Best-loved loaves aren't always priciest

December 20, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie

It has to be noted at the outset: the least expensive machine took top honors in both categories at the bread-machine taste-off organized by Dr. Marianne Felice and her colleagues and students at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. And the homemade bread ranked lowest.

Experience may have played a role, however. Dr. Drew Bernstein, a pediatrician, said he's had his DAK bread machine for about three years. "I'm one of the early pioneers," he jokes. But he adds, "I love bread. My fiancee bought [the machine] for me for Christmas." It cost about $150, he said; "It seemed like a noble experiment." He bakes bread once or twice a month -- though he wishes his schedule would allow it to be more often.

Dr. Bernstein's whole-wheat bread ranked first among four loaves, followed by breads baked in a Panasonic brand and a Welbilt brand. The homemade wheat bread came in last, though to be fair to the baker -- Steve Holden, husband of Pam Wolters, a psychologist with the Division of Adolescent Medicine -- bread machine recipes differ substantially from ordinary recipes and it's hard to adapt one method for the other. The DAK apple chunk bread also ranked first, out of three in the category.

Ellen Clevenger-Firley, a nutritionist with the Division of Adolescent Medicine, discovered the Panasonic bread machine her husband's mother had given him in a cupboard two years ago. "I said, 'Wow, a bread machine! Get that out and use it.' " They use the machine a couple of times a week "at least," and she likes to bake bread as gifts. The Panasonic bread ranked second in both wheat and apple chunk, though it differed from the third machine, a Welbilt, by only a few points.

Pat Lanning got her Welbilt as a birthday present from her husband in July. "We had visited some friends in Cleveland who had the same machine," she says. The Welbilt's low price tag was a factor, too, she said. She uses the machine every week. "I used to make bread. But now I have two small children and a husband and a full-time job and I don't have a whole lot of leisure time. So if I can spend 15 minutes and get wonderful bread -- I still have time to play with my kids."

It should also be mentioned that each of the breads had its proponents, and all the samples largely disappeared during the tasting, a feast that included butter, jams and spreads, plus coffee, juice and fruit salad.

The time factor -- great bread with little effort in a short period of time -- is a favorite with everyone who uses a bread machine. People mentioned starting the bread a couple of hours before dinner and serving a fresh, hot loaf with the meal, or setting it up as they leave for work and coming home to the aroma of fresh-baked bread. Several people mentioned the delight of waking up to fresh bread in the morning.

The machines are remarkably easy to use. I had never used one, so I borrowed a Breadman machine from the designer, Trillium Health Products of Seattle, to try it out. It arrived in the morning, with instructions, a video, a recipe booklet and a full-fledged cookbook, and three boxes of bread mix (seven-grain, whole wheat and light wheat). I lugged it home, plugged it in, dumped in the ingredients (water first, then the mix, then the yeast) and turned it on. Preparation took maybe 90 seconds. Two and a half hours later I had a wonderful loaf of crusty, hearty seven-grain bread. It was like magic.

The Breadman, a top-of-the-line model that retails for about $299, has most of the "bells and whistles": a raisin beep, a cool-down period, a quick-bread cycle, a dough cycle, and a small viewing port in the lid. It is especially designed for whole-grain breads, and literature that comes with it emphasizes the healthful aspects of fresh bread.

While the seven-grain bread was being devoured, I prepared another batch, whole wheat this time, and let it bake. Then I prepared the light wheat and set the machine to finish baking at 7:30 in the morning. The last was the best loaf of all.

I, too, shared the bread with my colleagues, and most liked it. A couple thought the whole wheat was too dense, but one thought it was the best whole wheat he'd ever tasted. With all the books and recipes available, it would seem impossible not to find something to suit everyone.

In fact, I have only one problem with the Breadman machine. It's only on loan. Now that I've tried it, I have to send it back.

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