It all started when I purchased some Provident Pantry Bread Mix from Emergency Essentials. Just for the record I don’t get jack squat from either Provident Pantry or Emergency Essentials so don’t chalk me up as a corporate shill. So far I’ve been delighted with Emergency Essentials’ service and reasonably pleased with stuff I’ve bought from Provident Pantry. Your mileage may vary. Enough of the introduction. Let’s get to the main event:
I already make bread by hand all the time (using double batches of a no knead recipe and fresh milled wheat for eight loaves at a go). I also use my bread machine all the time (often using simple recipes and store bought flour for cheap fast 2 pound half white/half wheat loaves). The idea with the mix was that I’d use it when I’m in a big hurry. I’d scoop some mix into a bread machine, add water & yeast, and then get on with my life. Good plan.
Wrong! Putting the mix in my bread machine created a brick. Whoops.
Now the question had turned to whether the mix truly was a labor saving technology at all. Enter my concept: the bread race.
I would make some bread with the mix (but without a machine) and I’d compare it to making bread using a machine. It’s not all about speed, it’s about hassle too. If the bread machine takes longer but I can be splitting wood while it’s working then I don’t care about speed. If I’ve got to hover around the oven babysitting my creation, I care very much about every last minute. I decided to give points to either process based on which one pissed me off the least. (It’s my bread race. I’ll score it how I wish.)
Subjectively I assumed the mix was going to lose big time. Why? Because it’s reasonably easy to make bread by hand and it’s even easier to make bread with a machine. The mix would need to turn easy into “so simple that a monkey could do it while stoned”. A tough challenge indeed!
I started with the mix. As expected you need more or less nothing but the can of mix and a jar of yeast. That’s the whole point of a mix. The photo below shows everything you need:
I thought I’d need the big red tub for when the bread rose. I didn’t need it. Thus, even a second bowl was overkill.
The oil isn’t a big deal. You put a little on the dough when it’s rising. The oil covers the bread surface as the yeast does it work and keeps evil spirits from infiltrating the bread and turning the yeast into spiders. (There is a reason I don’t write cookbooks.)
Eagle eyed folks might notice the whiskey and coffee cup in the background. There is absolutely no reason why you should be sober while baking. Duh!
When you use the mix you start by dumping mix and yeast into a bowl. Stir it a few seconds. Then add water. I had to admit that it truly was so simple a monkey really could do it while stoned. One point for the mix.
Then… What’s this? The instructions tell you to mix on low speed for 1 minute and then high speed for 10 minutes. This word “speed” seemed to imply a “speed setting”. Thus presuming the presence of a stand mixer (one of those heavy duty kitchen appliances that make cake mixers look like a child’s toy).
I call bullshit! This mix was specifically made for someone who owns a $300 stand mixer but won’t acknowledge the existence of a $50 bread machine. No damn way am I just gonna’ let that roll off my back. It’s just not cool!
Mrs. Curmudgeon, hearing my rants, came by and topped off my coffee. She rocks! Meanwhile I stirred with a wooden spoon in my best approximation of a human powered stand mixer. I added a snort of whiskey (to the coffee) and grumbled.
Mixing dry ingredients like flour by hand ‘aint a big deal. On the other hand, it’s more or less impossible to standing there like an idiot rotating a wooden spoon once water has been added. This pissed me off.
I was going to have to knead the bread. I was dreading it. First of all it wasn’t mentioned in the instructions and I like following the damn instructions. I’ll get creative elsewhere in life but food is (to me) all about processing materials. I don’t care if I’m gutting a deer or making coffee, I prefer an ordered set of steps and will stick with it like I’m defusing a bomb.
Kneading is just too damn much like “cooking food” and not enough like “manufacturing food”. Cookbooks are constantly yammering about how firm the bread might “feel”. Add a dash of flour here at touch of liquid there. Those are the parts of the cookbooks that I rip out and use for kindling. I’ll happily gap a spark plug with a gauge or weigh reagents on a scale but “guesstimation” annoys me. Kneading seems like guesstimation. I gave one point to the bread machine approach which skips that step. Then I gave another because the instructions said nothing about it. Then I gave a third because I’m pissed off about the national debt and the can of mix got caught in the crossfire.
I started pondering how hard it would be to convert my variable speed drill press into a mixer. Brilliant or stupid? Anyone ever try that?
Stay tuned while I fume about kneading and ponder a gas powered, sixteen horsepower kneading machine because I’m an American dammit: