Making bread by hand is hard, are breadmakers better?

There’s nothing better than starting the day with a slice of warm, fresh bread dripping in salted butter. Poets have spoken for millennia about the joy of turning so few ingredients into such a wonderful food product. But if life isn’t going too well for you, you probably wake up to freshly made bread from your kitchen. Bakers answer to the most first world of first world problems? Can they match what I can make by hand?

It wasn’t until we bought our house that I decided baking was a skill I needed to learn. I scoured YouTube for a tutorial and came across this clip from a star baker Richard Bertinet. I’ve written before about how comforting and relaxing this video is, and a balm for your soul on hard days. Bertinet made it so easy that everyone could achieve the same great results. Unfortunately, I couldn’t.

Unfortunately, this was the heyday of Twitter when celebrities were around and happy to chat with their fans. So I asked Bertinet himself and got the necessary advice to solve my problems – I wasn’t kneading the dough with confidence or kneading it long enough to work. After that I regularly baked pretty fancy bread and my kids love to eat my fougas.

The recipe itself is so simple: 500 grams of strong bread flour, 10 grams of salt, 10 grams of yeast and 350 grams of water. It’s not wrong: You attach the measuring cup to the scale and weigh the water to measure more accurately. After mixing, take the dough to the table and work. The mixture is sticky. Do not add flour. Trust the process.

This means moving, stretching and aerating the dough, working quickly and aggressively rather than just kneading. If you hold your hands too long, your fingers will sink into the mix and then it’s game over to get them out. Resist the temptation to add more flour to reduce moisture and instead focus on keeping it moving until it finally forms. When it does, you’ll be looking at the most beautiful pastry you’ll ever see.

After you let it rise and then knock it down, you’ll be able to throw it in the oven. Add some water to add some steam and you’ll have a nice crusty, delicious loaf

Bakeries have advantages, including the fact that you can have fresh bread at home and decide when to start the process. Throw in your ingredients before bed, set a delay, and you’ll wake up to the smell of baking wafting through your home. I’ve scheduled my tests to finish at 7am, so we’re all good to go by the time our noses are dragged down.

Unfortunately, in my experience, that’s where the pros of bread makers stop and the cons begin. You will never get the same quality bread from a machine that you would get by mixing the dough by hand.

Machines have small paddles that rotate under the mixing bowl. This action may not mix vigorously enough to stretch the protein in the flour, which promotes gluten formation. And it can’t add the same amount of air to the mix to help create a good rise and fluffy texture inside. Normal bread recipes don’t work as well because you have to add additives to the mix like milk, sugar, and vegetable oil to improve flavor (more on that) and elasticity.

This little paddle will stay at the bottom of your loaf while baking, so you’ll have to fish it out every morning. The space in the middle of your bread is so big that you won’t be able to cut much of the bread for toast or sandwiches.

The second big drawback, and more heartbreaking, is that the smell coming from upstairs every morning is not that great. Even in the lightest mode, the bread is excessive compared to the real thing. No matter which recipe I try, the smells are very yeasty and sour, which makes me less motivated to feast in the morning. The resulting bread has the physical and mechanical properties, but very little actual flavor. Beat in as much cold, salted butter as you like, but, in principle, it is not as good as the simplest shop-bought buns.

This is of course just my opinion, and some people have good reasons for choosing “average” bread over no homemade bread. But if you must buy a bread machine, here are two of the better options on the market.

A photo of the Gastroback Bread Maker pro on the table.A photo of the Gastroback Bread Maker pro on the table.

Photo: Daniel Cooper / Engadget

Because I love bakers, there are many reasons why I love them Gastroback Automatic Bread Maker Pro. I’m a fan of the easy user interface and the preview window, the latter of which will let you watch how your mix is ​​coming along. True, no bread maker has an “easy” user interface, but it is tolerable, each function has its own button. The only annoyance is navigating the softkey, and since there are 19 options, you’d better make sure you get it right.

After that, you just need to select the three color options (light, medium or dark) and the weight of the dough you are preparing (500g, 750g or 1000g). This will tell you how long your bread will take to cook, and you can add a delay for as long as you like. As for options, Gastroback will make a variety of breads, mix batters for you, and even melt food in its pan. Given that dry ingredients such as peanuts and soybeans are promised to be mixed and cooked, I wasn’t brave enough to try the roasting settings.

But the bread it produces is what I would describe as “generic bakery bread,” meaning it’s warm and there. Whatever recipes I’ve tried, the result has never been that great.

A photo of the Tefal bread maker on the table.A photo of the Tefal bread maker on the table.

Photo: Daniel Cooper / Engadget

T-Fal looked to set it baker apart from its competitors by allowing you to do more in your home. You’ll get all the standard stuff like making bread, cake, and mixing dough for bread, pizza, and pasta. But, in the style of all the shopping channel ads, you’ll also be able to use it to make porridge, cook cereal and make homemade jellies. Oh, and if you have pasteurized cow’s milk, you can use the package accessory to mix yogurt and soft cheese.

The user interface is almost identical to the Gastroback, although it has some better-looking buttons. But where it falls down is the lack of a viewing window, meaning you’ll only be able to see how your bread is progressing by lifting the lid. Which, I should add, is that you can’t do this while baking, so you will never know if the problem is progressing until it is resolved. And the bread it produces is simply weak, which quickly lost interest from my kids, who signed up as eager testers early in the process. Basically, I’m not sure Tefal is compelling enough to warrant you buying it unless you really have a tolerance for weak bread.

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