BLBMC

Beth Hensperger’s baking books published by Chronicle Books, such as Bread (1988) were sound and useful book about home baking, which rode the currents of liberation from industrially processed bread, the recovery of whole grain baking, and inception of foodie artisanal baking. Her Bread Bible (1999) earned the 2000 James Beard Foundation award for a cookbook in the Baking & Dessert category. I have a copy – an inexpensive Kindle version. Her books before 1999 contain useful advice on basic technique. They refer mainly to active dry yeast and sometimes to yeast cakes (wet raw yeast) and skim over the introduction of the various kinds of instant yeast. She had a chapter on bread machines in the Bread Bible.

She must have been working on The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook (2000) (BLBMC) for Harvard Common Press as the Bread Bible was being published and sent to market. The BLBMC preceded Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker and other title in that series. Ms. Hensperger suggested that bread machines were a new way of doing an old thing. The BLBMC explains the technology , as it was at the time, and explains the use a bread machine to make the range of breads that might be purchased from a commercial bakery operation.

The BLBMC implies that its recipes should work in any bread machine. It treated all bread machines (it listed 18 manufacturers in the market at the time) as equivalent, with a  warning to “Take Stock of Your Machine”. This oversells the capabilities of bread machines and undersells the complexities of adapting the knowledge of bakers for a consumer appliance:

  • Baking involves doing something until a result it observed (the dough is mixed and supple; it has risen, or is ready to bench or bake);
  • Some steps cannot be described to a novice without pictures and videos. A baker with some experience might know how a “shaggy” dough (whole wheat dough that has been mixed to the point that the ingredient including water have been blended and the flour has absorbed the water and can be kneaded to develop gluten and left to rise may be described as shaggy) differs from a dry dough that needs more water;
  • Machines work in simple steps, without feedback.  The designer can program combinations of steps that should produce results with some combinations of ingredients if the machine is loaded properly;
  • Machines are not all the same; some machines work with some doughs, and not others;
  • The book did not anticipate technological and market changes including the developments in growing and preserving instant dry yeast and changes in machine mixing.

I had a problem with BLBMC recipes in a Panasonic SD-YD250, which I solved. There are differences in bread machines, particularly in their programmed cycles and times.

While Ms. Hensperger is clear about the importance of measurement of ingredients for bread machines, she uses home cooking conventions in her recipes including measuring out ingredients by volume.

BLBMC recipes have ingredient lists for “medium” 1.5 lb. and “large” 2 lb. loaves. A medium loaf usually uses 3 cups of flour – white, whole wheat and multigrain. The BLBMC recipes are consistent with other bread machine recipes and with conventional oven recipes. There are outliers; e.g. the recipe for a “medium” loaf of 100% whole wheat bread on p. 124 is 4 cups of flour with 1.5 cups fluid.  That is a 2 lb. loaf. “Tecate Ranch Whole Wheat” at p. 126 is a more workable 100% whole wheat loaf.

Like other bread and bread machine recipe books for the American market, the BLBMC says bread flour should be the white flour in bread recipes.   Ms. Hensperger describes bread flour as having 12.7 % protein. White bread flour in the USA has 11.5-13.5 % gluten-producing protein. All purpose white flour in the USA has 9.5-11.5 %.  Canadian all purpose flour is milled from hard red wheat, and has the same protein content as USA bread flour (Canadian Millers’ technical standards are not necessarily reflected in retail packaging). Canadian all purpose is fine for bread.

Ms. Hensperger favours the use of vital wheat gluten (gluten flour; added gluten) in formulas for many breads baked in the machine.  She suggested added gluten in almost every formula for bread baked in the machine up to 1 tsp of added gluten per cup, less gluten for bread flour. Added gluten changes the balance of the loaf and the performance of the dough (flow and rise); the effect may be different according to the machine. Adding gluten doesn’t improve white flour breads made with high gluten bread (Canadian AP flour. It doesn’t seem to help if the machine has well planned whole wheat cycle for whole grain breads.

Ms. Hensperger described the varieties of dry yeast as: 1. active dry yeast; 2. fast acting or instant dried yeast; 3. quick-rise (rapid-rise) yeast; 4. bread machine yeast.  There are few functional differences between 2, 3 and 4. Instant yeast, under any of its names, is the choice for bread machines.  Ms Hensperger prefers SAF instant yeast to the point that she says it is more potent. She suggests two alternatives for each recipe:

  1. SAF instant dried yeast (SAF Red),
  2. 25% – 33% more bread machine yeast than SAF instant dry yeast.  For instance, for Dakota Bread, BLBMC says 2 tsp SAF or 2.5 tsp bread machine*.

SAF makes a good product but its superiority may be debated. (*Ms. Hensperger has moved away from this  approach. In a version of the recipe for Dakota Bread in 2015 on her blog she said 2 tsp “bread machine yeast”).

The range of views about  the amount of yeast:

  1. For a 1.5 lb. loaf, Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook calls for 2 tsp instant dry yeast  or more and 1-1.5 tsp. salt for 3 cups of flour. This  is in the range of recipes in other books at the time, and of many recipes published on the web. It is .67 tsp instant dry yeast, or more, per cup of flour. This is 1.9 g. yeast per about 140 g. of wheat flour; the B% is 1.4%;
  2. Manufacturers of instant, rapid/quick rise and bread machine yeasts recommend .5 tsp yeast for each cup of flour for bread machines: Red Star Quick-Rise; Bakipan Fast Action and Bread Machine; SAF Gourmet Perfect Rise and  Bread Machine. Fleishmann’s  recipes on its web pages imply the same amounts of its instant Quick-Rise (Rapid-Rise) or its Bread Machine product, or more. This is 1.4 g. yeast per about 140 g. of wheat flour; the B% is 1%;
  3. Panasonic suggests .33 tsp of dry yeast per cup of flour -which works in Panasonic machines.

Ms. Hensperger covers conversion from volume to weight for flour but not for yeast and salt.

Several online converters report: 1 cup, (48 tsp (US)) instant dry yeast = 136 grams; 1 tsp = 2.8 g. My average for 15 samples of 1 tsp of SAF Red was 2.8 g. Instant yeast has a sandy texture and doesn’t pack down like flour. I was able to scoop a few dozen samples, weigh them on a scale and verify the weight of a teaspoon of instant yeast.

Salt can be measured by volume with measuring spoons, but should be used carefully with level measurements. It is better to go by weight. The conversion rate is 1 teaspoon of table salt to 5.7 grams – the teaspoon that the recipe writer will have assumed.  Table salt is not all the same – some is pretty finely ground and more dense.

It is a useful book. It has worthwhile sections on bread machine operation and (pp. 38-39) on common failures. It has sections, sidebars, and detail sections on bread making and bread machine topics. The table of contents and the index don’t locate all of them.

  • p. 12 flour, and
    • pp. 46-47 white flour from wheat,
    • pp. 62-63 whole wheat and non-wheat grain flour,
    • p. 125 proteins in flour,
    • pp. 106-107 whole wheat flour,
    • pp. 133-135 rye flour.
    • p. 140 diy milling of whole grain flour,
    • pp. 150-152 non-wheat specialty flour,
    • p. 193 organic flour
  • pp. 13-14 yeast;
  • p. 13, p. 59 vital wheat gluten;
  • p. 15, p. 290 Salt
    • is not used as a seasoning or flavour agent;
    • should not be exposed to the water and the yeast before the machine mixes the ingredients;
    • can be reduced if yeast is reduced by the same proportion.
  • p. 15 ingredient measurement;
  • p. 18 converting volume to weight for flour and sugar;
  • pp. 69-72 6 “sampler” recipes for one pound loaves;
  • p. 76 eggs;
  • p. 168 dough enhancers;
  • pp. 170, 172 gluten free ingredients;
  • pp. 182-183 baking with whole grains, and preparing whole grain;
  • pp. 197-198 using the machine to mix and knead dough for baking in an oven, and using artisanal baking methods:
    • starters and pre-ferments,
    • shaping loaves
    • baking stones, tiles and ceramic containers (and cloches);
  • p. 233 olive oil;
  • p. 354 the shapes of bread machine pans.

The sections on using a bread machine to mix and knead dough for baking in an oven, and artisanal baking methods are informative, but a bread machine is a labour saving tool, and not a replacement for the tools and method of artisinal baking.

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