The smell of fresh, homemade bread will always remind me of our farmhouse kitchen, with Mom pulling loaves or rolls out of the oven, spilling them out on cooling racks, and then rubbing copious amounts of butter on them. It wasn't an everyday occurrence, but it was often enough for me to expect other mothers to have such culinary inclinations. My full appreciation of Mom's bread didn't happen until I was in college, and heard more and more praise for it, not to mention the fact that I didn't get to enjoy it as much.
A few years ago, after my grandmother passed away, my mother acquired her electric bread maker. These machines are about twice the size of toaster ovens, and have a loaf pan into which you pour ingredients, press a few buttons, and - voila! - three and a half hours later - fresh, piping hot, "homemade" bread. Ancient Egyptians would be stunned.
Now, the process sounds easy and hard to mess up. But I can tell you, it's not. My first attempt with it involved my mother telling me to "follow the directions" and "you'll find that ingredient here" or "that's on this shelf" until I had the ingredients in the pan, pan in the machine, and the programming completed. Then Dad comes along and says "that's kneading rough, you need to add some water" which he proceeded to do. Apparently, the bread maker is not suppose to jump and thump around the counter. Oh, and the dough should less of a brick and more of a soft lump.
Dad added his pitcher of water to the mix, and the machine completed its cycle. We pulled out the loaf, cut off some chunks, and ate them as all fresh bread should be consumed - slathered up with butter. Not bad, not bad at all. The outside seems a little chewy, but the middle resembles homemade, and is better than store-bought sliced breads. Mom encouraged me to make some more bread, since my first loaf was edible, and I now knew where all the ingredients were located.
So, I embarked on another loaf a couple days later. I pulled the clean loaf pan out of the dish drainer, added extra water to the recipe, added dry ingredients according to the recipe, and placed it into the machine. I set the program and started it up. Ten minutes later, I checked it through its peephole on the top to make sure it was kneading well. No mixing had occurred. Hm. I stopped the machine, saw that it had been locked in, and consulted the "troubleshooting" section of the recipe and guidebook for other possible causes. When I found "ingredients do not mix" the possible cause was "kneading paddles are not in pan." I looked over at the dish drainer and there were the two kneading paddles. Okay, that was definitely the problem. Solution? Well, according to the book "Always make sure kneading paddles are in pan before adding ingredients." Um, okay, great advice for the NEXT loaf. What do I do to remedy the CURRENT situation??
I poured the ingredients into a bowl, put in the kneading paddles, and returned the mix back to the bowl. I began to wonder if I even needed the machine at this point, considering how much of the mixing and kneading process had already happened. But I put the loaf pan back in, pressed start, and began to watch it like a hawk. It still was not moving very much so I opened the door again. I hadn't locked the pan into place. So many details! After closing the door for the third time, I started the machine and hoped it would create a loaf. At least a loaf that would meet my increasingly lowering expectations.
When it finished, I pulled the loaf out and set it on the cooling rack. As I did, I noticed something was amiss in the loaf pan. Actually, something was missing: one of the kneading paddles had become dislodged from the pan and cooked into the loaf. Well, there was only one way to find it. Luckily, after two slices I found the paddle very close to the bottom of the loaf.
Overall, the bread making apprenticeship continues with the machine. I've learned more appreciation for Mom's preferred method of making goodies. I've learned that bread-making is a long, intricate process. I've learned that patience is indeed a virtue in baking, especially when you are trying to get honey out of a bottle. Sweet fancy Moses, that stuff is slow.