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June 1999 Issue
Having Your Bread And Eating It Too
by Chris Schaefer
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Leaving that aside for the moment, we concentrate on our bread needs for the now. With prices dropping everyday, the appeal of making bread at home should be increasing every day. Or so the theory goes. However, there is still one feature that is stopping every American from purchasing a new bread maker. Time. It takes a long time to prepare a loaf of bread.

Not any more. With the advent of quick-rise yeast -- still in it's infancy on the market -- consumers today have a new bread maker. It will bake a pound and a half or two pound loaf in one hour. From start to finish. It requires only that the user correctly measures out the ingredients and uses the proper temperature of water. And in one hour, a hot, steaming loaf of bread is ready to consume.

If you think that this is magic and mysticism, let me first explain how basic bread is made.

You start with two categories of ingredients: wet and dry. They are combined to form the structure of what the bread will eventually be. In betwixt it all, simple organic chemistry and biology.

The first ingredient I will explain is the flour. Depending on the flour used for the bread desired, the gluten in the flour will be used as the bonds that create the internal matrix of the final product. The gluten acts as a mechanical fastener for the bread's structure. The beginning of the structure is created when the dry ingredients are mixed with the wet. Together they form a viscous base for flavors and additives. In this base, our biology and chemistry begin.

The act of kneading bread is purely mechanical; used to produce the matrix. The sugar and yeast, as well as other dry ingredients are used to produce the chemical reaction needed to rise and leaven the dough, as needed. Yeast is a biological entity that is alive before used in the bread making process. As with any living organism, it needs to feed. And sugar is its food. Now, sugar comes from starches. And starches hold mechanical as well as chemical value. But starches are not the food that the yeast need to reproduce and be useful for baking. Instead, we add sugar. And as they feed, they grow. As they grow, they divide. And then they give off something. Whenever energy is spent on reproduction, there must be a resultant product of that energy to balance the goings on. And the bi-product in question, is carbon-dioxide gas. Harmless and inert gas.

This is where things become critical. The gluten, as I mentioned, is a fastener. It binds elements and starches together. The gas produced by the yeast needs to escape. However, it becomes trapped inside pockets in the matrix. The result is what we call "rising" of the bread. But this is not purely organic and mechanical. I did mention chemical. And that is why a certain level of heat is needed to get the yeast active and start producing the carbon-dioxide gas. However, too much heat will kill the yeast; they are sensitive little creatures. Too little heat does absolutely nothing for the bread, and you're left with a dry, flat loaf that tastes like yeast.

Let's return to our brand new product: the one-hour bread machine. How exactly does it work, if the rising process takes a particular amount of time? Through patented technologies, one company (the last of the American bread machine manufacturers) has been able to play with loaf shape, activation temperature per ingredient, and total reactivity of the organics, to speed up the time for both rising and baking. The results are familiar to that of common European breads. This is the machine of the future. (If you're curious, it's the West Bend model # 41053!)

In conclusion, the staple technology bread making of the past has lent itself to industrialization. To come full-circle, today we are trying to move our interests in what we are eating back to the kitchen. The results are a large variety of automatic bread machines capable of producing an even wider variety of bread styles and recipes. To make things easier, and to meet the demands of the typical American consumer, one manufacturer has been able to make this all possible in the shortest time possible. We have at our fingertips, the means for healthier living through healthier foods... made right here in our own kitchens. And still at an affordable cost. Bon a’ petit!

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