Monday, March 29, 2010

Our New Bread-Maker - a Paean to Culinary Revolution

Last week Lidl - that bastion of bargain-basement German discounts - had a bread-maker for sale on its deals of the week and as usual I saw it in the weekly flyer a few days before it went on sale. I'd never had a bread-making machine before, always priding myself on being the ultimate bread maker and baker since I'd had no choice in the matter during our years abroad where fresh bread was only feasible when it was home-baked. So it was time to embrace change and go for the techie option.

I think there was a certain element of grandstanding and a little snob value attached to being a slave to the kneading and proving and re-kneading and re-proving and getting a great result wasn't always guaranteed. Certainly in the tropics a lot depended on having quality ingredients which wasn't always a given.

We had flour from wheat that grew in Njombe in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and a 90kg bag would be brought home whenever we had the chance to visit our Concern friends there in the early '80s (we were then with the Lutheran World Federation in the Burundi refugee settlements in Rukwa Region of Western Tanzania). This sack of wheat had to be sun-dried to rid it of the weevils that invariably invaded the grain. Then it was brought to the local maize mill to be ground into coarse wheatflour. We tried to battle further weevil infestation by milling the wheat in small 5 or 10 kilo batches, and keeping it in the chest freezer. As this freezer tended to chill rather than freeze, as we only had electricity generated for 9 out of 24 hours, it was more a chest fridge than freezer, albeit erratic even at that!

It did keep the flour dormant - or the creepy-crawlies! Nonetheless, we had to sieve the flour prior to making bread or cakes, as there was always the possibility of few rogue larvae camouflaged in the flour. Logic allowed us to eat the bread undisturbed by its parasite potential as we figured it was a) well cooked at high temperature and b) the extra protein couldn't be too bad, and c) lots of people were happily eating such "bush tucker" with no ill-effects and some had a certain cachet in tribal circles - such as the "ssenene" or grasshoppers that were a delicacy ranked with the flying termites in haute cuisine circles.

But I digress - this was supposed to be a post on our new bread maker. Well hubby Jan has taken to it with enthusiasm and it looks like we'll never want for fresh bread again, with all the delicious loaves he's made since Thursday last. I am delighted, as I was always a bit skeptical that a machine could equal or even surpass human endeavour. Here's one big climbdown from this convert - with all the attendant zeal of the convert I am happy to say that I love the bread maker and its produce!

I have watched in amazement at the different through-the-looking-lid stages of the process and it is basically the same stages as human endeavour with all the elbow grease removed. A standard loaf takes about 3 hours to bake from scratch, and includes two or three provings with plenty of kneading; and to my surprise and delight, the wonderful yeasty smell of the rising dough and the baking bread aroma wafting through the house is enough to send any estate agent staging a house for sale into ecstasies!

The machine is programmed to deal with 12 different functions including every imaginable bread type - white, brown, French, gluten-free, sweet, buttermilk, dough, pasta and cake - and then to cap it all it makes jam! I haven't even gone down that route yet but it promises to be great fun trying out all the permutations.

Any of you readers who have bread makers will be familiar with all this magic and have a good laugh at my naive wonder at the scope of our new toy - but I have been enjoying the end results for the past few days, and so too has our old friend Tandy who's visiting from London and Papua-New Guinea for a few days while we bridge the past 16 years since we last met in Tanzania.

She and I (me?) were dab hands at bread baking for all the years it was a necessary task in Africa in the absence of any bakeries in most places, while half-decent bakeries in Iringa were thin on the ground. We had one Greek bakery which made a dense white bread, whose shape was the only resemblance it bore to a baguette. It was nice bread only on the day of baking and didn't reach our exacting standards so our own bread won the day hands down.

Bread is such an emotive food - across religions you have unleavened and leavened bread, Communion bread, bread of life - it epitomises so much and is a food common to all cultures, from the chappati to the tortilla, soda and yeast bread, and breaking bread is a universal gesture of acceptance of the stranger in our midst. Long may it continue to symbolise hospitality and the Céad Míle Fáilte in our house.

The photos show the machine before and after operation, the end product both in and out of the tin and being enjoyed with the ubiquitous cuppa tea, the control panel and the packaging


Peggy said...

Hi Catherine,
one of my daughters was given a present of a bread maker about 3 yearsa go and after the initial novelty interest wore off it was her husband who took over and 3 years down the road is still baking daily bread! I think it is on par with cooking for a BBQ, the men take it as their territory (we allow them to think so anyway). Long may it continue!

niamh said...

Your bread looks great! I've always wondered how those machines work, sounds a lot easier than battering the dough. Love the stories from Tanzania, always so interesting. Enjoy the time with your friend!:)

Ann said...

Bread looks delicious. I agree Bread is an emotive food. It conjures memories of home. I have debated a bread making machine purchase. Your post has made me want to re-think my lack of a bread making machine. Do you think it might still be on sale when I get home in May??? Only joking. Have a great visit with your friend Tandy.

Stephanie V said...

We bought a bread maker a few years ago and it did indeed make delicious daily bread. We were its best customers! Now we're a bit more blase and don't use it quite so often - to the betterment of our waistlines!
I love watching it through the window. And even more I enjoy the wonderful whirring and thumping sounds it makes - sometimes after I've forgotten it was there.

Enjoy your fresh bread!

Catherine said...

Thanks for the comments all -
PEGGY - couldn't agree more - hubby loves it like the BBQ and we love the results so I am delighted with that - he'll be supplying the college boys for the next few months and also the Cork family! So glad to know they survive heavy usage.

NIAMH - it was a revelation to me too how the bread machines work - it's the same as people without the sweat! So the guilt tripping's out the door after seeing the great results - and besides the Lidl bread mixes you see in the photos and the loaf on the post there are equally good results from the starting from scratch yeast and flour (strong bread flour) method. Glad you like the stories - I always associate bread making with the bush life and weevils!

ANN - You know Lidl - that bread maker will be back on special in a few months so no doubt it'll be around though not much point in hauling it all the way back to Wisconsin from Dungarvan! Probably voltage difference and also think of the weight! Bread and home - definitely - although I am not a daily soda bread maker like so many of my friends or their mothers are. I always enjoyed yeast bread - very therapeutic with the ritual of the proving and kneading, and the sense of achievement in a good outcome - never a guarantee as I said with dodgy ingredients in the bush! I'm all for this machine now - it's really fun even as a spectator sport! Thanks - Tandy and me are really enjoying her visit as we bridge the past 16 years and reminisce about our distant lives in Tanzania and homeschooling our kids - her three girls and our three boys were the same ages and are still good friends thanks to the wonders of social networking and Facebook!

STEPHANIE V - glad you found the machine fun too for your daily bread - we're still at that stage and will be for a while - agree with you about the window and I still think that's great fun - the noises it makes still startle me but I'll get used to that in time! Hopefully I won't get too much expansion in the waist department but you never know!

All the best - Catherine.

safaris in tanzania said...

The breads look so delicious. I agree with your coments. all