Making my own bread - a delicious weekly task!

One of my favorite parts of having to make all of my own food in these past months is making bread. I got a breadmaker for my birthday about 2-some years ago, and it was quite possibly one of the most useful gifts I've ever received! I've actually been making my own bread for longer than this diet started - I figured, hey, I have this thing, I might as well use it, and it's got to be cheaper in the long run to be making my own instead of buying the store stuff. [I haven't actually done any price analysis or comparison on that, but I'll make a good bet it works out in favor of my checkbook.]

At first, of course, making bread with a bread maker is a very exact process - use exactly what they tell you to, to make sure that the right balance of wet and dry ingredients get added in the right combinations to give you a very delicious loaf of bread. But, after using it for over a year, I've started to get bored with the exact recipes. So I've been tinkering a little to see what else I can do. And it's so much fun! This will definitely mean I'll be tinkering with other loaves and finding my favorite bread recipes, instead of just what they've given me!

One of my favorite loaves in my recipe book, the one I've been tinkering with of late, is Apple Walnut Bread. It's a sweet bread, but tastes really good with some lunchmeat or leftover chicken or some tuna with peas on top. I leave out the walnuts, of course, since they don't agree with me, but it doesn't need them in my opinion. And this bread is quite possibly the most delicious bread to toast up EVER!!!

A couple of months ago, I realized my diet was really apple heavy. Since it's something I know I can eat, I was going a little overboard. So, in the interest of infusing my diet with something other than apples, I bought some Asian pears from the Farmers' Market one Friday on a whim. And when the weekend came, I realized I didn't have any applesauce to make my bread with, nor did I have apples to puree either. I did have those pears. So I thought, "what the hey?" And I cooked 'em up, pureed them, and used the pear puree as a substitute for applesauce that the recipe calls for.

Oh mans - that was the best idea EVER!
[Don't you just love it when accidental circumstances produce amazing results?]

Not only do the pears smell heavenly when boiling on my stove, the whole apartment smells amazing when that bread bakes! And it comes out with a nice firm crust and fluffy, scrumptious bread inside! Yum! Who knew that pears+cinnamon=even-taster-than-apples+cinnamon???

I offer below this bread machine recipe, as well as any modifications I've tried out thus far. I'm sure I will post again about modified bread machine recipes as I venture farther and farther into that territory! Also, I have included some of my favorite ways to use this bread - taste combinations that I particularly enjoy using this bread recipe, but obviously the sky's the limit when it comes to bread, right?

Apple Walnut Bread
(in its original form, taken from the recipe book for the Oster 2lb. EXPRESSBAKE Breadmaker)

[Note: every bread machine is different. This particular recipe is designed for a 2lb loaf of bread. If your bread machine is smaller, you'll have to reduce the amounts to make sure that you don't overflow the baking pan!]

[Equivalency note: 1/8 cup = 2 Tbsp - for those that don't have 1/8-cup measuring cups. Alternately, you can do what I did and pick up a sliding measuring cup at Crate and Barrel (for around $7.50, I think?) that has equivalencies for metric and American measurements, and includes 1/8-cup increments and fluid ounces - very useful if, like me, you make bread all the time and need to measure in 1/8-cup increments!]

3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
3/8 cup apple juice
3 Tbsp butter or margarine (I use non-dairy versions and it doesn't mess with the chemistry at all)
1 large egg
1 tsp salt
4 cups bread flour (important! don't use all-purpose flour, your bread won't turn out right!)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp active dry yeast (not instant or fast-acting!)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1. Measure and add liquid ingredients to the bread pan (in order of listing above).
2. Measure and add dry ingredients (except yeast) to the bread pan (again, in order of listing above).
3. Use your finger to form a well/hole in the flour where you will pour the yeast. Yeast must NEVER come into contact with a liquid when you are adding ingredients. Measure the yeast and carefully pour it into the well.
4. Snap the baking pan into the breadmaker and close the lid.
5. Choose "Sweet bread" setting on your breadmaker (if you have that option - if not, my machine takes 2hrs, 50 minutes for the cycle, which includes the mixing, kneading, rising, and baking).
6. Select a medium or dark crust color, don't use the lightest crust setting for this one.
7. Press "Start/Stop" button.

My alternatives
1. Lose the walnuts. I can't eat them, so I just don't add them. The only difference this will have is to make the bread smoother, which I rather enjoy!
2. Use apple puree instead of applesauce - but make sure your apple puree has enough water to match the water content of the unsweetened applesauce you can buy at the store. I find that if I cook/puree 4 apples at a time, it ends up with about the right amount of water-to-apples ratio.
3. Use pear puree instead of applesauce. Again, I use 4 pears at a time to create this puree, so I get the right amount of water. [This is by far my favorite modification because it changes the texture of the bread slightly - you can feel a slight hint graininess of the pear in the bread, which in my humble opinion, greatly adds to the composition of this loaf of bread!]
***See here for instructions on making your own fruit purees, complete with video! (Not of me...)
4. When using pear puree, sub in pear juice for apple juice. [If you're like me, and don't want to buy actual pear juice at the store (because, um, what else am I actually gonna use it for?), you can use pear puree+more water in a basic 50/50 ratio of pear puree and water - swirl it around a little to mix the puree and the water and voila! Pear juice!]

My favorite uses
- Toast it. The smell alone as it toasts is worth it! On that toast, put some pear or apple butter/jam or another subtle-flavored jam (so you don't overpower the taste of the bread). I also slather some of my Apple-Grape-Date Compote on it - YUM!
- It's so sweet and delicious, that sometimes I just eat it plain. No need to even dress it up if all you really want is some bread!
- Tunafish or tunafish with peas on a toasted slice as an open-faced sandwich. Mmm...

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