! It makes tasty sandwich bread with a nicely developed yeast flavor. I've done white, whole wheat, and rye (all with a white flour sponge) and gotten good results. It works best for smaller loaves but is otherwise completely automatic.

It's so easy that we've only bought a few loaves in the months since I figured the technique out. I just set the machine up every couple of evenings and we have a loaf of warm bread by the next morning. The only manual step (when we remember) is to remove the mixing paddle before the final rise and bake, which keeps it from making a hole in the middle of the loaf.

Next time, my technique (and this one is all my own) for making a sourdough bread machine loaf.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 15th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
Brilliant! I stopped using my bread machine for that reason -- I prefer a longer rise -- unless I'm in a pinch and we need the bread ASAP. Thank you for the link and the idea!
Jul. 15th, 2009 11:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was completely excited when I found the formula. Let me know what you think if you try it!
Jul. 15th, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
I've always made a sponge in the bread machine several hours before I make the bread. The book that came with my first bread machine recommended it for tastier bread and as a long time bread baker, it made sense.

I have 4 bread machines now because I like making marbled vegetable breads and to get the different vegetable doughs ready at the same time, I need to run at least 3 machines at once. This bread requires folding to marble it and shaping to show off the color patterns. There's no way I could easily make this bread without a bread machine.
Jul. 15th, 2009 11:02 pm (UTC)
It does make sense! I don't know why my instruction book doesn't suggest it. Once I read the idea I had a complete forehead slap moment.

I loved the picture you posted of your marbled buns. Do you use pureed veggies or juice to make the bread?
Jul. 16th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
Thank you for this. I have a bread machine, but it gets exiled in the summer, as does my oven. (If my gas grill were bigger, I'd use a pizza stone on it for baking.)

Three months until Bread Season, and I can tell we're starting to lose the light in the evening. I hope I don't melt before then!
Jul. 16th, 2009 03:03 pm (UTC)
My bread machine doesn't give off a lot of ambient heat, which is why I enjoy it so much for baking in the summer. Plus with my bread schedule, the actual baking is in the cool of early morning. That said, here in Portland there are quite cool patches in the middle of summer where we can run the oven and bake stuff and appreciate the warmth!

I love the idea of grill pizza, but like you our grill is too tiny.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )