There's something quite ethereal about making bread, whether you do it all from scratch and wait the time for the dough to prove, or whether you use a bread machine for all or part of the preparation and cooking process. I'm not sure if it the satisfaction of
creating from raw ingredients or the whole growing of the yeast thing, but after making fresh bread, I always feel satisfied, and even more so once I've consumed most of the loaf straight from the oven slathered with creamy butter and honey.

If you've got the time, doing the whole thing by hand is rewarding and fun, if you're time poor, then bread machines can be advantageous. For me, I use a combination of both, the machine to make and prove the dough, and then I mould it into whatever I'm making and bake it in the oven, rather than the bread machine. It works well. But for those of you not accustomed to either, let me give you some pros and cons of both.

By Hand
In making bread, as in any other culinary endeavor, it is wise to be certain that the proper ingredients are gathered.

There are several basic ingredients to bread, but one is common to all. Yeast is required. It is a living organism that is added to the dough to raise the bread. There are many types of yeast available. I recommend the dry yeast that can be bought in any supermarket. It does have a shelf life however, so make sure you store it in the fridge or freezer and use up as quickly as possible.

You will likely also need flour (made from wheat – because wheat gluten is a vital element), sugar, salt, butter (or oil)and milk (or water). Recipes call for varying amounts of each ingredient. As you explore bread-making you will find a whole host of other additives.

In making bread by hand there is a definite technique which must be followed to ensure a good product. Even the process of mixing the ingredients requires a degree of care. For once the ingredients are brought together at an appropriate temperature the resulting dough must be kneaded.

Kneading is a technique of folding over the dough and pushing it down over and over. This is necessary because the gluten in the flour, when rubbed together becomes elastic and helps the bread both rise and set. The dough should be kneaded on a floured surface. If the dough is soft or sticky, add more flour and knead until it shines and has an elastic feel. Be careful not to OVER-knead the dough.

After kneading the bread is placed in a large oiled or buttered bowl. Oil the dough ball. Cover with a towel or plastic sheet and place in a warm draft-free place. Generally, you will want to let the dough rise (the action of the yeast allowed by the gluten) until it doubles in size. This usually takes about an hour.

At this point the dough should be "punched down" and perhaps kneaded a few more times. Place it back into the bowl to rise again or shape your bread into loaves or buns and put it into greased pans – depending on the recipe. The dough should rise for another half an hour or so.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to the appropriate temperature. When the bread has risen place it in the oven to bake until it reaches the desired colour. When done, loaves should feel hollow when you tap them with your finger.

The bread can be eaten hot or put on a rack to cool. If it is wrapped too early, it will get soggy. Bread lasts 4 days to a week in the bread box, but really only stays fresh for 24 hours, after which time it is best toasted. It may also be frozen, but should be eaten quickly after it has thawed.

Making bread is a fair amount of work, but done properly it can reward the baker in treasures far surpassing the time, effort and materials expended.

Using a Bread Machine
Bread machines have become extremely popular because they allow the average person to custom-make breads with minimum fuss and bother. Even so, bread machines do require a certain amount of exactitude in adding the ingredients. Most problems that arise in baking bread come from having too much or too little of a specific ingredient.

A variety of loaf sizes can be produced from a bread maker in various shaped pans. Sizes range from 500g to 1kg loaves which might be either square or rectangular. It is not necessary to let bread bake in the bread maker. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I, and many others, use it to do the hard work of preparing the dough and then we bake the bread in different ways.

Some bread machines will have a preheat cycle to warm the ingredients. For bread to raise properly it is best to have the ingredients at room temperature. If your machine does not have this feature it is very easy to warm the water or milk required in the recipe to even the temperature of the entire batch of dough.

Many machines will have different cycles for different types of bread, for example there may be a "whole wheat cycle" or a "French bread cycle". These vary the raising or kneading time in order to accommodate special recipe requirements.

It is important to note that using the rapid bake cycle on a bread machine will usually result in slightly flatter loaves.

Windows are handy to have on the bread machine, allowing the curious and the fastidious to take a look when necessary or desired. There are also crust colour selectors, yeast dispensers and more.

With so many options, bread machines allow for almost infinite possibilities. Bread-making can be as precise or a simple as desired. There are bread machines to fit every personality and every budget.

If you're so inclined to give it a go, if you haven't already done so, there are several recipes for doughs on the site, and if you own a bread machine, there will no doubt also be a recipe book that came with it. Just remember, always add the ingredients into the bread machine in the order they are listed in the recipe, it is a very crucial aspect to the success of your loaf. Happy Cooking!