Bread machines may prove to be next best thing to sliced bread LOAFING AROUND

April 06, 1994|By Pat Dailey | Pat Dailey,Chicago Tribune

"Hey, what do you know? This is kind of neat."

These are the words muttered by a skeptical appliance executive shortly before millions of bread machines found their way into American kitchens.

Tom Lacalamita, of Welbilt, a New Jersey home appliance company, was sent home one weekend in 1988 with a bulky machine a colleague had toted back from Japan. Rumor had it that it made bread. Mixed it, kneaded it, shaped it, let it rise and baked it.

"Before I took it home, I didn't find it appealing to do something in a machine that we do so well by hand. It was dumb," Mr. Lacalamita recalled. "But by the end of the weekend, I didn't want to return it. It really was neat."

Spurred on by Mr. Lacalamita's enthusiastic thumbs up, Welbilt began selling the clunky, bigger-than-a-breadbox machines in the United States. At least 15 other companies have since joined in and, together, they sold 2 million machines in 1993, beating estimates of 1.75 million.

Bread machines will be the top-selling appliance in gourmet and specialty stores this year, predicts Nancy Moore, editor of Gourmet Retailer magazine, a trade publication.

More than 100 million loaves of bread will pop out of bread machines this year, predict experts at Fleischmann's Yeast. It's no surprise then that sales of flour and yeast are booming.

And now this new machine age is cranking out a subculture:

At least 20 cookbooks on the subject are selling well. Three newsletters devote themselves to recipes and techniques. Bread-mix-of-the-month clubs and cooking classes are popular. A new product "boosts" machine-made bread to greater heights. New stores sell only bread machines and related paraphernalia. And to take the notion of convenience one step further, about a half-dozen companies package bread mixes that ask the user only to measure and add water.

"People think they're cooking, but they're not," says Peter Giannetti, editor of HomeWorld Business, a trade publication that predicts sales of 2.7 million units this year. "They want fresh food, but they don't want to work at it. There is some psychology at work here -- getting the pleasure of cooking but without the work."

Joan Simpson got her bread machine about two years ago and the luster hasn't worn off yet.

Wake up and smell the bread

"It is so wonderful to wake up to the smell of fresh bread. The taste is amazing, completely fresh with no chemicals. They're just incredible," she says of the machine that reminds her of the "Star Wars" robot R2-D2.

Before the machine arrived, Ms. Simpson rarely made bread. Now, a couple times a week is the norm. She and her husband take turns making it.

Not everyone is ready to embrace this latest addition. Maria Robinson, a Chicago cooking teacher who specializes in breads, hasn't considered buying one.

"For me, it's the integrity of the process that I'm attached to in bread-making. Shaping dough by hand gives the opportunity for self-expression. In a machine-made loaf, there's a lack of touch."

Neither she nor Karen Horning, another Chicago cooking teacher, are averse to using machines as labor-saving devices. Each suggests that those considering investing in a bread machine would be better off with a food processor or stand mixer.

Says Ms. Horning, "Either one is far more versatile than a bread machine."

The promise of foolproof, low-effort nostalgia has proved especially enticing to those with no experience with yeast breads.

Says Lora Brody, author of "Bread Machine Baking: Perfect Every Time" (William Morrow, $20): "About half of the early users were men -- a lot of retired men bought them. They had never seen bread dough before in their lives and they didn't have a clue what they were working with."

Keep an eye on the weather

Although bread machines are capable, they are not infallible. Bread-making, even with a machine, requires that you pay attention to the weather.

"It's the first time in my life I've had to deal with barometric pressure," Ms. Brody says. Humidity can cause the recipe that worked so well one day to become a disaster the next.

Most owners meet with success, though: General Mills reports a 45-year high in flour sales, with a 96 percent jump in bread flour sales between 1990 and 1992. The company attributes the gains to bread machines.

John Bevan, a spokesman for Fleischmann's, reports an upswing in yeast sales started in 1989, the first full year bread machines were on the market.

"There's still a tremendous group of people baking bread in the traditional way, but bread-machine usage certainly is impacting sales," Mr. Bevan said.

Arlene Harris, buyer for Chef's Catalog, predicts that brisk sales will continue.

"They were a big seller over the holiday season," she says. "Sales are increasing and they'll continue to increase."

'Microwaves of the '90s'

Bob Dachis, owner of Loaf' N, a bread machine shop in Chicago, calls them "the microwave ovens of the '90s." But bread machines have the advantage of being fun.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.