If the history of baking has taught us anything, it’s that there’s more than one way to make bread. A fougasse clearly demands a different toolkit to a focaccia. A paratha is the polar opposite of a pan dulce. One thing all bakers can agree on, however, is that absolutely none of them call for a microwave.
If you ever forced a proud professional baker to choose between a microwaved loaf versus no bread ever again, the streets would likely be full of crumpled toques before you could say “nuke it”. The difference between lovingly kneading your dough and whacking it in a tiny reactor for 90 seconds at 900 watts couldn’t be more pronounced. Having said that, just because microwaves go against every artisanal culinary instinct doesn’t mean that they can’t deliver something worthwhile.
This week, after spying several stories discussing recipes for “microwaved bread”, we decided to put snobbery to one side and put radioactive-baking to the test. As every cook comes to terms with the fact that regular shopping trips to stock up on bits and bobs are off the agenda, resourcefulness in the kitchen is more important than ever. That being said, we’d be lying if we weren’t sceptical.
The recipe we decided to follow for the experiment featured several unusual ingredients. For instance, in our experience, eggs are best served stuffed into sandwiches, rather than in the actual dough. Nonetheless, we dutifully assembled “40g self-raising flour”; “One egg white”; “25g margarine”; “A squeeze of lemon juice”; “A third of a teaspoon of sugar”; “A third of a teaspoon of baking powder” - subbing in butter for margarine.
Despite carefully following the instructions, the results seemed to leave a lot to be desired. The pre-”bake” batter looked like a half-way house between baby food and cement. Despite furious whisking, working out all the lumps was almost impossible. Instead of the comforting yeasty waft of rising dough, our mug had a weirdly eggy, citrus smell - like someone’s misguided attempt to disguise a drain with washing up liquid.
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The prognosis did not improve after the first blast. 90 seconds in the microwave, and the grouting in our cup had turned into an oily pock-marked wasps nest - oozing oil and looking more like the face of a bedroom-bound 15-year-old than something you’d actively want to put in your mouth. The butter that had been incorporated into the mixture was now doing its best to escape, collecting in yellow pools at the corners of the spongey dough. It looked so horrible, we decided it needed to go back in for another 20 seconds.
Other than appearance, another issue with the recipe seemed to be portion size. Given that there had been no proving process, we weren’t expecting the “bread” to have ballooned uncontrollably, but even then it looked surprisingly sad and deflated. While it can probably be scaled up, the original recipe provides enough batter for a two-inch doughy cylinder - not quite the mighty baguette you may have been hoping for.
However, despite all appearances and smells, there’s no doubt that the end result was edible. True, it was about as close to bread as Twisted is to Escoffier, but that doesn’t mean it was as disastrous as we first feared. The dense centre felt like someone had sat on a buttery crumpet, and after a few seconds in a post-microwave toaster, the rubbery disks were ready to eat.
To provide as balanced a perspective as possible, we covered one half with sweet honey, and the other with salty, savoury Marmite. The crumpet comparisons became more pronounced as we ate, although it was obvious that the recipe needed a pinch of salt. The honey however, which had been spread over the airier “top” of the bread, had a slightly eggy tang and ultimately tasted like someone had sprinkled sugar over an omelette.
There are a few takeaways to be learned from this experiment. For starters, you can’t make “bread” as you know it in the microwave - at least, not with the recipe we used. However, if you happen to be craving a crumpet and find yourself stuck indoors with nothing but a stray egg and the end of a bag of flour, this hack may well work for you. With a sprinkle of seasoning, you could end up with a serviceable breakfast. Just don’t tell any proper bakers about your plans. They might throw a rolling pin at you.