(Originally feature in the Arizona City Independent Edition, March 19, 2008)
In October I shared my recipe for Whole Wheat & Oatmeal Bread in this space, along with tips for making machine bread. Sadly, I recently had to retire my old breadmaker after 10 years of loyal service. But I’m happy to say my favorite recipe works perfectly in my new Breadman machine.
I also bought a bread-slicing guide from Amazon.com, so I now have uniform slices, and I’ve picked up a few more tips so I can turn out bread that looks and tastes better than the stuff they sell in stores. That’s why I’m addressing the subject again so soon, with the old tips and a few new ones.
I start by putting the ingredients into the bread pan in the following order:
2 tbsp. softened margarine
scant 1 1/4 tsp. salt
generous 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. vanilla
generous 1 tbsp. wheat gluten
generous 3 tbsp. dry milk powder
1 cup minus 2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. honey
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cup white flour
½ cup rolled oats
2 tsp. yeast
You can use milk instead of water and dry milk powder, and if you use sugar instead of honey, then use a full cup of the liquid. I also use 1/4 cup less whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup more white than the original recipe calls for because the flours I buy are unprocessed and stone ground, so both have a strong nutty flavor and are very nutritious.
Whatever products you use, the rule for making yeast bread is to put in the salt early and stack the wet and then dry ingredients on top, with yeast added last. That way the yeast isn’t exposed to the salt until everything’s been mixed thoroughly, giving the yeast its best chance to raise the dough and emit that delicious aroma.
For this recipe, I set the timer for three hours for a 1 ½ pound basic loaf and set it for light crust. A few minutes after the machine starts, I use a spatula to scrape away bits that stick to the pan’s corners, so it all gets mixed into the dough ball on the center paddle.
One difference between my two machines is that the new pan is wider and shorter than the old one, so the new loaves have a larger top crust. This gives the loaf a better shape and texture, especially when I use my other tricks once the bread has been baked.
As soon as the buzzer indicates the bread is done, I unplug the machine, pull out the pan, turn it over, and shake the bread onto a plate. Then I pull a plastic food storage bag over the loaf, seal it tightly, and let it cool on the counter so the bread absorbs moisture, preventing the crispness that is common with machine-made bread.
Once the loaf is completely cool, I slip it into the refrigerator without opening the plastic bag to firm up the bread for slicing. After it’s been in the fridge for several hours, or even overnight, I pull it out and gather up my slicing tools.
To catch more crumbs (which I feed to the birds in the back yard), I set my ceramic cutting board underneath the slicing guide. I haven’t used a wooden board in years because it’s unsanitary. I keep the ceramic board in the bottom rack of my dishwasher, so it’s always ready for use and goes through the washing cycle whenever I run the machine. I also do the same with my other slicing tools.
I recently bought a new electric knife to replace the one I’ve had for decades. The new one has saw-tooth instead of serrated blades and a safety switch which I always snap on when the knife is idle. My handy new slicing guide came with a plastic bread keeper, but I never use that part of the set. The keeper has holes in both ends, and the desert air just dries and shrinks the bread right before my eyes. Plastic bags are much better for storing bread, whether in or out of either fridge or freezer.
Since only half a loaf fits into the guide at a time, I slide one end up to the removable plastic end plate and use the side ribs at the other end to cut the loaf in half. I turn one of the halves around and push the cut end up to the plate, then start cutting the bread from the end plate and work outward. I keep a hand on the heel end to hold the loaf in place as I bring the knife down between the side ribs. Then I do the same with the second half of the loaf.
This gives me a neatly sliced loaf of bread that looks and tastes as if it might have come from a bakery.