I like bread. I like bread a lot, especially fresh and warm from the oven with a smear of butter and maybe some strawberry jam.
Trouble is, I hate making bread. Its just too darn much work. My arms get tired kneading the dough, and I get impatient waiting for it to rise. My 82-year-old grandmother, Sylvia Rasanen, would frown at my fecklessness and punch down another rising batch of traditional Finnish pulla dough, but Im the first to admit shes tougher than I am. Especially when it comes to arm-wrestling with an unruly batch of heavy, goopy flour, water and yeast.
Besides, when her breads been kneaded, braided into loaves and baked to golden brown perfection, were both happy: me to eat it, Grandma to feed it to me. Thats the way of the world, right?
Not when Grandmas halfway across the world and Im frustrated at the grocery store, trying to find a decent loaf of bread that doesnt contain added fats, dough "conditioners" and preservatives.
Enter the miracle appliance of the modern world: the bread machine.
Once the province of yuppies who put them next to their sport-utility cappuccino machines, bread makers are now becoming nearly as commonplace as microwave ovens. At least in my kitchen, which as far as Im concerned is where it counts. For anywhere between $30 and $200 (or less, if you frequent yuppie garage sales), you can have your own bread machine, the closest thing to a grandma-in-a-box that youll find in the small appliances section.
The bread-making process has never been easier (or lazier, Grandma would say, or more soulless, purists say, but apparently they have the time to make such pronouncements too). You put the ingredients (wet first, then dry) into a metal bucket equipped with a little mixing paddle in the bottom. The bucket goes into the bread machine. You press some buttons and wait between one and four hours, depending on which kind of machine you have and what kind of bread youre making.
When the breads done, which you know because the machine beeps, you pop the bread out of the bucket, slice it and theres your bread nirvana. The worst part is cleaning the bucket, which needs to soak and isnt always as nonstick as it could be.
Trouble is, the recipes that come with the machine after the initial novelty of "Old-Fashioned White" and "Rustic Honey-Oatmeal" wears off get kind of dull.
Fortunately, there are innovative cooks out there who have already figured out the tricky conventional-to-machine conversions. One such source of 125 new recipes including focaccia, bagels, doughnuts and pita is the excellent cookbook, Americas Best Bread Machine Recipes, by Donna Washburn and Heather Butt (Robert Rose Inc., $17.95, 192 pp.). Another source is the Web. Check out www.breadrecipes.com or the Unofficial Global Internet Bread Recipe Archive at http://haven.ios.com/~wordup/bread.html for dozens of tasty variations.
But fear not, Grandma I still havent figured out how to duplicate your pulla recipe. Alisa Gordaneer
Yet more bread Panera Bread has another new bakery-cafe, at 23719 Greenfield in Southfield. Call 248-423-8548 Marios Restaurant, 4222 Second, Detroit, is celebrating 51 years of business with lots of tasty specials. Call 313-832-1616 for reservations.