home baked bread: 3 methods compared

i’ve been making bread for a number of years now. but it has never really felt like “homemade” because i’ve been using a bread maker. it’s a lovely little basic machine, which has done a good job for many, many loaves of bread. whenever i make a soup or stew, there is often a fresh hot loaf right beside, ready for dunking. more recently, i have been using the bread machine for making all kinds of dough, like focaccia and pizza. the machine does all the kneading and rising for you, you take the dough out at the end of the cycle and stretch it out into whatever shape you need.

but lately, it hasn’t been doing as good a job of making fluffy loaves. i thought it may have been because the yeast was bad, but i bought a new package with the same result: a very dense brick of bread. it may have had something to do with an incident from a few months ago. i had set up the machine as usual on the kitchen countertop. at some point during the mixing, the dough inside became lopsided. and like a load of laundry that becomes uneven and makes the machine thump, the churning action inside caused the bread machine to walk right off the counter and smash onto the ground! it hasn’t been the same since.

anyway, i figured it was about time i tried to make bread on my own. no beeps and whirrs and pre-timed cycles. yes, as usual, my anxiety was high as i attempted something new. and no, it didn’t help that the bread monster (mr.MadeItSo) was hovering nearby asking “is the bread ready yet? how about now? now?… so… should i skip breakfast and wait for the bread, or have breakfast and then the bread. will it be ready for lunch time?” this may have been the point at which i yelled “out of the kitchen!” but you’ll have to ask my neighbour, as my window was open and she would know my exact choice of words.

i made a couple of doughs, one using the 5-minute artisan bread method (pretty much the same as outlined in this video here) and another using dough made more traditionally (here is a good video on that method, though i used far less white flour and more whole wheat, and didn’t knead it nearly as much).

in both cases, the resulting bread turned out pretty much the same…

delicious.

{the “home baked goodies” is a cotton bag my mum-in-law gave me as a gift. it has a drawstring and keeps bread fresh for a couple of days, if it lasts that long.}

a few things that i think helped make a good loaf:

* i used a baking stone (pizza stone) set in the oven and preheated to 450 F (about 230 C). it’s important that the stone is set in the cold oven and allowed to heat up with the oven, otherwise it can crack. for those who are curious, i got a large rectangular stone at kitchen stuff plus, regular price is $19.99.
* i placed a small dish of water in the oven alongside the bread. the humidity keeps the crust from drying out too quickly, and lets the bread expand out further. delicious thin crust around a moist interior.

advantages of using a bread maker:
i think the advantages are obvious, namely that you don’t have to think too much about it, you follow a recipe, enter the dough type and bake time and it does everything for you. all the ingredients are contained in the mixing pan which is also the baking pan, so that makes for a very quick cleanup. and it literally only takes a few minutes to put all the ingredients together. you also don’t expend any energy kneading, which may or may not be an advantage. but bread machines have their limitations…

advantages of both methods (5-minute and traditional) over a bread maker:
* you can make about 2 to 4 loaves per recipe (depending on the size of bread you form), at the same time. with a bread maker, you can only make one loaf at a time.
* you don’t need a container or pan in which to bake. most pans in bread makers are non-stick and i know some people don’t like to use anything with non-stick coatings. here, the dough is placed directly on the stone (or you can sprinkle corn meal on the stone first, or place a piece of parchment down first to prevent sticking).
* you don’t have a little dent in the loaf where the paddle mixes the dough in a bread maker.

advantages of the 5-minute method: (really, it takes longer than 5 minutes, that’s just the active prep time they’re quoting. it still needs to rise for a couple of hours on the counter, then refrigerate 12 hours or so.)
* you can make the dough ahead of time and keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks, then bake all or some of the dough, as needed.
* no kneading (or very minimal kneading when you pull the dough out to shape it into whatever you’re baking)

advantages of traditional kneading method:
* kneading isn’t as tricky as it may seem, and it’s a great way to get out frustrations too ;)
* the dough is less “wet” than the 5-minute method, easier to work with in general, and you have more control and feel over how much flour you should add.
* it’s handwork.
* bragging rights.

all three methods can allow for creativity when it comes to adding toppings and ingredients, shaping, different bake times and so on. i also don’t think that any of the three methods is necessarily quicker than the others. my opinion may change on this as i make more bread, but right now, i think it all depends on number of things. like, how you’re able to split up your time (for example, if you work during the day, you can make the 5-minute dough the night before, refrigerate it and bake it through the week as needed), how many people you’re feeding at a time, and what you’re comfortable doing (kneading dough, getting your work surface messy, etc).

i will maintain that any kind of home baked bread is great, because you know exactly what’s in it, and it’s as fresh as can be.

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6 Responses to home baked bread: 3 methods compared

  1. Jess says:

    yum! I haven’t made fresh bread in forever! I don’t like the waiting for the dough to rise part.

  2. tara says:

    oh wow! i’m hungry for some bread now too!

  3. YUMMMMM
    there is nothing like bread still warm from the oven

    your family is really lucky that you are willing to bake from scratch dear Ana…

    my mother was a great baker
    I can still remember her buttery croissants and sour dough french bread to name just a few…

    Happy October to you and yours
    oxo

  4. Pingback: thoughts on baking bread, part 2 | i made it so.

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