My neighbor and longevity guru, Bradley Willcox, knows a thing or two about healthy aging. As a Professor and Director of Research at the Department of Geriatric Medicine, John A. Burns School of Medicine he is fond of saying, “the intersection of healthy aging and technology is in the kitchen.” In other words, good bread is good medicine.
So, what does this have to do with a bread making machine?
“Healthy aging”, says Dr. Willcox means “aging with minimal chronic diseases and high physical and cognitive function.”
What about the ‘kitchen’ part of the equation?
“Food is medicine”, he told me. “It’s an Okinawan expression and it’s true.”
Does nourishing bread count as medicine?
“You bet,” he replied. “Americans eat a lot of bread and a lot of it is no good. Eating healthy bread made with whole grains is fiber rich and associated with a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, various cancers, and better gut health.”
It was time, with technology, to make my own bread.
Why go to all this trouble? I’m a healthy-food fanatic and the bread available commercially is generally not all that good. Yes, there are some exceptions. For example the Breadshop on Waialae avenue does a remarkable job of producing healthful, delicious bread. At around $10 a loaf or more, it better be. But as they say, you get what you pay for.
So what about the part about making your own? Well it’s a helluva lot of work, unless of course, you have one of those new fangled bread making machines.
That brings us to the subject of this article.
My choice of bread maker, a Panasonic SDR2550, was hardly scientific. My neighbor, Ray Madigan, a yoga teacher, and retired nurse has owned a Panasonic bread maker for over 10 years and has been bragging about his bread for years. I finally tried a toasted slice.
That was all the empirical evidence I needed.
Panasonic’s latest model, the SDR2550 in my kitchen, is a high-tech device with 20 pre-set programs which offers options to bake everything from French bread, brioche, sourdough to dense German style rye bread. It will also make gluten-free bread, cake, pizza dough and pasta dough.
I was primed. I purchased yeast, whole wheat flour, rye, etc. I got most of the ingredients on Amazon. You can presumably find it in town but as we all know, it’s easier to do things online, and despite the shipping, cheaper than a place like Whole Foods.
I preppred by reading through the manual and watched YouTube videos. The main thing they drum into your head is to use precise measurements and follow the recipes to the letter. They also insist that you add the ingredients in the proper sequence, i.e. yeast first, then flour, salt, water, butter, etc.
Everything is added to a little bucket type container with a paddle on the bottom that mixes and kneads the dough. There’s a tiny dispenser if you want to add nuts or raisons. Of course, this device also bakes the bread. There are heating elements, like in your oven.
Each recipe also has a corresponding menu setting on the LED control panel. You set the size of the loaf, crust shade and if needed, you can program when to begin the process.
I tried my first loaf and of course, broke a couple of rules.
My old-fashioned scale wasn’t exactly an atomic clock when it came to precision but evidently it was close enough. Panasonic prefers that you weigh the most of ingredients, but I found as long as the proportions were accurate, i.e. three cups of flour, the bread came out fine. (Erring on the side of caution, I later bought a digital scale. That said, I’ve had pretty good luck with recipes that offer the volume of the ingredients, ie one cup, one teaspoon, etc. rather than the precise weight in grams).
All the ingredients were added in the proscribed order, but I decided to add some buckwheat (not in the recipe) because I had some in the pantry, so I substituted some wheat flour for buckwheat.
I pushed the button, expecting the machine to start mixing things but nothing happened. I checked the manual again and was reminded that the device has a double sensor that adjusts for room and internal temperature to calculate how much time the dough needs to rise and rest.
It must warm up for about 30 minutes and the computer program takes it from there. (Someone had to write a lot of code for this item).
I experimented with another half dozen or so recipes. I even made whole wheat pizza dough.
Once you get used to this machine, all you do is add the ingredients and walk away.
How cool is that? It comes with recipes but there are also some available online. You can tweak the “formula” a bit but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t aways work (i.e., the bread doesn’t rise). If you stick to the recipe, chances are you’ll have good results.
Experimentation is laudable but just beware. What does this tell you? Baking bread is just as much an art as a science.
The downside? It’s about 16 x 8 x 12 so it will take up some room on your counter.
At $278 on Amazon, it isn’t cheap, but boy does it make good bread.
If you’re thinking of getting something healthy for your family this holiday season, you won’t go wrong with this appliance.
Editor’s note: A version of the story previously appeared in the Honolulu Star Advertiser.