Heather Rockwood is a food science senior and Mustang Daily food columnist.
January is a time for fresh beginnings and new resolutions. Across the nation people are excited to jump start the new year with a healthier lifestyle, at least until Jan. 27, when the excitement no longer outweighs the effort to accomplish such a lifestyle.
Almost always the new resolve for a healthier lifestyle influences a person’s diet. More fruits and veggies. Less meat. Eat out less. Eat at home more. No more junk food. Admirable inspirations that are all too often supposedly too difficult to obtain.
The exciting thing about being in the 21st century though is that we have technology to make accomplishing these goals attainable despite a busy schedule and limited training in the battlefield some call the kitchen. In an effort to help keep optimistic goal setters on track, January has been declared National Bread Machine Baking Month.
Yes, you read correctly, bread machines get a whole month dedicated to them.
To some traditional cooks that slaved for hours to put a perfectly fresh and piping hot loaf of bread on the table before dinner, making bread in a machine may sound sacrilegious, but to a generation raised on Wonderbread, it sounds like a beautiful change.
Just take a moment to imagine biting into a freshly made loaf of your favorite bread that took no more effort to make than measuring a few ingredients and pressing a button. That is the beauty of a bread machine at work in your life.
It is great news that this month is Bread Machine Baking Month; for once, I don’t have to explain to my friends yet again why I have two bread makers sitting on the floor in my bedroom — I just tell them, “Wait, you haven’t heard? It’s National Bread Machine Baking Month. Why wouldn’t I have them?”
Even as an avid bread machine enthusiast, I must say there is value in knowing the origins of breads before the 21st century technology takes over, and thus, it is important to take a peek into the past of bread to truly appreciate the convenience and ease of bread making today.
The first breads were unleavened breads. This means that there was no component (such as yeast) that made the bread rise to give it the lighter, spongier texture we are familiar with today. Unleavened, also referred to as flat bread, is most commonly recognized as matza, the bread consumed at the Jewish Passover feast.
Later, leavened breads appeared on the scene. These breads often use yeast as a leavening agent. However, certain breads (often sweeter cake-like breads or quick breads) can use baking soda, cream of tartar, baking powder or a combination of the three as a leavening agent.
In baking history, the most important component to any bread was the oven in which it was made. It took a keen eye and a whole lot of experience for bakers of early breads to work their temperamental ovens.
Even today, someone who bakes often knows just how difficult it is to use someone else’s oven; each oven has a mind of its own and adds a different touch to every loaf. Early bread makers often dedicated the entire day to making a weeks’ worth of bread in order to most efficiently use the ovens and produce the best loaves.
Traditional leavened breads made today typically take approximately three hours from start to finish, and have steps of kneading (a step in which you fold, press and stretch the dough in order to affect the gluten proteins), resting (when you allow the leavening agent to work in order for the dough to rise), shaping and baking.
The term “quick bread” opens up the field of bread much wider. Quick breads are all the dough that do not use yeast and therefore skip the time necessary to rise and thus shortens the total prep/bake time. Quick breads include a varying array of members such as pancakes, scones, cornbread, biscuits, muffins and even some brownies.
Homemade bread is often a rare treat, but in celebration of this rather peculiar month-long national celebration, as well as goals for a healthier year still fresh in your mind, it might be the perfect month to make it more of a staple and check out getting your very own bread maker, or at least look in to borrowing a friends — I have even heard some strange people keep a spare.