Robot boulanger: Want to bake fresh whole grain bread
October 18, 2008 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Wanted: tips for whole grain bread making and bread machines

My husband got an inexpensive bread machine (Sunbeam 5891-33) and we're underwhelmed by its seeming limitations. We haven't tried it yet, but the recipes seem to require gluten if you don't want to use white flour. I'm wondering if a basic bread machine is going to allow much flexibility, or is it going to be strict following a recipe all the way? This link implies maybe there's a fair bit of flexibility. Is a bread machine worth it? Bread has become expensive, and we do like bread, so I encouraged his desire to try this. Maybe a fancier model is what we need?
posted by Listener to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You need gluten (or high-gluten, white bread flour) if you want a light, "bready" loaf. You can try recipes without added gluten--they will be heavier and denser. It's just a matter of taste. Non-gluten recipes in my bread machine turn out with a heavy, dense crumb, but are still quite tasty.
posted by gimonca at 8:28 PM on October 18, 2008

I've never used a bread machine, but I used to work in a retail bakery, and I made wheat or grain type breads both ways, ie with and without a percentage of high-gluten bread flour. The gluten will allow you to develop more texture and hole structure, which in my opinion is best for sandwiches and such. Without the elasticity provided by gluten a grain dough can be really mushy and formless, even with plenty of wheat flour, and after it's baked it tends to crumble and dry out quickly once sliced.

Folding and shaping will help give the dough a little more strength, if that's what you're after. Anyway, my suggestion is really just to buy high quality flours and go from there. King Arthur Flour is great. Make whatever you want. If you have a gluten allergy then make the best of it, you can still make some great bread.
posted by kurtroehl at 8:37 PM on October 18, 2008

I throw in a little gluten even if I'm not making whole grain bread; it gives the crumb that chewy-airy texture that normally only comes with bakery bread.

Bob's Red Mill gluten is readily available in grocery stores, and widely available online.

For whatever it's worth, I almost exclusively use my bread machine as a dough machine, and do the baking in the oven. By putting a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven, and brushing the top of the loaf with a little egg white (I actually just use egg substitute, so I don't end up with tons of extra yolks--and a small carton will stay fresh for months), I can achieve crust nirvana.

I have yet to find a bread recipe that doesn't work with the dough cycle--once the cycle is complete I take the dough, shape it, and let it rise again under a damp towel at least once (depending on the original recipe, my French bread recipe actually works best if I shape it loosely, let it rise for half an hour, then shape it into baguettes or batards and rise once more before slashing and baking.
posted by padraigin at 9:19 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Whole Grain Breads by Machine or Hand by Beatrice Ojakangas is a great book for whole grain breads. She goes through the basics very clearly in the introduction. I got a copy from a library until I decided I needed my own.
posted by OlivesAndTurkishCoffee at 9:56 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

This has less to do with your machine than with the properties of various types of flour. Don't be tied to the recipes that came with your machine. The most important part of those is the capacity of your machine, full loaf or something less. There are myriad recipes on the internet as well as in cookbooks all devoted to bread machine bread or as padraigin does you can use the machine to prepare and raise the dough and then bake away in the oven the old fashioned way. Try making these whole wheat loaves with and without the high gluten flour to see which you prefer. Without it makes a bit denser loaf which some people actually prefer.

I would give your machine a try. It will probably perform well. If you are ultimately unsatisfied, then move up to the king of these things, the Zojirushi.
posted by caddis at 10:04 PM on October 18, 2008

What caddis said. The maximum capacity of most bread machines is two pounds, some machines top out at 1.5 or one pound (I found a sweet Zojirushi at a thrift store that I didn't bother buying because it was only a one pound machine). Two pounds is two baguettes, or a pretty big loaf of sandwich bread.

If you don't have the manual for your machine, you can probably find it on Google--my original thrift store bread machine had long since been obsolete, but I found a manual with just a little bit of searching. I've since "upgraded" to a slightly more elaborate thrift store machine which bakes horizontal loaves, and I do use it for sandwich bread on occasion. Again, I found the manual for it on the internet but by now I'm mostly just experimenting with "real" bread recipes and making heavy use of the dough cycle. I've found that most bread recipes will note the poundage of the resulting dough.

Something I recommend to all bread machine users is to make use of the pizza dough cycle, if your machine's got one (if not, it's a 55-minute cycle, you can cut the dough cycle off at that mark). I really love this recipe. We have always been once-a-week pizza eaters but haven't ordered out in over a year, because my family just really prefers this homemade pizza to even the best takeout available to us. It's especially awesome if you throw some dried herbs in with the other ingredients.
posted by padraigin at 10:43 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could also try the approach outlined in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This technique does NOT use a bread machine, and as the title suggests, the really impressive part is the effort-to-results ratio: very little effort and very good bread!
posted by portabella at 5:46 AM on October 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here is an interesting article that ran in yesterday's paper here - a no-knead bread recipe with more whole grain in less time.
posted by peagood at 8:17 AM on October 19, 2008

We have found that a pinch of Vitamin C makes a huge difference to the texture of bread-machine bread. Improvers are not cheating when you're already using a machine, they're just compensating. A 250g bag of Vitamin C is cheap as chips and will last forever.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:10 PM on October 19, 2008

Library book, Vitamin C and gluten flour incoming. Thanks for all the tips. We'll keep the machine for Mr. Listener to use, but I am going to try the no-knead ways as well.
posted by Listener at 2:45 PM on October 19, 2008

Just received a mefimail prodding me to update or tick best answers. All answers were helpful, including a couple we have not yet applied to our bread experiments. The Five minutes book was fun, and my favourite is the bagel recipe, though I improvise with whole wheat plus gluten. The baking stone does a nice job. The Apprentice book is a fascinating read. We're enjoying experimenting and having fresh bread better than the store. And Mr. prefers to man the machine.
posted by Listener at 12:55 AM on November 18, 2008

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