Say you’ve been baking bread for more than 20 years; if you’re like me, there’s no nourishment comparable to a fresh loaf of dill bread, still warm from the oven. Your family members no doubt have their favorites, too – perhaps a rye loaf for ham sandwiches, or a banana nut bread for dessert.
But as age sets in, homemade bread making can get tough. Unfortunately, as in the case of my mother, who endures and battles severe arthritis, we watch as loving hands that prepared countless meals can no longer engage in tasks like kneading bread or even combining dry and wet ingredients in a mixing bowl.
Take solace, though, in the fact that since the mid-1980s, the physical labor is no longer an obstacle in bread-making. Released at American trade shows in 1987, the home bread machine has changed the way we bake one of the most basic items in our diet.
But now, the question becomes, “How do I convert all of my favorite bread recipes from 30 years ago to a bread machine?”
The major difference between baking bread by hand and by machine is the size of the loaf. Nowadays, there are three common sizes of bread machines: small 1-pounder, medium 1½-pounder, and the large 2- or, in rare cases, 2½-pounder. In categorizing by pound size, you’re really looking at the volume of the loaf rather than its true density, since loaves with nuts and dried fruit will always weigh more than the same size loaf made with basic ingredients.
Traditional recipes for bread were intended to make two loaves at once, so many older recipes call for 6 cups of flour. A single-loaf recipe will call for around 3 cups.
So the first step becomes looking at the manufacturer’s manual, or even the box, of your bread machine to see what type of machine you have and how much flour is called for in the recipes. If that favorite dill bread recipe from your grandmother calls for 6 cups of flour and the recipes provided in your owner’s manual call for 3 cups, divide the recipe in half. It’s a simple but important process of adjusting the recipe to the capacity of your machine.
With proportions, you’re usually looking for the proportion of 3 ounces liquid to 1 cup flour, which is about 1 cup liquid to 3 cups flour. This varies, of course, but these amounts are a good guide, according to Beth Hensperger, author of The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook. Remember that eggs and honey count toward the liquid measurement. When you run into a recipe that has you converting and dividing eggs, simply round off the amount as close as possible.
Bread machines, no matter the size, have a specific order in which ingredients are to be added. The manufacturer’s booklet will specify. For the majority of machines, you add the liquid first, then layer the dry ingredients, with the salt and yeast separated if the machine is on the delay cycle. If it’s starting right away, it’s OK to toss them in together (salt inhibits yeast). Extras (fruits and nuts) are usually added after the initial mixing and first rise. Check your manual to be sure.
Now, just pay attention to the dough during the machine’s mixing and kneading cycles. If the dough appears slack, add flour in 1-tablespoon increments. If the dough is stiff and strains the machine, add liquid a tablespoon at a time.
As long as you’re fairly familiar with your machine and its capacities and needs, converting those old bread recipes may take a bit of trial and error, but that’s part of the fun. You’ll get it just right eventually, and I’m sure your family won’t complain a bit along the way.
Caleb Regan and his wife, Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their own food as they can. Caleb can’t imagine a better scenario than getting to work on a rural lifestyle magazine as a profession, and then living that same lifestyle right in the heartland of America. Connect with him on Google+.