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Thursday, 15 July 2010

In praise of...Breadmakers

There’s a time and a place for really bad bread. The time is mid-afternoon, and the place is a service station forecourt. At such moments, only the insipid, pallid, cloying experience of the thin white slice will do. Ideally, bread such as this will be filled with processed cheese – unnaturally slick, almost completely flavourless, and yet somehow compelling, like TV soap operas, or Richard Madeley.

But we can’t have this, I hear you exclaim! You’re supposed to be writing about food. Garage sandwiches aren’t food. Well, quite.

As any good Crouch Ender knows, the only way to do bread is to make your own. And by make your own, I don’t just mean shoving some ingredients into a metal bowl with a mixing arm and waiting for electricity to do the rest. No, if you want truly fabulous bread, you need to put in the graft: kneading, turning, slapping, waiting, covering, prooving, shaping, baking. It’s fun, but you need a morning, at least. In truth, it’s the selection of the unemployed/food writer.

Surely, though, the choice isn’t an either/or. Surely it’s not just artisan or Mighty White. Not quite, no. There’s a third way, a middle ground between the disgusting certainties of the plastic-wrapped loaf and the temperamental thrills of the twisty homemade baguette. Breadmakers are good. Sure, it’s cheating, and sure, the loaves they produce don’t taste as good as bread that’s been properly fingered, but they have several clear advantages.

Time: In 2010, does anyone really have time to make bread properly? Sheeeeeit, I barely have time to buy it. With a breadmaker, such problems disappear. One trip to the supermarket will bag you enough flour for say, six loaves. Total time spent: 15 minutes. Then each loaf takes about 10 minutes to prepare. On average, that’s about 12.5 minutes per loaf. Compare that to buying cheapy loaves (about 15 minutes each) or fashioning something fancy (at least two hours), and you’re onto a winner. And yes, I’m aware that you still have to bake it, but with a teeny bit of planning, you can do that overnight. Which leads me to the next advantage of the method...

Smell: Ever wanted to live in a bakery? Me neither, but there’s nothing like waking up near one, is there? Indeed, some have argued that France was actually invented to cater for Brits who like the smell of freshly baking bread in the morning. But in England alas, it’s pretty unusual to live within sniffing distance of a good bakery. The breadmaker solves this problem. Just set the baking programme overnight, to finish about 6.30 a.m., and you’ll wake up to a wonderful scent that makes you feel like some sort of rustic medieval legend. Unless you can knead in your sleep, you’ll find it difficult to wake up to a handmade loaf like that.

Smug: The only reason anyone ever makes bread is to feel good about themselves (apart from bakers – they do it to make a living). You may ‘just prefer it,’ you may even believe that ‘it’s so much better for you’, and you can whine on about ‘preservatives’ as much as you want, but I’ve got news for you. People actually make bread so they can say: ‘Oh yes, I made this bread, it’s so easy, really, I do stuff like this all the time’. They’re the sorts of people that would like to own chickens so they can have fresh eggs each morning, but don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m definitely one of them. Now while a breadmaker doesn’t allow you to be quite as smug as fiddling with dough would, it’s a start. You still feel better than the 98 per cent of the population that think sophistication is the Tesco farmhouse granary loaf. It’s alright – you’re supposed to feel like that.

So for all you budding breadmaker buyers, what’s next? Well, you need a machine. Which is the best? I don’t know, but I had a Kenwood, and I have a Morphy Richards (pictured, poorly), and they’re both good, though I’d say the Morphy Richards is slightly better.


  1. Crumbs! It sounds so pain-free Phil! It's a pitty you don't have time to experiment. Love the rye comments about food writers, though.

    Reminds me of that old joke - do you know it? - that begins 'Why did the baker's hands smell?'

  2. I know it, I know it! That is one Good Joke.

  3. This is just the kind of blog we knead. Clearly got a good loaf on his shoulders, whichever way you slice it.

    May I self-raise a toast to a new seed in the batch!

    Roll on the next blog... (Blog roll...?)