Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For The Love of Bread: My New Sunbeam Bread Machine, and Veganizing The Bread Lovers - Maple Oatmeal Bread...

My Sunbeam! Cool Eh?

There’s nothing like homemade bread. Really. My mom has been making homemade bread for as long as I can remember, and once I moved away that was something I really missed. When you grow up on dense, hearty, homemade bread, store bought loves just aren’t the same. Store bought loaves are flimsy, unsubstantial, gummy, and for the most part tasteless, not to mention most store bought breads also contain about 40 ingredients which is absurd. Bread isn’t complicated, it’s extremely simple. It’s flour, salt, water and yeast. If you want to get a little more fancy then okay some breads may have eggs, milk, or sugar, but everything that gets put into a loaf of bread the average person should be able to pronounce and understand. That’s simply not the case with the majority of store bought bread.

So I like to make bread at home from scratch, using nothing but a big bowl, a wooden spoon, my hands, and my oven. Making bread ‘the old fashion way’ certainly takes more time, and then buying a loaf at the store but trust me when I say that nothing tastes better. Not to mention 1 slice of homemade bread is way more filling then a single slice of store bread, not to mention about 100 times more satisfying, and nutritious. Eating store bought bread to me is an evil of convenience, that’s not to say I never do it but I certainly prefer not to eat store bread. - Which is probably why I don’t eat much bread, period, because I can’t always be bothered to whip up a loaf from scratch. Typically when I find myself buying breads at the store it’s french bread to use in making Bruschetta or burger buns to put my home-made veggie burgers on. Every once in a while I’ll buy a good quality loaf of rye or pumpernickel but a regular loaf of bread? Last Years Vegan Mofo Sandwich craze aside, I can’t even recall the last time I bought a ‘regular’ loaf of wheat bread from the store.

 Maple Oatmeal Bread! My first Bread Machine Success!

Now having said all of that you’re probably thinking I make loaves of bread all the time. That I’m popping out fresh loaves of rye, wheat, and sourdough left and right, but I’m not. This is why I don’t eat a lot of bread, because as much as I love a good bread, and as much as I enjoy making a good loaf from scratch it is kind of a process. There’s the proofing of the yeast - and if my yeast doesn’t proof I automatically feel like giving up on the whole thing - then there’s the mixing, kneading, waiting, punching, more kneading, more waiting then you shape and bake. Typically for one loaf it takes between 2-4 hours, depending on the loaf. While most of that time is inactive, it does limit what you can do. You can’t exactly go out and forget about the bread rising on your counter top. You really have to pay attention to the clock and you have to be really exact about the times.

As I said bread from scratch is something I love to make, but it’s not something I can bother to do on a weekly basis. It’s a once in a while thing, and so the end result is that my husband and I just don’t eat a lot of bread period. For this reason Bread machines are a godsend, really. You plop in all your ingredients, press a couple of buttons and then do whatever you want until the machine beeps to signal your bread is done. Nothing in the world could be simpler. However, finding a good bread machine takes time and research, and each bread machine comes with it’s own quirks. Not to mention the fact that if you thought you had to be exact with baking bread the old fashion way you have to be really super exact doing it in a bread machine.

I have never had luck with bread machines ever. As I said my mom swears by hers but they have never worked to my advantage. My husband’s aunt gave me her old bread machine a few years ago and while I was grateful for it I never got a really wonderful loaf out of it. I don’t know if it was because the machine was old, or if it was just me, but suffice to say I rarely used the machine. In that old machine I would use my mom’s tried and true bread machine wheat bread recipe and it never came out right. It was always very dense, like a brick, and while it tasted delicious the texture was too much. Sometimes they would come out dry, and they were always dense, and squat no matter what. The size issue was the biggest thing for me. To have to use 4 cups of wheat flour and then only get a loaf that was half the size of a regular loaf really pissed me off. On top of that the machine in general was big, bulky, heavy, and noisy. Also part of the reason I didn’t use it a lot. It was a pain in the ass to get down out of the pantry and it took up so much space.

So a few months ago I got it into my head that I wanted/needed a new bread machine, and so I did a little research. There were some really good looking ones, and some really highly reviewed ones, that ranged in all manner of styles and prices. Eventually I settled on getting the Sunbeam 5891 2 pound programable bread machine, and lucky me my in-laws bought me it for Christmas!  It was a fantastic gift and I was super excited to receive it. I already know I’m going to be baking lots of bread in this sucker.

Now I settled on the Sunbeam because it was relatively inexpensive, it offered a lot of versatility when it came to programing various bread types, and it has a large clear LCD screen that tells you what mode you’re on, how big a loaf you’re making and how long until it’s done. I also like that it beeps when it rises, and when it’s done. It also has a big clear window so you can look inside and see what’s going on in there.  Size wise it’s a bit more compact then the other machine, and it’s definitely not as tall as the other machine. It’s about the size of a large rice cooker, though perhaps a little longer. When I first took it out of the box, I remarked to my husband that it looked like a space ship, or pod. With it’s sleek design, and oval window at the top. It’s very cool, and looks good.

Inside Shot!

As you can imagine I was very excited to start using this machine. So about a week or two after Christmas I set about making some bread. I read the manual back to front and then made one of the suggested recipes. A wheat bread. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when the bread came out dense and squat. The bread that was produced looked exactly like the breads my old machine use to make, how could this be? I had done everything right! I decided to try making a second loaf using my mom’s tried and true bread machine wheat bread recipe and that one came out completely gnarled, I mean it didn’t even look like bread. On top of that it was also dense and squat. I was really upset, I didn’t know what had gone wrong, and I didn’t want this new awesome gift to go to waste. So I did what any determined bread baker would do and I went on Amazon and ordered myself a copy of the book The Bread Lovers Bread Machine Cookbook: A Master Baker’s 300 Favorite Recipes for Perfect-Every time Bread - From Every Type of Machine by Beth Hensperger.

The book had received good reviews, and so I clicked on the ‘look inside’ feature that Amazon has and skimmed over the list or recipes. A lot of them sounded really fantastic and so I knew I wanted to get myself a copy of this book. Now keep in mind this book is not a vegan bread book, so many of the recipes contain ingredients such as milk, butter, eggs, cream, etc... but for me those are easy enough to veganize, and so I thought until someone makes a Bread Lovers Bread Machine Cook Book for Vegans this will have to do.

Once my copy arrived I read through it. The first 40 pages or so are just general information about how to use bread machines, the quirks of bread machines, how to make bread in general and so on. Typically this sort of information is the stuff I gloss over in other cook books but in this book I found it really helpful. Since I’m not a master bread baker - at least not with a bread machine - the wisdom in this section was beyond valuable. It explained to me exactly why my other breads weren’t turning out, and I began to understand just how delicate the balance of bread machine bread baking is. My three main problems seemed to be 1) not enough liquid, 2) packing my measuring cups to densely, and 3) not enough gluten in the flour that I was using. The solutions became 1) adding slightly more liquid, 2) filling the cups with a spoon then scraping them level with the back of a butter knife, and 3) Adding in a tablespoon or two of vital wheat gluten.

Easy-Peasy and now all is right in my bread machine baking world. For my next attempt at bread making I decided to make the Maple Oatmeal Loaf from Beth Hensperger’s book. I chose it because it sounded easy, and delicious and I had all the ingredients called for. I also was kind of in the mood for toast that day and since this was listed in the ‘Sweet Breads’ and “Breakfast Breads” section I thought it would be perfect. It’s a very simple recipe containing buttermilk, maple syrup, butter, bread flour, rolled oats, gluten, salt and yeast. I really liked the idea of adding oats to my bread, and who can argue with good quality pure maple syrup? Veganizing this recipe was super easy. For the buttermilk I substituted Almond milk, with 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar. I waited 5-10 minutes for it to curdle then added it in as directed. For the butter I used Earth Balance, and voila, a non-vegan recipe becomes vegan. The substitutions - as far as I can tell - in no way harmed the bread any.

In fact this was the first loaf of bread I ever made in a bread machine that came out absolutely perfect. It was light, springy and delicious. Fantastic flavor, great texture. My only complaint is that the crust got a little ‘blackened’ in some spots around the sides, however I think this would have easily been remedied if I’d set the crust color on medium rather then dark. As far as overall flavor goes it didn’t do anything to take away from it, it just removes something from the presentation I think.

So there you have it, great bread from a bread machine - finally! - and I can’t be happier. In addition to highly recommending the Sunbeam Bread Machine I also highly recommend Beth Hensperger’s book The Bread Lovers Bread Machine Cookbook: A Master Baker’s 300 Favorite Recipes for Perfect-Every time Bread - From Every Type of Machine. Seriously, not only are the recipes delicious and easy to follow - so far I’ve made four of her breads - but the level of depth she goes into and the wealth of information she provides is really valuable to any novice bread machine user, or any bread machine user that encounters problems. Oh, and did I mention her bread recipes are delicious? They are!

PS: It’s my desire to veganize every single recipe in this bread machine book, and as I do so I will post about each bread, and how I veganized them all. I hope this information will be useful to any vegans out there who own or wish to own this book, who may not be quite as savvy about veganizing things. So stay tuned guys!

PPS: All Bread Freezes well - at least all bread that i've ever made. This one in particular did very well in the freezer. I sliced half and stored it in a zip-lock in the freezer, while the other half we devoured in about 2 days!

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