I lusted after a bread machine long before I got one.
Now that I have one, I'd be quick to recommend it to anyone who likes the taste of homemade bread. I do know how to make bread by hand. I do love the feel of kneading dough--for about 2 of the requisite 5 to 8 minutes. I enjoy punching the dough down. But...some tiny joys simply don't have the power to outweigh the convenience of machine-made bread.
Today, as I bake a loaf of Italian bread to go with tonight's spaghetti, I think I'll share a few pointers about bread machine use for those of you who aren't familiar with these devices or who are closet-lusters like I was. To you lusters, I say go get one! To those still wondering, I offer some basic info:
My bread machine has a feature I use almost exclusively called the Super Rapid setting. That means I can have a finished loaf in 1 hour, as long as I'm willing to use 4 times the yeast required in the standard loaf's 4-hour setting. (Still only 4 tsp. per 2 lb loaf in the quick bread setting, so not a budget-buster.) One drawback of the super rapid setting: I can't make the super healthy breads on the speedy setting, but these quick breads are not particularly un-healthy. Besides, those super healthy breads call for things like liquid lecithin and powdered whey, unsulphured molasses and carob powder--all of which I'd need a shopping helper to help me find in the health food store.
No, for this recipe, all I need are very common ingredients--water at 100 to 115 degrees--very hot tap water seems to work; cooking oil--I like olive oil for my Italian bread; simple sugar; salt; powdered milk; bread flour; Italian seasoning and quick-rise yeast. For my seasoning, I used a mix of last year's dried herbs (thyme and basil) and fresh trimmings of oregano and parsley.
A few things to note with a bread machine: generally, you'll be told to add the ingredients in the order they are listed in the recipe, saving the yeast for last. In fact, make a small indentation on top of the dry ingredients, one that doesn't go so deep as to reach the wet layer. Put the yeast in that indentation. Best to keep the yeast away from the wet until the cycle for kneading gets underway as the liquids activate the yeast too soon.
Some bread machines offer other recipes for the making, things besides standard breads. Mine makes jam--although the one peach chutney jam I tried didn't make enough jam to be worth the trouble. Two half-pint jars couldn't compete with the ratio of jam to box of quick-gel that can be achieved in easy stove top methods--usually something like 6-8 pintss. Besides jam, the machine also makes pizza dough and cinnamon rolls.
While the machine whirred in the background and began to kick up that amazing aroma of baking bread, I set up the extra herbs for drying. Soon the pruned parsley plant will fluff up bushier, and I'll be able to use the clippings to refill the empty herb jars from last season as they are running sparse after a winter of cooking. The bread machine beeped its last just as I pulled a jar of cherry wine jam from the freezer to thaw in the window sill. (The bread maker's first beep signaled the end of the last kneading cycle--just in case I wanted to pull the dough out then so it could rise once more and be baked in the oven. So many options!)
One last pointer about bread machines: take the pan out of the bread maker if your machine gives you the option. Let it cool on a cooling rack and not in the machine. This arrangement keeps the loaf from getting soggy. Soon, it will pop out of the bread pan and be ready for slicing. Patience is a virtue here! Yank it out of the pan too soon and the loaf might tear apart as you try to pry it hot off the mixer paddle. But overall, such an easy way to have fresh bread!