Sunday, May 29, 2011

Back to the basics

Ok, I'm interrupting my two-week nap to post the oft-promised basic bread recipe I use with my Zo. It's very simple in terms of ingredients and methodology. I'm actually deviating from the basics today to experiment with all-purpose flour. I thought of playing it safe and using a half-and-half mix of bread flour and all-purpose, but what kind of half-a$$ed experiment would that be? Naah. I'm going all the way. Hopefully the bread will too... Meanwhile here is the tried-and-true basic recipe:

  • 1-1/3 cups (minus) ---Water
  • 1 --------------------Egg (room temp.)
  • 4-1/4 cups-----------Bread flour
  • 4 Tbsp.---------------Sugar
  • 2 Tbsp.---------------Dry milk
  • 1 tsp.-----------------Salt
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp.-----------Unsalted butter (room temp.)
  • 2 tsp.-----------------Active dry yeast

Measure the flour by spooning it into the measuring cup so it's light and fluffy. Note: be accurate in all measurements. This is important. For the unsalted butter, the equivalent is 1/8 of a cup PLUS half of that, for a total of 3/16 ths. :) All ingredients must be at room temperature.

Crack egg into 2-C measuring cup. Add a bit of water and mix it so it's runny - do NOT beat it. Add more water until it reaches the 1-1/3 mark. Mix well. Do not beat the egg. Poor thing needs a delicate touch.. Pour into machine basket.

Carefully add the flour onto the liquid in the basket. Cover well, so there will be no liquid showing. Add butter, sugar and dry milk to the SIDES of the basket, on top of the flour. Then add the salt, placing it in an isolated corner so as NOT TO TOUCH the other ingredients (well, except the flour, bien sûr :). Make a groove in the middle of the flour mound and add the yeast on top... yeast must NOT TOUCH any other ingredients.

Turn machine on, set it on the basic bread program and good luck!


As I previously mentioned, I'm using all-purpose flour today. I will post the results, although I still recommend bread flour, which has more protein and gluten. If you make bread often, like I do, and the flour starts getting expensive, you can always cut the bread flour with the all-purpose... or can you? Your answer later ... (I've been watching way too many season enders on TV...)

Speaking of TV... there seems to be much whining and groaning about Dr. Who's distinct (and judicious) departure from the (gooey) romantic story lines that permeated much of David Tennant's tenure. My two cents: suck it up, people! This is a simple, basic, family friendly sci-fi show, not a prime-time soap. And now that I've announced to the civilized world I'm an unrepentant Dr. Who fan... see you soon with a trenchant outcome analysis of the great bread experiment.

-Results Analysis and Future Research-

Hmm... Hubby and I have our mouths full of bread right now ... and neither one of us can tell the difference between the breads! Seems that the all-purpose flour yields exactly the same results as the bread flour... This may be due to the egg we add to the recipe. I'm not about to experiment with that, but next time I will mix the flours in equal proportion.


Follow the original recipe with bread flour first, to give yourself the best possible chance of getting good results and working out the kinks, and then, once you're confident with your (inevitable) recipe adjustments, go wild! :))

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother's Day

Of Moms and Breadmakers

Mother’s day today. I’m very lucky to have a truly wonderful mom. A strong woman and remarkably talented cook who has tirelessly tried to nurture my occasionally faltering love of cooking and baking. En passant, she also taught me that I should always clean up my mess and that whining about it is not a cost-effective strategy. A life lesson, to be sure :)

Perhaps this is why I think baking is a wonderfully cathartic experience. Even writing about it is comforting. It certainly beats the stuffing out of vomiting your inner demons onto the messy floor of your public blog. Ok, I’m being (really) judgmental. If writing poetry about your shredded heart, tetric soul and vanishing prospects helps you cope, may you get all the online validation you need. Me, I’ll tell you about baking bread. In my Zojirushi. Which I love.

I’m a late-comer to the bread-machine crowd, but like many converts I’ve become more papist than the pope. Within its obvious limits, the thing is a true godsend (must… knock off… the religious… references…). Based on informal polling and admittedly anecdotal information extracted from online forums and often-harassed friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that most machines currently on the market do a decent job of baking bread.

Besides my Zojirushi (which I love) I’ve tried mom’s Cuisinart. It’s bigger than my Zo (actually quite a bit bigger, although the basket is paradoxically smaller), has only one paddle, a vertical basket and limited but adequate programming options. It is also harder to handle… It took quite a bit of physical strength and ultimately a screwdriver to adjust the basket and make it more easily removable. I’ve also seen some online complaints about the opposite, namely the basket not being tight enough and coming loose during the kneading process. I’m happy to report that after the adjustments, my mom’s Cuisinart is working beautifully. Friends with Black and Decker machines also report very satisfactory outcomes and much happiness with their bread. So, did my better-half waste his money buying me the Lamborghini of bread machines? Most emphatically no… :))

For a nice review and some comparison testing check out this rather ambitious posting in the Bread Machine Digest.

The Zo is compact, virtually noiseless, very, very easy to handle and remarkably versatile. And the bread! So good! It is also very consistent, once you “master” the operational steps… The machine itself is functionally simple and user-friendly. A nice HCI job! The manual is a bit stingy with the recipes and programming information, but at least it is clear and actually helpful. The Zo comes with a DVD that takes you through the process of baking a basic loaf step by step. It reminded me a bit of those robotic Dharma project videos in Lost (how I miss Lost), but it was very helpful. Follow the instructions – you’ll be sorry if you don’t.

Their basic process works for all machines and is a sine qua non of consistently successful bread making. Make no mistake, there is a process. I don’t claim it’s the only one, but it works and yields consistent results. Good, mouth-watering, yummy results. So by now you’re wondering: when will the blah blah come to a merciful end and the recipe begin? Hmm. Next Sunday. Sorry. But at least now you will have an excuse to do a bit of wailing and curse a false idol or two in your blog…

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms and most especially to mine, who is, of course, the Best Mom. Ever.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Sad Monday

My kitty Meow.. miss her.