This machine was not worth the dough

28 Jan
The first batch of white bread was perfect in every way. Even the dog is interested... (Geoff Meeker photo)

The first batch of white bread was perfect in every way. Even the dog is interested… (Geoff Meeker photo)

As one who is used to baking his own bread from scratch, I’ve always been skeptical of bread making machines.

Can they really blend the ingredients and knead the dough to the right consistency, then bake it to a golden brown, without the elbow grease and knowing touch of a baker’s hand?

I’ve finally been able to find out for myself, with the recent purchase of a Breadman bread maker ($80, at Costco). The results will amuse, surprise and possibly disgust you.

Those who know me will point out that I’ve been gluten free for the last six months. What would I need a bread maker for?

My family still enjoys wheat products. My sons, in particular, love a nice loaf of homemade white bread. Also, the bread maker has a gluten free setting and a cookbook with 77 recipes – seven of them gluten free. So, I had to give it a go.

For the machine’s first use, I tried a loaf of plain white. Before adding ingredients, you slip the little kneading paddle over a nut in the bottom of the pan. Then you add liquid ingredients, followed by dry and ending with the flour and yeast. You place the pan into the breadmaker, being sure that the base locks tightly in place, engaging the kneading paddle with the drive shaft underneath. Select the white bread setting, switch it on and walk away. About two-and-a-half hours later, it beeps to tell you it’s done.

That first loaf turned out surprisingly well. It rose high, with a golden finish. The aroma of freshly baked bread had drifted through the house, and my boys were waiting impatiently for the loaf to cool enough for me to slice it. I was impressed by how smoothly the knife sliced through the bread – it held together with a nice consistency, but was light and springy to the touch – the perfect texture.

Alas, I couldn’t taste it, not even a morsel, but the verdict from my family was 10 out of 10. It was apparently delicious – easily as good as the homemade white bread from Bidgood’s (which is high praise indeed).

The first loaf of gluten free bread rose nicely and tasted okay, but it had a disconcerting orange colour inside. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The first loaf of gluten free bread rose nicely and tasted okay, but it had a disconcerting orange colour inside. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Next, I tried the gluten free recipe, which uses an odd combination of ingredients – including white rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour and corn starch – to mimic regular white bread. The loaf rose nice and high and was fairly light, but the bread was a disconcerting orange colour inside. It is difficult, almost impossible, to duplicate the taste, texture and appearance of bread without using wheat, and this was not bad – it actually tasted okay. However, we do taste food with our eyes, so it was difficult to get past the orange colour. (The recipe does call for three large eggs, which almost certainly tinted the bread. Perhaps egg whites would produce a more pleasant result.)

Next, I tried the whole wheat bread. And this is where things get interesting. The recipe called for 5 cups of whole wheat flour. From my own bread making experience, I know that this will produce a dense, heavy loaf. To leaven it, I tweaked the recipe, combining 1.5 cups of white with 3 cups of whole wheat flour.

I checked about 90 minutes later to see how things were rising. Looking through the window on the lid, I couldn’t see the dough at all – just a dark chasm. So I opened it to discover that the dough had exploded, leaving a crater in the middle. Using a spatula, I scraped the dough off the side, piled it in the middle in a crude loaf shape, closed the lid and hoped for the best.

My whole wheat custom blend contained too much yeast, and became a bread bomb. This should have been a nicely-risen pan of dough.

My whole wheat custom blend contained too much yeast, and became a bread bomb. This should have been a nicely-risen pan of dough.

So I scraped the dough from around the sides and put it back into the pan, attempting to create a loaf shape. (Geoff Meeker photo)

So I scraped the dough from around the sides and put it back into the pan, attempting to create a loaf shape. (Geoff Meeker photo)

When the machine beeped off, I lifted the lid to another frightening sight: the dough had exploded again during cooking. It resembled a volcano – not a loaf of bread. I soon figured out my error – the recipe called for four teaspoons of yeast, which would have been necessary to rise five cups of whole wheat. But with the lighter white flour added, I had essentially created a bread bomb. The verdict: it was my fault, not the machine’s.

Alas, the dough exploded again during cooking. I ended up with something resembling a high school lab experiment. (Geoff Meeker photo)

Alas, the dough exploded again during cooking. I ended up with something resembling a high school lab experiment. (Geoff Meeker photo)

At this point, though, I noted an issue with the machine’s kneading paddle. It is supposed to fall flat before the baking cycle begins, making for easy extraction from the baking pan. However, with every loaf it remained upright, requiring me to remove it surgically once the bread had cooled – a nuisance, but not quite a deal-breaker.

I followed the recipe for the second loaf of whole wheat and it came out looking fine - on the outside. (Geoff Meeker photo)

I followed the recipe for the second loaf of whole wheat and it came out looking fine – on the outside. (Geoff Meeker photo)

So, I gamely tried another loaf of whole wheat – following the recipe this time – and it came out looking fine. Alas, this time the kneading paddle had disappeared completely. It had come off during kneading and was now lost inside the loaf. I had to slice the bread with great care to locate the paddle and fish it out. On doing so, I was startled to discover dark streaks in the bread surrounding the paddle. It was apparently chemical in nature, and clearly not caused by the natural bread ingredients.

The kneading paddle came off during cooking and upon fishing it out, I found these worrisome dark stains inside the bread. Not a good thing. (Geoff Meeker photo)

The kneading paddle came off during cooking and upon fishing it out, I found these worrisome dark stains inside the bread. Not a good thing. (Geoff Meeker photo)

I searched online for reviews of the Breadman and found that this problem is not unique. Other consumers have complained of a similar discoloration caused by the paddle. The most plausible theory is that the device is shedding its non-stick coating into the bread.

This may or may not be accurate, but I know bad news when I see it. This streaking does not look healthy. The Breadman is going back to the store. And that’s too bad, because it did bake a great loaf of white bread.

I will update you on other bread machines, if and when I purchase another.

Geoff Meeker is a communications consultant with a soft spot for technology. He also writes a blog about the local media scene, which is hosted at http://www.thetelegram.com.

 

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