One way to cut costs and get healthy this New Year is to bake your own bread. If you have a bread machine, it's as easy as adding the ingredients and pushing a button. And the intoxicating aroma of fresh baked bread will only be one of your bread baking rewards. Be warned: Your family will be forever clamoring for healthier, hearty, home-baked bread!
Homemade bread is a healthy alternative to packaged bread
Baking your own bread is healthy because you can control the ingredients that go into your loaf. You can cut down on salt, sugar and fat by using recipes low in these ingredients, and you can add wholesome ingredients like organic whole grains, natural sweeteners and herbs and spices for the healthiest bread possible — at a fraction of the cost of a store-bought loaf.
Baking tips for baking bread in a bread machine
Bread baking tip #1: Read the instructions
First and foremost, read the manufacturer's instructions that came with your bread machine. The instructions will give you all the information you need to bake your first batch of bread, from how long the baking cycles are, to how to program your bread machine to come on and bake during the day while you're at work, and other helpful tips. Bread machines also come with recipes created especially for your particular model — all the more reason to not ignore your bread machine's instructions.
Bread baking tip #2: Get a book
While you're reading, pick up at least one good bread machine baking book. Some of my favorites are Electric Bread Vol. 1 and 2, by Suzan Nightingale, More Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway, and the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Bread Machine Recipes, by the editors of Better Homes and Gardens. They all contain recipes for all sizes of bread machines, along with recipes for making items from bread dough, such as rolls, pizza dough, and calzones, bagels, and such. They'll give you more information on baking and the science of bread, and offer troubleshooting tips for bread mishaps, too.
Bread baking tip #3: Use top-notch ingredients
For the best home-baked bread, use good-quality, fresh ingredients. Make sure your yeast, flour, eggs and other ingredients are high-quality and fresh. And add the ingredients in the proper order. Each machine is different, so be sure to follow the steps in your instruction manual for the best results. Also, if your tap has chlorinated water, use bottled or pure water for your baking, it really will make a difference.
Bread baking tip #4: Measure, measure, measure!
Baking is a science, and bread baking in a bread machine is no different. In addition to the yeast, the salt, sweetener and fat are all necessary components in achieving a perfect rise, so be sure to measure each ingredient carefully. After you bake a few loaves, you'll learn how to adjust the liquids for your particular elevation and humidity (those make a difference in how your dough sets up and rises).
Bread baking tip #5: Check your consistency
The perfect loaf of bread is light, rises consistently, and doesn't overflow over the top of the bread machine pan. When the dough first starts to mix (knead), check the consistency of the dough. If it has cracks, it is too dry, and you need to add more liquid. Add it just a few drops at a time! If it is too spongy or wet, you need to add more flour (again, add a teaspoon or so at a time, and let it mix in). Your perfect dough should be smooth, elastic and soft to the touch. As you bake more loaves, you'll learn just how the dough should look through the kneading process.
Bread baking tip #6: Invest in a quality bread machine
There are many bread machine models that sell for under $100, but they don't contain all the features more expensive models offer. For example, several manufacturers offer machines that not only bake white and wheat bread and make dough, they make jams and jellies, cakes, and sourdough. Plus, you can program in your own custom recipes, too. You might not think you need these features, but they come in extremely handy once you begin experimenting with your bread baking. These more expensive machines often offer another compelling component. They preheat the ingredients for you to the optimum temperature, which is essential for the yeast to "proof" and make the bread rise efficiently. Too hot, and your yeast will die, leaving you a dense, inedible loaf. Too cool, and the yeast won't bloom, leaving you with the same unpalatable results. Automatic preheating takes the guesswork out of the trickiest part of bread baking, and it will give you immediate excellent results, so you'll waste far fewer ingredients as you learn to use your bread machine. Experiment with good ingredients, learn how to use your bread machine, and most of all, enjoy the bread you bake yourself in the New Year!