Just as I was going on to someone this weekend about how much I love my bread machine, it decided to bite the big one. Well, sort of. The machine itself still works fine, and will likely continue to work for a long time, but the pan insert has cracked, and leaks something awful. While you can get replacement parts for these, the pan insert for my model is no longer made, and I can't seem to find any stock anywhere. This leaves me with a dilemma. I truly can't decide whether to buy another machine or continue searching for a pan for this one, or just give up on it altogether and go back to making bread by hand, the way people have done for centuries.
I'm not normally a big fan of gadgets, especially gadgets that only do one thing, but I must say that the bread machine has been a notable exception. I've found that it really does save me time and effort, because I can put all the ingredients in and walk away, and not have to stop what I'm doing every so often to mix, knead, punch down, etc. I've been quite happy overall with the results I get from it, and if I want to do something special (pizza crust, rolls, etc.) I can still let the machine make the dough and then shape and bake it in the oven. I find this very convenient. The other big plus is that I can bake bread in the machine without heating up my house the way the oven would, which is a boon here in Texas where I live, where it's uncomfortably hot for much of the year. I see that as a distinct advantage. Ultimately I'd like to have an outdoor, wood-fired bread oven, but that isn't in place now and won't be in the near future.
I'm still torn, though, because the machine is large, takes up a lot of space, uses electricity and has parts that will break or wear out. Something about doing it by hand feels more authentic and more sustainable, in that it's one less machine I need to buy, store and cart around. That aspect of hand bread making is very appealing to me. Also, when you make it by hand, you have more control over the end result. I would certainly need to make more of an effort to work bread baking into my schedule. When I use the machine, I get more bread made, but somehow I still feel sort of lame doing it that way.