I have a confession to make. Clutter makes me nuts.
Having grown up in a house where kitchen space was at a premium, I made it a mission to keep my own kitchen appliances, gadgets and other paraphernalia to a minimum in order to minimize clutter and help me better manage my own space. Over the years my mother-in-law begged me to take an entire set of pareve pots, which I (hopefully) politely refused. If I didn’t feel the need for something, I didn’t want it taking up valuable kitchen space.
Now that my family and my kitchen space have both grown, I still try to keep my stuff to a minimum and I am not one of those who feels the need to have every small appliance out there. A cake pop maker? No thank you. A Keurig? Takes up too much counter space. But perhaps my all-time favorite kitchen appliance is one that I literally had kitchen drawers built around in order to accommodate its massive bulk and space requirements. I’m talking about my breadmaker.
I think at this point in time I am on possibly my fifth breadmaker, having burned through quite a few of these babies over the years. I have probably killed a motor or two by forgetting to add liquid one time too many and others have been replaced because I wore out the gasket on the bottom that keeps all the ingredients from leaking out because I use my breadmaker so frequently. But each time one of my breadmakers goes up to small appliance heaven up in the sky, I go out and replace it, because despite its size, it is still the machine that I take out most often.
Initially, I bought a breadmaker figuring I was going to stop buying bread. I can tell you now, that didn’t happen. We still buy bread, though store bought can’t compare to those incredibly delicious loaves that come from my breadmaker and make my entire house smell like paradise. Oftentimes, I am just too lazy to go through the process of baking bread, cooling a loaf and slicing it just to make lunches for the kids, although I can tell you now, it is well worth the time and effort. And I should warn you: having a breadmaker may kill your diet, because the finished product is so good, you will likely eat more slices, and thicker ones, too.
Over the years we have experimented with just about everything and if I wanted to be fancy I guess I could tell my kids they are having artisan loaves for lunch. We have replaced some of our flour with instant potato flakes and/or oatmeal, substituted dill pickle juice for water to make an excellent dill loaf and thrown in salsa and cornmeal for a Tex-Mex corn bread. We have used the breadmaker for just about any type of baked goods you can think of: English muffins, pita, focaccia, pizza dough, rolls, cookies and, of course, challah.
I don’t think I remember anyone who made their own challah when I was growing up, but today, you are practically an abusive mother if you serve your family store bought challah. To me, making challah in the breadmaker gives me the best of both worlds, because it takes advantage of one of the breadmaker’s best advantages: convenience. I take all my challah ingredients, throw them in the breadmaker, turn on the machine and walk out of my kitchen. Ninety minutes later, I have a gorgeous batch of challah dough with no work and practically no mess to clean up. Given that most breadmakers make two pounds of dough or less, I usually run two cycles through the machine, but it is all relatively painless. I don’t know why the breadmaker seems so much easier to clean that the mixer, but trust me, it does. The mess is minimal and in just three hours, time spent tackling my to do list or cooking for Shabbos, I have about four pounds of soft, squishy challah dough to work with.
But let’s backtrack for a minute and give you a crash course in breadmakers. Depending on the model, breadmakers come with numerous cycles and in various sizes. Typically, the basket is sized to hold either 1.5 or two pounds of dough, although my latest model actually accommodates two and a half pounds of dough. Almost all machines have dough cycles, which means they mix the ingredients, knead the dough, let it rest and then knead it again, but then shut off without doing any baking, which is invaluable for challah, rolls or anything else you want to shape prior to baking. Should you be in the mood to bake a loaf of bread, your breadmaker can do that too, with most having different cycles for different types of bread as well as options for lighter or darker crust. Another choice you will be faced with when buying a breadmaker is whether you prefer a horizontal or vertical loaf. Machines that produce vertical loaves are typically smaller and take up less space, but the horizontal machines give you a more traditional looking loaf. Be warned that because the mixing paddles are still in the machine when the bread is baked, there will be a slice or two of bread with a weird hole in the bottom, but that is a small price to pay in exchange for a superior product. Some of the newer horizontal machines, including mine, actually incorporate two paddles in the bottom of the pan and, even using the same recipe, the texture of the challah is far better than what I made with my previous machine.
A few words about ingredients. It isn’t generally a good idea to use all-purpose flour in your bread machine. A higher gluten bread flour really does give you far better results, although I confess, I do use all-purpose flour for rolls and pizza and it seems to come out just fine. As for yeast, don’t even think about buying those little strips of three packets of yeast, because they just aren’t cost effective. Try Costco or even some of your local kosher supermarkets for vacuum packed bags of yeast, which offer a tremendous savings.
The best part of a breadmaker? The ability to experiment with relative ease. We have tried both whole-wheat sun-dried tomato challah and pesto challah, and they were beyond yummy. Looking to throw in additives like flax seed or to play with interesting ingredients like quinoa? Go ahead and give it a whirl.
Homemade artesian bread that is both delicious and economical? Sounds like a win-win to me!
About the Author: Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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