Bread Machines: Cousin Of R2D2 or Kitchen Boon?

BREAD machines have become the new kitchen gizmos of the 1990s. By the end of this year, close to 4 million households in the United States will have them.

The Japanese invention mixes, kneads, and bakes all in one counter-top appliance. But the technology has sparked controversy among fresh-bread lovers.

Bread Machine? ``Yuck,'' is the initial reaction from Dan Leader, owner of ``Bread Alone'' bakery and author of a book with the same title.

``Are we getting to the point in our society where we want to push buttons and get the end result without any effort? Is that what we want?'' he asks. ``I don't think so.'' The machine will ultimately be good for bread, but not directly, he says. ``It gets the good smell of bread into people's homes. It gets people enjoying [fresh bread] again. But after they get tired of just pressing a button, they're going to want to make it by hand.

Ken Haedrich, author of ``Home for the Holidays: Festive Baking with whole Grains,'' says he can relate. ``I'm not inclined to say anything kind about the bread machine.'' Beside the fact that it looks like a cousin of R2D2, ``it removes the tactile pleasure of baking. They'll be `in' for a while, but go the way of the crockpot,'' he predicts.

AU contraire - the bread machine will not be the crockpot, but rather like the microwave. Almost every household will have one, says Lora Brody, author of ``Bread Machine Baking: Perfect Every Time'' (William Morrow & Co., 342 pp., $20). To those purists who don't recognize the practicality of the machine, she says, ``Do you have a fresh loaf of bread in your kitchen every single day?'' Another feature the machine offers is versatility - you can add anything from apricots and applesauce to garlic and goat cheese. Ms. Brody has even invented a ``booster'' for fool-proof bread-machine bread.

``It's wonderful if people make their own bread [from scratch without a machine], and I applaud them,'' says Brody. ``But those people don't make their bread every day. I haven't brought a store-bought loaf into this kitchen for years.''

Lois Conway agrees. ``The only appliance that I know that will not be regulated to the back of the cupboard is the bread machine.'' Ms. Conway is co-author of ``The Bread Machine Magic Book of Helpful Hints'' (St. Martin's Press, 203 pp. $10.95). Plus, the numbers say it all: There are about 20 different machines available for breadmaking and 20 cookbooks written for them.

While purists argue handmade bread tastes better, the pro- technology types say machine bread is just as good. One interesting tidbit is that men account for more than half the sales of bread machines. ``They buy them for their wives, but they use them,'' says Conway, who teaches bread-machine classes where half the students are men. She also offers a more sociological explanation: ``It's a machine. Most men like gimmicks. They like to control things. That's why my husband always has the [TV] remote control.''

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