Best Method for Baking Bread

Photo by Marianna OLE from Pexels

So, you are thinking about making bread at home and you are wondering if you should invest in a bread machine or start with making bread in the oven you currently own. You may be wondering how the bread quality is different in either of the scenarios. Let me help you to decide which option may work best for your needs.

We are going to begin by discussing the pros and cons of both the bread maker and baking bread in an oven.

First, one of the major positive in using a bread machine is the time savings. You add your ingredients in five minutes, you press a few buttons and it takes it from there. Three hours or so you have lovely, warm bread without having to do anything but add the ingredients.

Next, the learning curve is very gentle which is less intimidating for new bakers. The only thing to remember is to be consistent and precise with your ingredients, but even less than stellar precision can be overcome by a bread machine. If you are precise, however, you are sure to have the same bread every time you use your bread maker.

Another positive is that you aren’t limited just to making one type of bread, you can make anything from gluten free bread to cinnamon raisin bread. You can also make dough for rolls or pizza.

Lastly, you can do more than just make bread. The versatility of the bread maker is that it will allow you to make cakes, jams and sweet breads.

One of the negative things about making bread in a bread maker is that it limits the size and shape of your bread or cake. The size and shape are restricted to the size of the pan inside of your bread maker. This can be an issue if you want a larger loaf than can be accommodated in the bread machine or you do not want a cake in the shape of the bread maker pan. You are also limited to having a denser compact bread, this could be a negative, but it may not be if you prefer a little more complex flavor in a denser bread.

Another draw back is the appliance itself. Storing or keeping the machine on the counter can be a factor that should not be ignored. If you have a limited storage or limited counter space, this appliance can take up a premium amount of real estate and if you do not use it a lot, it may not be worth the effort to keep it stored or on your countertop.

Lastly, this is a small problem but one that may be a turn off for some people, the bread machine has a paddle or two that help to mix the ingredients, the paddle is always stuck in the bread when you take it out of the machine. This means that your bread always has a hole in the bottom because you must remove the paddle from the bread. If you are looking to do this as a career, using a bread machine probably is not for you. Also, if you just do not like having a hole in your loaf of bread, that is a genuinely valid annoyance.

Now let us talk about the pros and cons of baking bread in the oven. To start, making bread in the oven is very simple and requires less equipment. You can knead dough by hand, though I prefer my stand mixer, and as long as you have an oven in your kitchen, you are good to go.

You can also make any size or shape loaf that you would like, you are only limited by the size of your oven and imagination. I know in San Francisco there is a sour dough bread company that makes breads in the shape of animals, so seriously, any shape can be made in your oven. Check them out: aren’t they so adorable!?!

You can also make flavor swirls or striations through your breads made in an oven, so if you want cinnamon bread with a swirl of cinnamon throughout, you can totally do it. The bread machine will completely incorporate the cinnamon so that is not an option for that way of baking bread. These loaves will also be lighter and have a softer texture than its counterpart made in the bread machine.

One of the disadvantages of making bread in an oven is that of time. You cannot walk away after adding the ingredients and expect to get bread. You need to make sure that you are there when the dough is mixing to make sure the dough is the right texture and consistency. You need to proof your dough which requires checking on it every sixty to ninety minutes, making sure the dough has risen but not too much (over proofing). Even baking the bread may require some intervention by the baker. The bread may need to have foil tented over it half way through baking, so the bread does not brown too quickly.

Lastly, another negative is that the learning curve can be steep depending on the bread you are wanting to make. This can also be translated into even basic bread making skills may require practice to get right, for example knowing how much liquid you need to get the correct consistency for your dough.

With all the above stated, I wanted to test how the process for making the same bread recipe in both methods to see how the bread would turn out. I decided to start with a pretty solid bread recipe. I went with King Arthur Flour’s white bread recipe found here. I have used their recipes in the past and have never been disappointed. I did need to make an adjustment to this recipe because the grocery stores are completely out of dry powdered milk, so I substituted whole milk in place of water and powdered milk.

I think that including the ingredients and how they affect the quality of the bread produced may be helpful. Also, as an aside being really consistent in how you measure really makes a huge difference in your finished product. So, without further ado the ingredients and their features:

Flour- this is the base of your bread, but you can change the bread tremendously just by the type of flour used. This is because each type of wheat is going to give you a different level of gluten production. I am using an all-purpose flour for my bread testing which is a combination of soft wheat and hard wheat. There are bread flours that are made with hard wheat that have a higher protein content which translates into gluten that make a better yeast bread however all-purpose will still produce a good loaf of bread.

Milk-powdered or otherwise gives your loaf a richer flavor

Yeast- this is what will give your bread that lovely height and make it so it is more bread than flatbread.

Salt- this is added for flavor, but it also helps to control fermentation and limit the bloom of the yeast

Honey (or really any sweetener)- this is added for flavor but also helps manufacture or feed your yeast to help the rise of the bread by creating carbon dioxide and alcohol. It also helps the crust to turn a golden color. Honey will make the crust darker than sugar.

Butter (Fats)- a small amount of this ingredient is used to give richness and moisture making a loaf more tender. Too much of this ingredient will slow down or stop the yeast fermentation.

I have included a video of me making both loaves to do a visual comparison.

As you can see, the loaf I made to go into the oven has more steps than the bread made in the bread machine. This isn’t really a huge problem though as both are simple processes to get through. As I stated above, the bread made in the bread machine is denser and more compact albeit taller than the bread made in the oven. The bread made in the oven is light and airy.

I hope that seeing the comparisons between the breads helped you decide about whether to purchase a bread machine or not. Mainly, don’t overthink it, just enjoy the process of making bread regardless of what method you choose. I am including this picture of my daughter as she is about to enjoy a grilled cheese sandwich made with the bread I made for this post because it just makes my heart happy. Happy Baking!

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