In order to push my entire family towards better eating practices, in addition to making salted eggs at home, I have finally taken that crucial step of purchasing a breadmaker to entice my family members to eschew commercial sliced bread.
Why you should avoid commercial, sliced bread
The short answer is that commercial, sliced bread from the supermarket contains plenty of additives in the form of dough conditioners and preservatives. If you are on a Failsafe diet, you’ll also need to watch out for undeclared anti-oxidants in the oils used.
The Failsafe Network has plenty of information about additives in bread and the possible reactions:
Fact Sheet on Bread Preservative (282 calcium propionate)
Bread Preservative Research
and also section in the pages on Sulphites and Product Updates.
Commercial bread is all about speed of processing. This makes it cheap, uniform, tasteless and with a flabby texture, with all kinds off additives to stop it from going dry and mouldy (sourdoughs have natural resistance to going mouldy and last much better). Large amounts of commercial yeast are used to fluff up the bread quickly and there are residues of unprocessed yeast in the bread. The yeast used is designed to be quick working, is fed on sugar residues and inorganic fertilisers with a number of other chemical additives, and is not easily digested by the body.
Bread standards allow commercial bakers to include a whole array of flour improvers, sweeteners, colours, flavour enhancers, texturisers, preservatives, and enzymes. The presence of these additives must be on the label, but there is no requirement to name the chemicals. These additives are only needed because commercial bakers force flour do things it can’t do naturally – like turn into real bread quickly.
It’s no surprise to us that many people have yeast or wheat intolerance when this is going on. Many who can’t deal with normal bread find our sourdoughs fine to eat.
Aaron Bobrow-Strain, a politics academic, presents a fascinating account of the history of the industrialisation of bread-making in the USA. He mentions that an obsession with the whiteness of bread led to complaints in the first two decades of the 20th century that bakeries were whitening bread with ‘plaster of Paris, sulfate of lime, borax, bone, pipe clay, chalk, alum and other nefarious compounds’. There was even a debate in the US Supreme Court over whether bleaching flour with chlorine gas could be considered a criminal act. More generally, the article ‘traces the articulation of capital and bio-politics over the terrain of baking’. Well worth reading.
Choosing a bread maker
I surfed the internet for as much information as I could before I hit the big department stores to check out what they had for sale. Basically, Tangs and Takashimaya sell a few different brands of breadmakers, but essentially they all fall into the price range of S$160-190 and have a very similar set of features.
So I settled on the Morphy Richards one, which was not only one of the cheapest, but also the only brand with a two year guarantee. The Morphy Richards bread machines have a reputation for having good instruction manuals. They’re downloadable here.
Comparing notes with a friend in Hong Kong, it seems as if most companies do not release their full range of bread makers in Asia. For example, my Morphy Richards machine does not have any model number, it’s simply labelled ‘Fastbake’.
It also claimed to have a mixing paddle which would drop down after kneading instead of remaining vertical and creating a huge hole in the loaf, but so far I’ve not had this happen! Oh well, it’s only cosmetic anyway.
Some of the standard features are:
1) 10 or 12 programmes for different types of bread + jam
2) 2 loaf sizes: 1.5lb or 2lb (Philips does 700g and 900g, I think)
3) 3 settings for crust colour
4) vertical loaf (most have square cross-sections, one brand had long cross-section)
5) single mixing paddle (some upmarket models I saw on the internet have two paddles for a horizontal loaf)
6) “resume programme” function in case of cut in electricity for up to 15 mins
Making bread is a whole art & craft of its own. Even using bread makers can involve a lot of experimentation. The measurement of the ingredients must be precise, the order in which you put them into the bread maker must follow the instruction book (the yeast cannot touch any liquid), and the temperature of the liquids – if even a couple of degrees off – affects the final result, not to mention the general temperature and humidity of your climate and kitchen. I haven’t done a whole lot of reading up yet, but so far, I’ve found some useful articles on this site, especially the ‘Bread Machine Bread’ section.
More notes from my rudimentary bread making experience later :). Tomorrow’s experiment: to use the dough function to make buns that I will stuff with red bean filling to make tau sar pau 豆沙包. Not the white steamed kind but the type in a breaded bun. Trust Lily’s Wai Sek Hong to have a recipe for this too! Red bean filling is very much acceptable in the Failsafe diet, by the way.