Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Better Bread

One of the comforts of home which you can easily manage in Japan is making your own bread. Since the bread in Japan is almost uniformly white, soft and distinctly Wonderbread-like, you can have much healthier fare by using a bread machine.

Bread machines are pretty easy to buy and fairly reasonably priced. The Japanese call it a "home bakery" (ホームベーカリー). The cheaper models are around 7,000 yen. A typical one can be seen here on Amazon Japan. Since they're not all that complicated to use, it's easy to work out how to manage one even if you don't read much Japanese.

My husband and I actually have an Oster bread machine made for the U.S. market that we picked up at Costco about 5 years ago. Since that time, Costco has stopped selling U.S. models and only carry Japanese ones. The main differences between Japanese machines and U.S. machines appears to be the size of the bread pan, which is smaller in Japan, and the way in which yeast is added to the bread. Our machine is a bit old so the yeast-adding aspect may have changed for U.S. models but ours instructs you to make a well in the dry ingredients and put the yeast on top. Japanese machines have a separate little basket for adding yeast that keeps it safely separate from the other ingredients when you're setting bread up on a timer (so you can wake up to fresh bread).

I prefer whole grain or multigrain bread and you can buy whole wheat flour and oatmeal at Japanese markets. However, if you're making your own bread regularly, it's far more economical to get grains in relative bulk from Tengu Natural Foods. Tengu sells a variety of grains you can't easily locate elsewhere such as flax, coarse wheat flour (graham flour), kamut flour, and quinoa. You can download a catalog from their site. When you order, they send an invoice and you pay afterwards from a convenience store so you don't even need a credit card.

Costco sells white bread flour at moderately lower prices than local stores but it's not really enough to make it worthwhile. However, oatmeal is greatly less expensive at Costco though you do have to buy a huge amount.

You can make any recipe you like in a bread machine but if you don't have any in particular, you might want to check out allrecipes.com. It allows you to automatically scale the quantities on the fly so you can make smaller loaves in your Japanese machine.

One of my favorite recipes from allrecipes.com for the bread machine is Torrejon Oatmeal Bread. I modified it because I wanted it to include more whole grain. Here's the recipe I use:

1 cup + 2 tbsp. water
1 cup oatmeal
1 tsp. salt
1 cup + 1 tbsp. whole wheat flour
1 cup + 1 tbsp. bread flour
2-4 tbsp. brown sugar (1 tbsp. is necessary for the yeast, the rest is for flavor enhancement)
1 tbsp. canola oil
11/2 tsp. dry yeast

Place wet ingredients in the bread pan then dry (saving yeast for last). Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and place yeast in it. Choose crust color and bake at the "basic" setting.

The addition of whole wheat flour causes the bread not to rise as much and makes for a denser loaf. It also lends better flavor to the bread. You could make it with all whole wheat flour or solely with white bread flour.

This bread makes excellent plain or buttered toast and french bread.

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