The Rise of the Machine

For years, the only yeast dough I could manage was the bread roll dough for beerocks— and even then, only because it came from a box. When it became harder and harder to find the brand of roll mix my grandmother had insisted on using, I knew I was screwed. If I ever wanted homemade beerocks again, it appeared that I was going to have to learn how to make bread. My nemesis!

My past attempts at yeast breads were pathetic. I could make several kinds of cookies without a recipe, but my cinnamon rolls were tasty yet stiff little spirals. And as for bread, you know when you learn about the pioneer days in elementary school? Yeah, I think I may have made hardtack a few times. Onward ho! I could manage scones and Irish soda bread with ease, but only because they don’t use yeast. Eventually, I learned to not even bother looking at the Bread sections of cookbooks. Those sections just led to grave disappointment and were a waste of flour, usually three cups at a time.

But to forgo beerocks? No. That was too much. If millions of grandmas, Martha Stewart and some of my foodie friends could manage yeasty things, then so could I! If you’ve ever had a beerock, you’d know that all the fuss is worth it. Ground beef, cabbage and onions sautéed together and put into dough purses, then baked. They’re heavenly. And because of my shortcomings as a baker, I was about to doom myself to a lifetime of store-bought beerocks.

So, I went out and bought a bread machine.

You have to understand– I don’t even own a hand mixer (because what does it do that a wooden spoon and a good balloon whisk can’t?) and at that time my only “extra” appliance was a blender. In my experience, electrical gadgets are just complicated things to wash. Until they break.

Nevertheless, I bought some yeast and some bread flour and followed the recipes in the breadmaker’s instruction booklet to the letter. I even used the wierdly shaped measuring cups provided instead of my own. After all, I had been doing something wrong over and over again for years, and I had no idea what that weak link was. Sure, it was probably my yeast temperature, but at the time I was beginning to wonder if using metal spoons and cups could have been the culprit. I was desperate.

I won’t say breadmaker bread comes out perfectly. It’s a little dense, and the recipes often call for odd things like non-fat dried milk and dehydrated potato flakes. But I did finally learn how to make bread! I learned about yeast temperatures, how the dough should look and feel after it’s been kneaded enough, and which flours need gluten added to them.

The first time I went to Whole Foods to buy a bag of gluten, I was so thrilled that I made a joke to the poor register girl about how most people were trying to eliminate gluten from their diets– and here I was buying it! She was not amused. I think she thought I was a bit too excited by my purchase, and I probably was. It was exciting, though, to experiment with different kinds of flour, all within the safety net of my teacher, the breadmaker.

By the time my breadmaker broke, as all gadgets must– the rubber washer that helped the paddle turn melted spectacularly while baking a loaf of pumpernickel– I was ready to let it go to that great big broken household appliance heaven in the sky. Well, actually my garage, since I am too attached to it to throw it out.

The training wheels are now off. I duplicate the breadmaker’s rising temperature by heating my oven to 250º for just a few minutes. I know to knead the dough until it looks like it did in the breadmaker– it should feel smooth and warm, like you’re giving somebody a massage. And some things turn out even better without the training wheels. The air bubbles in the bread are bigger now, the crust is, well, crustier, and now I can shape the dough any way I want! I have branched out into sourdough baguettes, panettone and multigrain hamburger buns and I haven’t looked back since.

As for my Luddite tendencies, I still have them. I refuse to get a hand mixer, however I eventually fell in love with a pressure cooker my husband insisted on getting. I even have a snow-cone machine, which is surprisingly popular even in the winter. But I don’t have the emotional attachment to these appliances that I have to my trusty little bread maker, my teacher, who is sitting out in the garage.

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