Now that I’m spending so much time with the Peter Reinhart baking techniques I actually thought I needed a baseline for comparison. So I dusted off the bread machine and looked for something close to the “transitional whole wheat sandwich” I made the other day, which was excellent. The recipe book that came with bread machine had a close match (molasses instead of agave) so it is mostly the process, not the ingredients. So here’s what I got:
(Awful image, iPod didn’t focus well, but loaf is all cut up now)
The loaf is not as visually appealing nor did it smell as good. But the real difference was the taste, pretty bad in comparison of Reinhart. It was dry and not much flavor, definitely without a hint of sweetness.
The Reinhart technique, with a soaker and a biga, definitely converts a lot more of the starch to sugar, but halts the process before too much conversion (due to acid). The use of the yogurt really helps with some character as well as the agave and probably the butter (Reinhart’s was definitely a bit richer). Probably some adjustments could be made to bread machine version (slightly more water, combo of agave and barley malt instead of molasses, probably double the amount of oil, maybe half and half with milk instead of all water). But even punching up the taste a bit isn’t going to be enough.
The slow and cool fermentation, plus full hydration (in the soaker), that Reinhart uses really makes a difference, much better texture and much sweeter and softer and way more flavor. Hand-shaping is a lot better than the machine shaping.
So I think the machine loses big time (in fact, store-bought whole grain is at least as good if not better).