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I had been hankering after a bread maker for quite a while but with the financial priority being saving for our holidays couldn't really justify the expense of one, especially as I was working 6-7 days a week and so didn't think I'd have time to make use of it properly. All that has now changed however, I'm not working and the holiday has been and gone and been paid for (almost!) so my "nag him until he gives in" plan got into full swing...and worked! Although the lovely (sensible) hubby suggested trying Freecycle for one before investing in a new one just to see how I got on with it and a couple of days later he came up trumps and brought home a second hand, rather grubby bread maker. After a thorough cleaning I decided to get going with it but seen as the machine itself had been free thought I could justify splashing out just a little and buying a book to help me make the most of it, rather than just relying on the good ole t'internt.
After much research (aka a coffee break spent browsing on Amazon) I decided on Fresh Bread In The Morning From Your Bread Machine by Annette Yates. There was no particular reason I decided on this one...a mixture of it being somewhere near the top of the first page of suggestions, getting good reviews and being priced at only £4.19 (rrp £5.99).
As I awaited its arrival I made the mistake of using recipes I'd found on the internet in my marvellous new machine only to end up with numerous disappointments. I figured one bread machine was pretty much like any other, right? Wrong, apparently! As we weren't provided with the instruction book for the machine and searches of the internet came up blank I just chucked everything in the machine, turned it on and assumed we'd be eating lovely warm, fresh bread within a few hours. After a couple of attempts (one of which included a brioche that was (and I quote) "like the most disgusting cake you could ever try" - and this from a man who will eat almost anything!) which ended up on the bird table - mostly being ignored even then, it has to be admitted - I decided to wait for my new book to come before wasting any more ingredients.
Four days after ordering, arrive it did, wrapped in the usual cardboard envelope and in pristine condition. I was slightly surprised by how thin it was (about 1cm), although thinking back I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but having a quick browse reassured me that it had more or less everything I'd been hoping for (minus a workable recipe for brioche unfortunately). It's the size of a standard paperback novel, around 5 inches wide and 7 tall and is paperbacked. I know this is me being very picky but one of my bugbears is that not all cookbooks are made the same size. Yes, it's an unreasonable request, but it would make my kitchen shelves look SO much tidier!
Inside it is divided into 9 sections;
2) All about bread machines
3) The different elements to making bread
4) How to use a bread machine to make bread
5) Making the most of your machine
6) The finishing touches for your bread
7) Recipes (finally!)
Whilst I had originally just bought the book for the recipes it provides I have found the earlier sections somewhat useful especially considering I don't have the handbook for my machine. They talk you through what making bread is all about, the key ingredients you'll need to keep in your store cupard, the various settings on a bread machine and also how to adapt other recipes to make them work in your machine.
The major factor in bread machines and how the finished loaf turns out seems to be whether in your machine you add the wet ingredients first followed by the dry or vice versa. Unfortunately this has turned out to be vitally important and the reason most of my first attempts turned out to be disasters but it is a question that isn't answered by the book. I know she can't possibly cover every different breadmaker out there but my husband found out via his trusted internet reseach that basically if you have a bread pan with the paddle inside it then you put the wet ingredients in first and if you have a bread machine where the paddle is attached to the mechanism and the pan slots over the top of that then you put the dry ones in first. It would have been incredibly useful and saved a lot of time if she'd mentioned this in the book.
Another isue I'd been confronted with when making bread previously was which loaf size to choose (I have 3 options 1lb, 1.5lbs or 2lbs) and, again, this isn't really covered in the book. She tells us that most recipes in the book make a 1.5lb loaf, but then simply tells us to refer to the manufacturers handbook for more detail. I have, rightly or wrongly, deduced from her information that a recipe with 500g of flour will make a 1.5lb loaf and am sticking to this for now until another disaster proves me wrong!
All in all though, these are the only real criticisms I have for this book and it's not really the authors fault that I don't have my handbook, it just seems like 2 quite vital pieces of information are just glossed over. But, on the whole, I've been happy enough with it. I like her writing style, quite relaxed and informal and chatty and the sections are divided up sensibly and logically so it is easy to read, follow and find what you're looking for. And, to be honest, all of the first 6 sections are just a bonus anyway as I really just wanted the recipes.
So what are these like? Well, so far I can confirm that they've all been fab! I've tried 7 or 8 of them now (so much for my post-holiday diet!) and each one has turned out well, looked how I was expecting them to look and, more importantly, tasted delicious. The recipe section is divided further into Everyday Loaves, Breads with different flavours and hand-shaped and oven baked breads.
In the every day part there are the obvious white loaf with several variations (eg with honey, with rye, with malted grain), soft grain, oaty (my favourite so far!), granary and mixed grain. The flavoured bread section includes lots of ideas for adding flavours such as honey, spices, beer, seeds,nuts and chocolate and has recipes such as sun-dried tomato and rosemary loaf, walnut bread, chilli bread (hubby's favourite)choclate loaf, cheddar and rosemary bread and many many more. I find these are great for having with a nice homemade soup as they add an extra dimension to plain bread and provide more flavour. The cheddar and rosemary bread is especially yummy, as is the cheese and wholegrain mustard loaf. I've yet to try the chocolate bread but it's definitely on the list, although not to go with soup, obviously!
The final section covers bread which you prepare in the machine to the dough stage and then finish off by shaping it with your hands and baking in the oven and includes such things as bread rolls, baps, pizza dough, focaccia, pitta bread and naan bread. The focaccia was absolutely divine and even my non-culinary mother-in-law asked how to make it and making naan bread to go with our weekend Indian feast was much easier in the bread machine.
Each recipe is laid out well with a brief introduction, often with personal anecdotes provided which I like, the list of ingredients starting with yeast, working through the dry ingredients then finishing with the wet (confusing if I don't pay attention as my machine needs things putting in the other way around so I have to remember to do each recipe backwards and finish with the yeast!), followed by a clearly set out method. One slight disappointment for me is that there is no nutritional information for each recipe - although this could be a good thing as I then can claim innocence when reaching for another slice!
Overall, then, I've been fairly happy with this book on how to make bread using a bread machine. There are a few slight issues for me with regards to the level of information provided but as I got it more for recipes than information then I can't really complain. As for the recipes, each one that I've tried so far has turned out really well and been delicious. I would rather it had a brioche recipe too, but you can't have everything I suppose and it has everything else I was looking for (if anyone reading this has a tried and tested brioche recipe it would be gratefully received!) and since getting this book I haven't been tempted to resort to looking for any other recipes online.
I would recommend this book if you have a machine (and it's instruction manual!) and are looking for a good selection of basic and more advanced bread recipes and I can't see me buying any other bread making books as this has pretty much everything you will need.