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Five reasons to get a bread machine: Commercial bread's dirty secrets

Though some view carbs as evil, and an increasing number of people swear off gluten, bread continues to be a staple in countless households across the country. Unfortunately, the substance passed off as bread at the grocery store barely qualifies as, well, bread.

Bread has dirty secrets

Commercially produced bread has dirty secrets. For one, the spongy texture lacks the character of bread produced by the hands of a talented baker. Real bread is not supposed to be a fine-textured spongy substance that balls up behind one's teeth; it should have lightness and a tender crumb that melts in the mouth when toasted. It should soak sauces and soups with vigor. It should resist being pulled apart and separate in irregular, rugged chunks.

An excessively long list of ingredients is another dirty secret of commercial bread. Flour, water, yeast and salt are the only ingredients required to make the many types of breads, including French baguettes. Rich ingredients like butter, milk and eggs may be included in the party to make a loaf softer, moister and richer. Yet, even the most basic of commercial breads proudly feature ingredients that sound like they belong in a science experiment, not in the mouth.

The list of ills goes on and on, but one more deserves a mention. Actually, it is more of a question: Why does commercial bread resist mold for an alarming period? Some bread stays "good" for weeks, or even months, especially burger and hot dog buns. It should cause pause for thought about what the chemicals do to the human body.

1. Fresh bread is one of life's little pleasures

Few aromas are as intoxicating as that of fresh bread, in fact, there is nothing that compares. Cookies, cakes and homemade pasta sauce are close, but do not permeate the home like bread. The scent never gets old and it never goes rancid.

Beyond the aroma, the flavor of freshly baked bread fresh from the oven borders on divine; it is a fleeting flavor that lasts less than an hour. Even rewarming or toasting cannot replicate the taste of a slice of bread, fresh from the oven.

2. Commercial bread is loaded with junk ingredients

As previously mentioned, commercial bread is laden with unnecessary ingredients that some experts say are unfit for human consumption. Worse yet, many of these compounds come from GM (genetically modified) foods or a laboratory. High on the list of offensive ingredients are high fructose corn syrup and soy or canola based vegetable oils.

There are many problems with GM foods, from the fact that most receive heavy chemical dousings of glyphosate-based herbicides to the fact that many studies indicate loss of fertility and cancer are some of the negative results of consuming GM foods.

3. The cost to make a loaf of bread is usually less than $.50

Commercial bread typically costs two to five dollars. While businesses are certainly entitled to make a profit, the margins on bread are outrageous. Families that eat through several loafs a week could save a good chunk of money on groceries by making it at home.

4. Imagine all the varieties

Commercially produced white bread is rather boring. Sure, there are many flavors available, from sprouted whole grain to cinnamon swirl to nut and honey-infused and beyond, but the fancier the bread, the higher the price. On the other hand, the cost of homemade bread varies little from basic white bread to cheesy jalapeno garlic bread.

Making bread at home means flexibility. Having spaghetti and meatballs? Whip up a loaf of garlic-herb bread. Want a distinctive breakfast to surprise the family on a weekend? Bake up a cinnamon-walnut loaf and make French toast.

5. Stable conditions for recipe development

Bread is the result of fermentation, which is a finicky balance between yeast, sugar, gluten and salt. A perfect loaf demands stable temperatures and some consistency with humidity.

For serious bakers, a bread machine offers something that is almost impossible to find in the home -- stable conditions in which to play with recipes. These machines provide consistent temperatures and consistent proofing cycles, both of which make yeast very happy. With these two crucial factors under control, bakers can focus on dialing in proportions and choosing the best ingredients. People who prefer to shape and bake a loaf manually can still do so, by using the dough cycle or by pulling the dough before the bake cycle begins.

When choosing a bread machine, focus on a few factors:

  • Loaf size
  • Types of cycles available
  • Control over crust color
  • Self-programmable cycles
  • Warranty

Inexpensive one-pound machines are some of the least useful machines. Loafs are disappointingly small; the cycles are limited, and the shape of the loaf is decisively cube-like. It is not a look most people find suitable for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Two to two-and-a-half-pound machines that produce longer, narrower loafs are usually a solid investment because they make familiar looking bread and a large enough loaf to last for a day or few.

Several manufacturers produce good quality machines, notably Cuisinart and Brylane Home. Brylane Home's bread machine is a good starting point because it produces rectangular loafs, has many cycles and comes with an uncommonly friendly return policy. The instructions do not include recipes, but recipes are simple enough to come by. In the coming weeks, this column will share delicious recipes developed for this machine. Amazon also offers the machine, so there are other options for buying this machine.

After cutting into a loaf of freshly baked bread and lavishing the hot slice with copious amounts of butter, there is no turning back. Commercial bread will forever be dull, lifeless, overpriced and a pathetic compromise in food choices. Do yourself a favor and purchase a good bread machine for your home -- it could change your life!

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