On the baking of bread

So, we have this bread-making machine, used by Kit.  In an LJ post by Txanne, we learn that many believe that using such a machine produces bread that isn’t as good as hand-made.  I’m curious.  Is there actually a reason for this?  I mean, a reason that Alton Brown would find reasonable?

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0 thoughts on “On the baking of bread”

  1. I didn’t say *all* bread, in my friends-locked post (ya doofus), nor all people–just sourdough starter bread, for reasons of…aw, I dunno, I believe whatever Chaz tells me! And of course I can’t remember where he talked about it. Something to do with sourdough rising not being like other rising.

  2. Well, to start off with it’s not as good as my bread. This is because it uses commercial yeast instead of a yeast culture I domesticated myself, they tend to rely overmuch on refined flours rather than using sprouted whole grains and fresh ground flours, too many ingredients, too short a rising time and an overly confined cook space.

    I miss my wood burning brick oven…

  3. In my experience (over ~15 years of baking bread by hand), bread machine breads tend to be slightly denser and/or chewier than hand-made breads. I’ve never noticed any flavor difference.

    Whether or not this makes them better, worse, or no different is of course subjective to the eater.

    I can see where Sourdough might present a problem, though. Sourdough starters tend to be finicky at the best of times.

  4. Damn, I can’t edit.

    tylik, I have a book that converts hand-bread recipes to bread-machine recipes, so although I’m inclined to agree with you on those ingredients being better I don’t think bread-machine bread of necessity doesn’t have them.

  5. Oh hey–what kind of bread machine does Kit use? Pros, cons, does he recommend it?

  6. I haven’t used my bread maker in too long. I think it’s time to head home from work and fix that.

    Short story first: One of the few things that kept me sane during junior high was that we passed right by a major brand bread factory (that feels like such the wrong term) every morning at the right time to get to smell the bread baking. Oh so yummy.

  7. Well, you won’t get a gluten cloak like Alton would make on his loaf, so you won’t get that chewy, crackly crust. Similarly , bread that is properly inserted into a hot oven, instead of being, essentially, heated in a pot, will instantly lose moisture to the air and to the baking stone underneath (there *is* a baking stone underneath, at least in my kitchen!), and become cracklier.

  8. I think it depends on what you’re looking for in your bread experience. For me the crust is 90% of the pleasure of the bread, so bread-machine bread doesn’t cut it, for reasons mentioned above.

    Basically, you can’t bake a baguette in a bread machine.

  9. SisterCoyote –

    I’ve seen books like that. Some of them were really quite bizarre – in the extreme the machine was basically used only for kneading, with even baking taking place in a standard oven. Of course, a good mechanical kneader (even though my current aesthetic eschews powered appliances for such things I do sometimes miss the giant Hobart) can do things that are almost impossible to duplicate by hand, and many amateur bakers never really are taught how to get the most out of their gluten, so that nice chewy crumb isn’t common in the homemade crowd. The bread machines really limit what you can do with crust development, too – if you bake your bread in them.

  10. In addition to requiring higher gluten to keep the bread in one piece (as mentioned above), even the most sophisticated bread machines do not and can not knead dough as thoroughly as a pair of human hands.

    Also, while not an indictment of the quality of bread produced by a bread machine, Alton generally dislikes “unitaskers”, i.e. devices that take up space and only do one thing.

  11. I’ve got a Panasonic breadmaker at home. It replaced an older, cheaper, and much crappier machine — and there’s a marked difference; I’m now convinced that different models of breadmaker will give significantly different results.

    I use 100% organic ingredients (typically a wholemeal/rye/spelt mix with abot 30% white flour to lighten it). I started by taking the original recipes and then experimenting to figure out how to improve them.

    On the subject of crust — the Panasonic is *far* better than its predecessor. (And I have a pet trick: add about 5 grams of marmite or other yeast extract to a 750g loaf. It caramelizes and toughens the crust, giving it a really strong malted flavour.)

    Now, we have a Kenwood Major and a Burco 5 gallon boiler so we could in principle crank it up and start churning out authentic Polish-style bagels … but that’s too much like hard work!

  12. I make bread both in the bread machine (convenient!) and by hand. There is an appreciable difference in quality.

    There’s a bunch of reasons why bread machine bread (or bread kneaded in a stand mixer rather than by hand) tends to be not as good as hand-kneaded bread if the hand-kneader knows what she’s doing.

    Everything said above about the crust is true. But even more critical is the issue of texture, moisture content, controlling rise, and gluten development–which are best regulated by the feel of the dough. In a bread machine or stand mixer, you don’t have the fine control you do when kneading by hand: you just kind of toss the stuff in and hope you got the proportions and kneading time right.

    You can fiddle with it while it’s being kneaded, of course, but it’s still not as nuanced.

    Also, as Stickyboy says, you don’t get as thorough a knead with a dough hook.

    When using a starter, the bread machine problem is compounded, because sourdough bread requires a long, cool rise, and fairly careful handling once it has risen. These are not things a bread machine is optimized for.

  13. I use our bread machine quite a lot, at least when I’m back in the UP. While I have rarely made bread in the traditional way, Sarah has, and I have helped her in the process. Sarah, being a chemist, understands the process that takes place in the act of turning flour, yeast and water into bread. She says that there is no difference in the chemistry, but there is a difference in the physical act. The amount of kneading, rising, length of time, temperature settings, the art of knowing what to leave out or add in all make a difference in how the bread turns out. I like the bread that I make in the machine. I have several recipes that I use, and they all have different tastes and textures. When Sarah makes bread the traditional way, it’s never certain that it will turn out properly. Different ovens, varaitions of oven temperature, and other variables all add to the uncertainty. When I make bread in the machine, it almost always turns out exactly the way I expect, because the details of the process are mostly programmed into the machine.

    So, in all the rambling, what I’m trying to say is that the bread machine makes good bread, that tastes as good as most traditionally baked bread, but it’s more limited in what it can produce. I have never been able to make anything approaching a proper baguette texture or taste.

  14. Bread machines are totally incapable of making some styles of bread, either because they can’t handle the dough texture, or because they can’t bake it right in that bleeding metal pot. Those happen to be the styles I like best. So in my experience, bread machine bread is second-rate at the very best. (Mind you, just freshly baked second-rate bread is a LOT better than a lot of the things in the world!)

  15. For high-gluten breads, the machine’s poor kneading style and generally forced rising gives a loaf which is poorly gained.

    Low gluten breads, such as a banana bread or something, will tend to have less quality difference.

    As a compromise, I sometimes used my bread machine to do the first knead and rise, then did a hand knead and a second rise outside the machine before baking in an oven, but even that was lower quality than just doing it right.

  16. It can greatly depend on the bread machine. I’ve had some that was pretty good, but usually it turns out rather nasty. I think the limitations are that it can only knead so well with little tiny paddles on the bottom, and it can’t rise as well when crammed into a little pan.

    You’ve had my bread before at Star’s house. I got major geek points on the bread forums with my picture of you with a marble rye bread I baked.

  17. I usually work with a no knead style bread dough. It’s a variant on a rather old fashioned “stretched” dough, not the NYT version (tho some elements of the NYT version were very helpful for getting things polished up). Over the last 3 years, I’ve done something like a loaf of bread a week on average. So I’ve got a system down for doing bread, and it doesn’t take much time or equipment. And after all that time polishing, it turns out the kind of bread we like best for just devouring and is quite reliable. (downside: I can’t just give out the recipe because there are no measurements… just me eyeballing quantities and doing things by feel)

    With a bread machine, I’d have to put in a fair bit of money just to get the machine… and even the smallest bread machines make far more bread than is useful for a household of two. And the machine will only do sandwich bread which is fine for my partner’s lunches. Left to myself, I ignore sandwich bread until it molds. Not *bad* just… not very useful for us.

    Most people don’t have the time or inclination to put in THREE YEARS learning to make just one sort of bread. For a family, it’s a very convenient way to get a wide variety of softer bread styles without the time investment.

    (in the same vein, we don’t have a food processor either… I’ve put in years of work on knife skills, and I’m now faster than a food processor for normal size meals if you include washing up time. Food processor lets you skip the hours of learning to chop quickly.)

  18. TxAnne@5: My preferred method of using the bread machine is to allow it to knead my dough, then bake the loaf in the oven in a normal bread pan. This saves me from kneading — which would be seriously draining on me most days, due to health concerns). We have a food processor for the same reason. Letting the bread bake in the oven in a normal bread pan helps with some of the issues of bread dough. I totally agree hand kneaded bread is different and a very pleasurable experience, but generally the options around here are store bought bread or bread machine bread. No knead is something I have read about but haven’t tried yet.

    If I want something thicker for sandwich slicing or whatever, then I might go ahead and let the bread machine bake it.

    I will go look at the bread machine brand for you, Anne, it works fine, but in truth its ‘unused looking bread machine from goodwill brand.’ These are readily available and do the trick in my experience.

    My general attitude about cooking and baking is one of realism for my own limited energy levels — if I have the time, energy (often the biggest barrier), and inclination I make things from scratch. If I can’t that day, I’ll start adding conveniences or short cuts. It’s still fresher than what comes out of a box.

  19. Hand kneading alternates between stretching and folding. That ends up tying the glutens together quite differently than the random action of a dough hook or a robot.
    It’s sort of like steak. All cuts taste the same, the difference is in the texture.

  20. Steve @ 23: Hmmm. That doesn’t match my experience with steaks–it seems that the cuts with more marbling have a different flavor than those with less–compare round steak to porter house. Is it just my imagination?

  21. Kit @ 21:

    Yes, exactly. Kneading is a (physical) problem for me. So is doing too much chopping/slicing/whatever. And bread-machine bread may not be the best, but it’s certainly worlds better than anything I could get at a store.

    Also, *gotta* have the processor, just to chop the walnuts for baklava every Christmas. :)

  22. Kit: well, yeah, that was why I asked about machines in the first place. Of course real bread is better than machine bread, but when vacation’s over, I won’t have time for real bread. (And I have tennis elbow, which is not improved by kneading.)

    Platypus: have we met elseweb? You sound familiar.

  23. TexAnne @ 27: Heh. If I asked that question of my girlfriend, I probably wouldn’t like the answer I got.

  24. skzb @ 24 Well, if it’s your imagination, then it’s mine as well. I grill as often as possible, and try and cook anything I can over an open flame. Steaks are my food of choice, and I certainly have noticed a differance in taste from cut and

    As for bread, I have not yet tried to make my own, so I have little to offer, aside from a DEEP love of sourdough. Yummy.

  25. skzb @ 24
    To a large extent, yes, that round and porterhouse do taste the same. If you took both and ground them both finely, it is very difficult to distinguish between them.
    Taste perception is complicated, though. Texture is an important part.
    However, burgers made with filet mignon are primarily a means to separate cash from people with no sense.
    And now, due to clerical error, into _Hell and Earth_ (I finished J weeks ago. Thank you)

  26. Kit@21, machine bread sure does beat the stuff in plastic bags. And it is convenient, when you don’t have time or physical wherewithal for bread snobbery.

    TexAnne@27, since I got here from *your* lj flist, I sure hope so…. unless you know a *lot* of platypuses.

  27. Regarding steak–yes, the different cuts do taste different. Wildly different. Even ground finely, you can tell the difference between flank steak and tenderloin–if you want to get all Alton Brown about it, I’m sure it’s got to do with the protein makeup and the protein vs. fat content, but hey, we could do a whole website/book series on the topic.

    While I’m on the subject, try grass-fed beef vs. corn-feed beef. VERY different flavor–grass-fed tastes more like bison or buffalo.

    Back to breadmaking–bread from the machine, IMHO, doesn’t taste anything like handmade bread. In my entirely unscientific study, conducted using various bread machines owned by various friends and then eating lots of handmade bread from various sources, the bread machine bread is okay if you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own, but can’t hold a candle to a real handmade loaf of bread. The flavor is off, the crust doesn’t have the right texture, and it tends to be tougher than handmade bread.

    I’ll concede that maybe I just need to spend more time learning the machine, but so far–I’d rather just make a loaf of bread.

    The advantage (or disadvantage, depending on what kind of cook you are) to the machine is that it will turn out exactly the same loaf every single time. I’m not what I’d call a great baker, by any means, but I still have a problem with that idea. I’d rather have flour on my hands and a loaf that didn’t turn out quite right than let the machine do it.

    All that being said, I’ll second Platypus @ 31–even the machine bread beats the mass-produced store-bought loaf, hands down.

    I don’t recall who mentioned chemistry, but if you’re needing bread in a hurry, doubling the yeast and tripling the sugar will get it to rise fully, twice, in about twenty minutes. You can go from zero to baked loaf in under an hour by playing with the yeast/sugar proportions. :-)

  28. Platypus, 31: Yay, it’s you! No, you’re the only Platypus of my acquaintance. But I had to check–my inner fifth-grader cringes at the thought of bouncing happily over to somebody who has no idea who I am, you know?

  29. Glenda@26 was certainly right when she said that any home-made bread is so far superior to flannel bread that the question of bread machine vs mixer vs hand-knead is secondary. Incidentally, Alton Brown (in his recipe for pizza shells, which are just bread) suggests that the only way to get the equivalent of 15 minutes in a mixer is hand-kneading for 30. Ever since I broke my ankle three years ago, I have used the mixer and then followed it with light hand-kneading. And I can adjust the consistency to my not-very-demanding desires. I don’t have a bread machine (no counter space) but the bread-machine breads I have eaten aren’t bad, just lousy crust.

    Just out of curiosity, why do people say, “The best thing since sliced bread”? I would say, “The worst thing…”

  30. On the taste of different cuts:

    Here is a good guide to them, with the reasons they taste different. It comes down to how much the cow uses the muscles involved and the degree of marbling present.


    On bread machines:

    In addition to kneading differences, if you make the bread yourself you can compensate for slightly different materials. With a bread machine you throw in all the ingredients and hit “go”. Everything is pre-programmed, so the machine can’t let dough rise a little extra if the yeast isn’t perky, or add a little extra water if the flour didn’t have enough moisture.

  31. Steve, awesome topic for a thread.

    All, I have learned the why of my bias in favor of hand-made bread — crustiness generally is very important to me (as is hoppiness in beer, for much the same reason, I think), and sourdough in particular is my preferred year-round bread. Thank you.

    Floyd @ 16 I get the chemistry argument, but in my opinion that does not go deep enough to answer the question. The human nervous system, including the entire apparatus concerning taste, is capable of far finer distinctions than the most exacting scientific equipment. As someone wrote years ago on another board, “Until someone can explain to me why frog legs taste like chiken, I’ll stick to my own damn opinions.”

  32. JP @ 37: You know, I wonder if Alton Brown has ever given an explanation for why frog legs taste like chicken. If not, I’ll bet he could.

  33. Hunh, thank you all for this interesting peek into the art and science of bread making.

  34. I don’t claim to know much about bread-making theory, but following the basic “french bread” recipe on my bread machine produced something that was quite good — very crusty, like a baguette, except of course blocky in shape. The interior of the loaf was perhaps a bit more chewy than an ideal Parisian baguette, but it was better than the most of the completely fake “french bread” rolls you get at most supermarkets.

    I also tried a couple of from-scratch attempts at french bread, that were OK, but clearly required much more work at tuning than I was willing to commit to….

    However, I’ve now stopped using the machine to make regular bread, though, as the sourdough baguettes the local supermarket recently introduced under the “Iggy’s” brand are better yet than that produced by the machine, even if they are not exactly Parisian — but they have super-chewy crust, which I like.

    Speaking of chewy crust… As an aside, when I was a kid, there were some dedicated local bakeries that made Jewish-style rye bread with hyper-ultra-chewy crust. You could really chew them for minutes on end, and it was a bit of a challenge on the first bite into a slice to get to the actual bread. Yet the crust wasn’t brittle or hard at all, just, er, strong, I guess.

    I wonder how they did it? Since those bakeries are now long gone, I haven’t tasted that kind of bread in something like 30 years….

  35. As D’DB said, there are some kinds of bread they just can’t do. With Challah, for example, the kneading and braiding align the texture of the bread with the direction of the braids.

    It may not affect taste, but it affects the sensual experience of eating the bread: the way it breaks and pulls apart in your hands, (I wouldn’t cut Challah) the way it takes to the butter or honey.

  36. I didn’t realize there was so much snobbery about bread. I think I’ll just stick with my iron skillet corn bread.

    On the subject of steak – Fat is flavor. Different cuts taste different because of the marbling. Corn-fed beef will typically have a higher rate of marbling, the more marbling the richer the meat tastes. Canada for example has a marbling scale that goes much higher then the fat-conscious US (more the pity for US consumers – we’re already fat, might as well enjoy it). Grass-fed tastes more like bison/beefalo because they are typically more grass-fed themselves and generally have a lower marbling also. Usually it will not be as tender either (more active).

    A bit of my own snobbery – anyone who eats their steak cooked more the medium rare should just eat hamburger. And if you put “steak sauce” on it, just eat chicken instead.

    On the plus side, if anyone watched mythbusters last night (8/6) you know that you could take a flank steak and put in your dryer with ball bearings and it will be very very tender. (though you will need to buy a new dryer…)

  37. Yeah, I’ll take cornbread over any loaf anytime, unless it’s the sweet variety.

  38. I have a side question, since food prices at the market yesterday made me blanch- is it really more cost-effective to bake your own bread? We don’t really buy all that much bread, and I am a decent baker and already own Pryex loaf pans, heavy-duty mixer, etc. Any answers, anyone?

  39. Burdo @ 42

    “A bit of my own snobbery – anyone who eats their steak cooked more the medium rare should just eat hamburger. And if you put “steak sauce” on it, just eat chicken instead.”

    I could not agree more. Funny story, one of the first times I spent any time with my now wife, who at the time was dating another guy I knew… we went to dinner with some friends at a stakehouse. The two other guests at dinner ordered their steaks ‘well done’, which made us both cringe… and she and I ordered ours rare. In fact, she said about her’s ‘Just walk it threw a warm room on it’s way here’. We shared a look with each other then… full of knowing… ah, love at first steak.

    By the way, your post got my favorite number, I’m jealous.

  40. I’ve had bread from friends’ machines, and it’s pretty good except for the crust. However, we just got a new book, “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” that is providing wonderful bread, with no machine. It uses a slightly different rise cycle chemistry, with absolutely no kneading required.

    You mix a large-ish batch, let rise for 2-3 hours, then toss it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you want to bake, you tear off a pound of dough, quickly form it to create the gluten cloak, and let it do a second rising for 40 minutes while the oven heats. Toss it in on your baking stone, pull it out, and eat it. Never knead it (it actually makes it worse with this cycle).

    So far it’s made great bread with a classic crackly crust, for an initial 10 minutes per batch and 2-3 minutes each bake day (not counting rise and bake times). It’s supposed to actually benefit from being in the fridge for longer; we’ve never had the patience to let any of it survive for more than 4 days. :-)

    We saw glowing reviews of the book (and bread) in the Food section of our paper, then found it in a store. I’m sure you can find more info online if you’re interested. I’m not associated in any way with the book, I just love the results.

    And on the subject of steak – Tri-tip, medium rare, grilled in garlic salt to help it crust, with no other seasoning. Mmmmmmm….

  41. I’ve been able to make really good sourdough in my breadmaker. I use it to make the starter, through it into the fridge for a week and then activate it and put it back into the breadmaker. It isn’t as good a loaf as if I make it by hand, but it gets 80% of the way there with minimal effort on my part. Which is the joy of the breadmaker for me. Me and my girlfriend both work, so having the time to make bread is a luxury we can rarely afford especially since we like to cook dinner most nights. But with a good breadmaker (which makes a huge difference), we can have fresh-baked bread whenever we want it.

    We’ve got a Zojirushi x20, which is head-and-shoulders above any other breadmaker I’ve ever used.

  42. skzb@38: Frogs legs taste more like fish than chicken to me. Considering they are an amphibian, I would think that makes more sense.

    People just say things taste like chicken but chicken doesn’t have just one flavor when you think about it. The different parts of the bird vary based on texture and moisture. Then there’s how it’s cooked and seasoned. It’s really just an old cliche used to get less adventurous
    people to try something that they might otherwise reject just because of what it looked
    like while it was alive.

    I’ve found most things that people say taste like chicken actually taste like whatever sauce they are served with.

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