Loaf at first sight: How to find true happiness with a bread machine

As one of the earliest adopters of a bread machine, back in 1990, I never experienced the kind of phobia Tara writes about. My only bread machine-based fear was based on a real experience: While making a loaf of pumpernickel, my DAK bread machine, the kind that looked like R2D2, literally walked off the counter. The loud crash was followed by the sound of pathetic whining, as it lay bent, but not broken, on the floor. After that, I only used it on the floor, where it couldn’t fall further.

Foodie Gazette bread machine recipes

Guest Columnist: Tara L. Narcross

June 23: The Beginning

It began, quite innocently, at a yard sale. There it was, a practically-new bread machine. I remembered all the wonderful things my friend Patty had told me in the past about her bread machine — it’s so easy to use, we love it, the smell of baking bread is divine, and so forth. And this one was only $10. As I looked at it, I had visions of loaves of warm bread; I could almost smell the incomparable aroma of freshly baked bread coming from my very own kitchen.

True, the machine had neither box nor instructions; however, Patty had once promised me her help if I ever did decide to get a bread machine of my own. So it came home with me and occupied a chair in the living room for the first two weeks. During that time I alternated between excited anticipation and despair that what was supposed to be so simple would not prove to be within my grasp.

June 26

Patty found the instruction manual for the machine on the company’s web site. I’ve printed it and it’s sitting next to me on my desk. While I’m excited about the whole prospect of baking my own bread, my nerve is a little shaky, and I still haven’t actually started reading the manual. Patty continues to promise that I’ll love it — the machine, that is, not the manual.

It can’t be that bad, right? After all, both of my grandmothers baked bread all the time, and they didn’t have a machine to help them do it. For a very long time, they also didn’t have refrigerators, electric stoves, or running water, either. So I should be way ahead of the game.

July 9

The bread machine has been moved from the living room chair onto the spot that has been cleared on the kitchen table. I still haven’t cracked that manual, though. I did, however, carry it to and from work for three days, in hopes of reading it while eating lunch.

I know that part of the hesitation is rooted in my previous attempt (the first and, to date, the only) at baking yeast bread. It was something called “Bubble Bread”, and was supposed to be so easy that if you had opposable thumbs and could follow a recipe, the bread would turn out perfectly. Hah.

Even though I had never baked bread before, I just knew something was not quite right as I put it in the oven. Call it a premonition. When I took out the finished product, I was fairly sure that the pan was actually heavier than when I put it in.

So it (whatever it was) began to cool on the rack, and was still warm when my (first) husband, his father and his uncle came in from work.

“Homemade bread! Great!”

The husband had a little bit of it and refused to eat even a full slice, vehemently proclaiming it to be completely inedible. (I’d had a bit of it by then and was in full agreement, but he didn’t really have to be that way about it, you know.)

The father-in-law ate a full slice and then gosh, he wasn’t really hungry, thank you very much. (He’d just come in from a full day of roofing and he wasn’t hungry? However, I appreciated the polite lie at that point.)

The uncle, on the other hand, said it was fantastic; he ate a little over half the loaf. Of course, he was stoned at the time …

Unwilling to subject myself to another attempt right then, I turned my attention to cooking other things and figured that I was not meant to bake the wonderful loaves that my grandmothers (and countless others) turned out with such apparent ease. Now, a little more than 20 years later, I am finally willing to give it another try. After all, by this time I am more mature and more skilled at cooking in general. Also, I know that my husband, Derek, will not respond in the same way as did the previous husband.

July 11

Today Patty brought over a grocery bag in which she had compiled a bread-making beginner’s kit for me, with whole-wheat flour, buckwheat flour, soy flour, yeast and a plastic container with a sourdough starter in it. We patted the bread machine and admired its unsullied almost-newness.

Once again, I wonder what has possessed me to enter into this overly emotional commitment with a machine instead of just continuing to get my bread from the bakery section of the grocery, like the sensible woman that I normally am.

And why do I, a professional, reasonably intelligent, grown woman with a Ph.D., find myself intimidated by what looks to be a fairly simple machine? I love computers and I’m reasonably clever with electronic gadgets, if you will please overlook the fact that I haven’t the least idea which buttons on the remote to press to make the DVD player work. The bread machine has only a half dozen buttons on it, so it should be less frightening than the remote, despite the difference in size. However, logic doesn’t seem to play into this. It’s entirely emotional.

I wonder if there’s a word for a phobia about the possibility of embarrassing oneself in front of a bread machine?

July 14

It’s Bastille Day. Does this mean my first attempt should be French bread? No, no, no. Start simple. And tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow will be The Day. Really.

July 15

Today. I’ve committed myself to it. No getting out of it now. I’ve read the instructions. I have the ingredients. I’ve tidied up the kitchen, so I’m ready to start.

Whole-wheat bread looks fairly simple. Let’s see … whole-wheat flour—check. Water—check. Yeast—check. Brown sugar … oops. No brown sugar.
Well, let’s look at the recipe for white bread, then. Flour, water, yeast—check, check and check. Dry mlk … dry milk?

What is dry milk? Is it the same as powdered milk? I have some nice dry wine, but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be a useful substitute.

By this point I’m so committed that I must continue with making bread of some kind. I am also rattled enough that I completely forget the resources at hand, including various cookbooks and, of course, Google.

So it’s back to the wheat bread. We’ll substitute white sugar for brown. It’s a small enough quantity that it shouldn’t make too much of a difference … I hope.

After that, it’s almost painfully simple. Put the ingredients into the machine in the order listed, press the buttons as indicated in the recipe and leave the machine to its job. Fortunately, there’s a window in the top of the machine that allows one to peek at the work in progress. And when it’s done, there should be a squarish loaf of bread. Edible bread. With luck, even good bread.

And it was good bread! Very good bread, if I do say so myself. And like the mature woman I am, after making Derek come look at the loaf, and then taste it, I called my mother and my best friend to share my glee with them.

Dinner that night was bread, soup, bread, salad and bread. And a big helping of satisfaction.

July 22

I’ve now made three successful loaves of whole-wheat bread. I’ve conquered my fear of breadmaking. From here I can branch out into other types of bread whenever I wish; I have a whole book full of recipes.

Moving past that old fear was a very liberating experience, but I didn’t do it alone. Patty, Derek, my mother, the friends who patiently listened to my raptures over that first loaf and, of course, the neighbors with the yard sale all played a part in helping me realize this dream. Who knew it would take a village to raise a loaf of bread?


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