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Now that we’re back to chometz, it’s just the right time to give thought to our wellbeing. Who doesn’t want to lose a few bulky matzah-and-potato pounds? Who wouldn’t like to eat smarter and feel better? If you’re like most people I know, these are probably the first things you’d like to address. It’s time to finally start making those healthier choices!

Well then, how about making your own bread in a bread machine? If you’ve never tried a bread machine, it’s time you do. And if you’ve tried but were disappointed with the results, now’s the time to wipe off the dust and try again, because with a bread machine, the process is easy. It’s just like a washing machine but instead of clothes, you put in ingredients. The bread machine takes care of the mixing, rising and baking. All you have to do is wait for the machine to beep, signaling it’s time to remove the beautiful crusty bread and slice it when cool.

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Using your bread machine on a regular basis will prove to be economical as well, since the difference in price between homemade and store-bought bread can be quite significant, especially if you prefer whole wheat bread. FYI, not every bread labeled “Whole Wheat” means it’s made of 100% whole-wheat flour, but when you make your own bread, you know exactly what’s in it – which obviously results in healthier bread.

Here are some general guidelines and tips for baking with a bread machine:

  1. Use only active dry yeast. If you’ve never tried dry yeast before, here’s your chance. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll probably continue using it for all your yeast doughs!
  1. Use precise measurements. Every bread machine comes with a measuring cup and spoon – use them. Even slight variations in the amounts of liquid and dry ingredients will affect your results.
  1. Buy a bread machine with a window in its lid. This way you can watch the bread’s progress without opening the machine. Some machines beep in the middle to signal that you can open them up and add raisins, nuts, or granola; after this point, the machine shouldn’t be opened until the bread is done.
  1. Don’t leave the bread in the machine. Your bread machine will beep as soon as the bread is done. Remove the bread from the machine immediately. If you don’t, the steam inside will make the bread soggy. Place the bread on a wire rack until almost completely cool. Don’t cut the bread while it’s hot; the slices will shrink and lose their fluffiness.
  1. For even slicing, buy a good bread knife and cutting board. If your loaf is too high, it will be difficult to slice evenly. Cut the loaf in half and then each half into slices. Slice all bread at once and store in a bag in the freezer. Freezing the bread slices will prolong their life since there are no additives in your bread to preserve it, as opposed to store-bought breads. And this way, anyone will easily be able to help him or herself to a slice or two when desired.
  1. Choose the right flour. The height and fluffiness of your bread depends on a few factors, but most of all on the type of flour you use. Although using whole-wheat flour will result in a somewhat denser, heavier loaf than white flour, you can still reach satisfactory results if you use a brand of whole-wheat flour that’s ground finely.
  1. Make it healthy. You can make low-cal bread by substituting some of the flour with dietary fiber (bran).
  1. Use the regular setting instead of the designated whole-wheat setting, even if you’re using whole-wheat flour. This way the process is cut down by almost an hour and still, the bread comes out just fine. This is especially helpful for the first loaves you try, since you won’t have the patience to wait that extra hour!
  1. Don’t despair if your first loaves don’t turn out as you expected. Your machine should have a special insert that describes how to avoid undesirable results. If you follow the instructions there (and here), you should soon be producing outstanding bread. You’ll see – your brand of bread will be the best brand around!
  1. Start by preparing the recipes included with your machine. These are usually the ones most suitable for your particular machine. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with these recipes, you can experiment with others. One friend told me that before Pesach, when she wants to use up various ingredients in her kitchen, she gets creative with the bread machine, throwing in all kinds of leftovers instead of throwing them away. And after Pesach, you won’t have to wait on line at the supermarket or the bakery for that first heavenly taste of bread…
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Mindy Rafalowitz is a recipe developer and food columnist for over 15 years. She has published a best selling cookbook in Hebrew for Pesach and the gluten sensitive. Mindy is making progress on another specialty cookbbok for English readers. For kitchen questions or to purchase a sample recipe booklet at an introductory price, contact Mindy at mitbashelpo@gmail.com.