Ed’s modern bakery


Here’s how disorganized I am: I went to the garage to find an oil filter for my car, but I wound up finding a bread-making machine instead. Looking at the bright side of things, I realized that this discovery had all the hallmarks of adventure.

Brighter still, it was an excuse to retreat to an air-conditioned kitchen. I unboxed the machine and noticed that it was made by Zojirushi. You’re probably familiar with the brand. It’s well-represented on Saipan kitchens because of its line of rice cookers. I hope you don’t have any questions along those lines, though, because I’ve just told you everything I know about cooking.

But I’m not as clueless when it comes to machinery. This introduced something of a riddle: Is using a machine to bake bread an act of baking, or is it an act of machine operating?

The closer the answer was to the latter option, the more chance I had of being able to use this thing. It was about the size of a laser printer. It came with a thorough set of written instructions and some bread recipes.

It also included video instructions. When I say video, I mean a VHS cassette. This gives you some idea just how long this unopened box had been sitting, entirely undiscovered, in the garage.

Anyway, the concept seemed simple enough: You put some ingredients into the machine, push a button, and, presto, 3 hours and 50 minutes later, you’ll have a 2-lb loaf of bread.

Most people probably have some idea of what goes into bread. Me? No clue. Basic white bread, as the recipe revealed, is made of flour, water, dried milk, butter, sugar, salt, and yeast.

Well, that seemed simple enough. So I went to the store, rounded up the stuff, got back home, plopped it into the machine, and pushed the button. The timer registered 3:50 to mark the start of its countdown.

So I had a few hours to wonder if this promise was too good to be true. Could it be that, after all these years, I’d finally be able to produce something edible? On one hand, the dead judgment of long experience weighed against this possibility. On the other hand, Zojirushi is a name to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, I read a little bit about yeast. It turns out that yeast is a fungus.

Fungus! When did they discover that? This was big news.

So I called a couple of pals and asked them if they knew that some common foods have fungus in them. They said, uh, no, they didn’t know that, but thanks for sharing. And then, thinking ahead, I asked if they’d like to come over for some food in, say, 3 hours and 11 minutes. They both declined. Weird.

Even though my friends were snubbing me, the bread machine was showing some action and making some mechanical sounds. Through the window at the top of the machine I could see the dough glopping around in circles. It was impelled by a spinning paddle at the bottom of the machine. This was the kneading.

A glance at the manual revealed that over the course of the entire process, the machine would have three cycles for the bread to rise. Rising dough was no small event when I was a kid. Mom would put it in a bowl and cover it with a cloth and she’d get cranky if we messed with it which, of course, we always did.

Those halcyon days are apparently eclipsed by automation. No bowl. No cloth. No howling kids messing things up. These days, Mom could mix herself an Old Fashioned and relax; after all, what could happen to an Old Fashioned, or to dough that’s safely ensconced inside a bread machine?

Ah, yes, what could happen indeed? That’s the big question here, isn’t it? I was about to find out the answer. A beeper sounded. The time was up. The moment of truth had arrived.

I opened up the machine. And there it was: a perfectly-formed loaf of bread. It even had a nice golden crust.

Just to prove that the first time wasn’t a lark, I followed up the next day with a loaf of French bread. Same results. A perfect loaf.

Although the bread was certainly tasty, and it was nifty to be able to make it at will, it occurred to me that I don’t eat bread every day, or even on most days. So, while the experiment was a success, the success didn’t really change things much around here.

So things are back to normal now. For lunch I had, as usual, noodles. The garage is still a mess. The car still needs its oil changed and I still can’t find the filter.

About the only thing that has changed is that I now have a stash of yeast in the cupboard.

Hey, it’s really fungus, by the way. Some people don’t even know that. Ha!

Ed Stephens Jr. | Special to the Saipan Tribune
Visit Ed Stephens Jr. at EdStephensJr.com. His column runs every Friday.

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