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A while back, maybe over a year ago, I stopped buying store bought bread (with the exception of Ezekiel Organic Sprouted breads from time to time).  Even breads from Trader Joes and other natural foods stores had a long list of ingredients including soy derivatives and fillers that I didn’t feel were necessary in the food I was feeding my children.  My goal for them is fresh, whole foods with minimal fillers and no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives (and non-GMO as much as I can discern).

So, we bought a Zojirushi bread machine and started making sandwich loaves.  Most of the loaves were 60% whole wheat and 40% white until I found a 100% whole wheat bread machine recipe that worked.  It was still a little dense, but wholly palatable and actually quite delicious (what freshly made warm crusty bread isn’t?).

At the same time, Marc and I had been reading and watching videos on artisan bread making, specifically the no-knead methods made popular by Jim Lahey and the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes book series.  We ultimately chose to take the bread machine path first because we wanted an easy and foolproof way, with little effort, to make sandwich loaves.

But, oh…, those free-formed crackling crust loaves kept us desiring to make them.  And, so over the past couple months I’ve been reading more books and watching more videos in preparation of taking the leap to make the artisan loaves.  So, we took all the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes books out of the library (there are three now), ordered the 6qt tubs to store the dough in the refrigerator, and gave it a shot yesterday.

I started with the 10 Grain Bread from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes (the second book in the Artisan Bread series), which required two cups of 10 grain cereal, three cups of white whole wheat flour and two cups of all-purpose flour.  Our regular ongoing loaves will be 100% spelt from a 25lb sack of organic spelt flour we recently purchased during our trek to Lancaster County.

It was a warm and humid day, so the 10 grain dough rose nicely.  I decided to bake a loaf from the freshly risen dough and found that it was very sticky and hard to handle without heavily floured hands.  But, I formed a small loaf that grew a little as it rested.  I baked the loaf and was a little disappointed that it didn’t rise in height, so now this newbie needs to figure out what went on.  (Any readers have some insight on what may have happened?) I put the remainder of the dough (pictured above) in the refrigerator and will try baking another loaf when it’s about 48 hours old (you can use the dough up to two weeks after it’s been mixed).  I think the cold temperature of the dough and the fermentation time might help the shape and height.

The taste result of the bread was fabulous.  It had a full flavor – nutty and balanced.  The crust was crispy and the crumb on the inside was full of the perfect amount of holes – not too light and not too dense.

So, here are my thoughts on both methods (subject to change as I get more comfortable with making artisan bread):

Zojirushi Bread Machine

Pros:

  • Incredibly easy to make.  Dump all the ingredients in the pan, set the machine and turn out fresh bread a few hours later.  The machine does all the work for you.
  • Makes great sandwich bread.  We eat toast with nut butter or coconut butter for breakfast several days a week; this bread is great for that.

Cons:

  • Only the top of the loaf is crispy.
  • Uses a nonstick pan.  I’ve had no problem with the material degrading yet, and hope it continues to hold up.
  • Bread will dry out in a few days and require toasting.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes Method

Pros:

  • Dough is super easy and fast to mix up.  Recipes are short on ingredients.  Dump them into the tub, mix and let rise.
  • No sugar or sweetener is required for the basic whole wheat recipes.
  • Bread is perfectly crispy with a beautiful crumb – very tasty.

Cons:

  • After the first rise, there are several steps to be executed to guarantee good final results.
  • There are several supplies (pastry brush and seed mixture, pizza peel, baking stone, cornmeal or parchment, broiler pan, hot tap water) needed, which as a first timer was a lot compared to the bread machine method, but once you’re set up I think the process will become second nature.
  • One loaf just feeds our growing family of four in one sitting.  I’d make two loaves next time to have one for another time.

My Conclusion:

  • There is a time and place for each method in our home.
  • The sandwich bread made in the Zojirushi machine is a no brainer.  It takes five minutes to measure the ingredients and the machine does everything else.
  • I love having a supply of dough in the refrigerator with the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes method.  It just takes a little bit of planning to execute baking a loaf.
  • The Artisan bread complements many meals beautifully…loaves look like they came from a bakery, and taste just as well.
  • I am not sure how the Artisan bread measures up to the bread machine bread over time.  The one loaf that I baked was eaten in mere minutes at dinner last night, so I don’t know how long it would stay fresh.
  • A small part of me misses the kneading in more traditional homemade bread recipes.  I haven’t experimented with those types of recipes (Marc has been the bread man who has), but think I’ll get to that some day.  I think the kids would enjoy kneading the dough.

I’d love to hear from you.  What has your experience been baking bread? Do you prefer the ease of a bread machine or a more traditional baking method?

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