“It looks like a hammerhead shark” said my friend. She’s right, it does. It certainly has presence that’s for sure – the thing is massive. Before I was sent the breadmaker for review, I’d briefly considered getting one. People had raved, “wake up to freshly baked bread!” The idea sounds attractive, although the chances of my neurotic self leaving an electrical appliance on overnight are actually nil. Still, the simplicity appealed and I found it rather fascinating – chuck everything inside, select the programme and about 2 hours later you have a loaf. It certainly takes the ‘work’ out of baking, which is where I started to feel uneasy. Actually no, it was worse than that – I felt cheated.
To state the bleedin obvious, I am someone who very much enjoys cooking. I relish the hands-on creative process; mixing, shaping and nurturing to completion. The breadmaker of course does all this for you. As soon as my first loaf had popped from the tin, I found myself on Amazon buying a copy of Dan Lepard’s The Handmade Loaf; it was full of everything I’d just missed out on. In the introduction, DL describes how “the making with our own hands, is what enlivens us and makes us feel human.” I wanted to knead, shape and peek at the loaf rising, marvelling at the manipulation of gluten and yeast.
The breadmaker uses skimmed milk powder; vegetable oil and fast action dried yeast. DL of course uses fresh milk and advises seeking out fresh yeast whenever possible because the flavour and action are better. I began to call local bakeries. None of them baked on site and none of them knew where I could buy any fresh yeast. In the end I found it in a speciality food shop in East Dulwich, SMBS foods – one of those shops that sells everything. It has the added bonus of being difficult for the yummy mummys to cram their super-buggy spaceships into, making it one of the best shops in ED. Sorry, but I’ve been nipped on the Achilles tendon one too many times. If you don’t live near such a shop, try the baking section of your supermarket as they will often sell you some, under the counter.
I polished my halo and headed home to bake my first ever handmade loaf using fresh yeast. DL’s ‘quick white loaf’ seemed a logical place to start and the steps were very simple. I crumbled, mixed, shaped and left it in a warm place to rise. And it did – like a dream. I was overwhelmed with pride and satisfaction as my two loaves went into the oven but when I opened it 45 minutes later what I found was two hard, leaden lumps. Bugger. And with that the breadmaker got its own back. There is one major factor in its favour and that is consistency.
DL is an active Twitter user and so I asked him what went wrong. Apparently I let my dough rise too much in a too-hot kitchen. This only made me more determined; baking is a skill and I was focused on nailing it. The reward for perseverance was a loaf with superior flavour, texture, crumb, crust – there is literally no comparison to the somewhat synthetic and uniform breadmaker results. It may be consistent but consistency comes at the price of character.
So the breadmaker is not for me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see how many people would love it. If you like freshly made bread and want something in between a shop bought and handmade loaf with no effort other than tipping in ingredients and pressing a few buttons then this is the product for you. Personally, I’d rather buy a handmade loaf from a bakery if I didn’t have time to make one myself. You may think I’m mad. Most people claim a breadmaker is a product they use once then leave in the spare room for the next three years as it’s just too much effort and here’s me complaining it wasn’t enough. I’m clearly off my rocker.
The Morphy Richards Premium Breadmaker product specifications and price here.