Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Food: Recipes, cookbook reviews, food notes, and restaurant reviews. Unless otherwise noted, I have personally tried each recipe that gets its own page, but not necessarily recipes listed as part of a cookbook review.

The Donna Rathmell German Bread Machine Cookbook collection

Jerry Stratton, November 3, 2020

Carbs are my spirit animal

This pizza uses whole wheat corn bread dough from volume IV.

Today is National Sandwich Day! Sandwiches mean bread, and the best bread is home-made. I have never been able to make bread. It may be that I’m impatient, or don’t understand how to knead, I don’t know. But my bread always turns out far too dense or fallen. When I got a KitchenAid I thought, now I’ll be able to make bread. It still didn’t work, not following their instructions exactly and no matter how short or long a time I let the dough hook go.

Then, I got a bread machine, and everything changed. Not only could I make standard, easy loaves, I could make great loaves of rye, cracked wheat, oatmeal, and whole wheat, with consistently great results. I could even make dough for non-loaves, such as for pizza or rolls.

The bread machine is an amazing tool. You can use it to make bread from start to finish; you can use it to knead dough and then bake the bread in an oven. You can set it to take exactly, say, eight hours to complete the bread, and it will wait until it will be done in the correct amount of time before starting. There is nothing like waking up to fresh, just-baked bread.

Five and a half years ago at a giant local book sale, I picked up the first volume of Donna Rathmell German’s Bread Machine Cookbook series. I could have picked up three or four of them at the same sale, but I didn’t want to load up on an entire series and find out it was a dud. And that’s fine, because these books are not obscure. If you can’t find them at your local used book stores or sales, go to AbeBooks or eBay and you can find them there, a little more expensive but still reasonably priced.1

You can also get what appears to be a revised version of the first edition still in print.

I ended up picking up the second and third volumes the next year at the same place, then another at The Thrifty Peanut while driving through Shreveport, and the remaining two on eBay once I knew I’d be doing this review for National Sandwich Day.

The first book was not a dud. Nor the second, third, and all through the sixth. The only issue is that they’re all about thirty years old, so unless you’re using a very old bread machine, the notes about specific machines are long out of date. But the bulk of the books are recipes, and they continue to work. The only issue, and it is probably bread-machine specific, is that each recipe includes a column for small, medium, and large. On my Black & Decker B6000C, I need to downshift each of her columns. What she thinks is large, my machine thinks is medium, and what she thinks is medium, my machine thinks is small. You’ll have to guess, probably by comparing the amount of flour in her recipes to the amount of flour in the recipes in your machine’s manual.

Ham on pineapple-banana bread

Ham sandwich on pineapple-banana bread (IV).

Naan and curry

Naan (VI) with some roast vegetables and curry.

Toasted cheese on pumpernickel

Toasted cheese on pumpernickel (IV).

Starting in the third volume, each recipe also lists whether it’s safe to set the bread to bake overnight using the timer. If the bread contains milk or egg, or if the bread needs work in the middle, such as adding nuts or fruit, it can’t be used with the timer.2 Obviously, it’s easy enough to look through the instructions for the offending ingredients, but having the specific note is a nice feature—and a nice reminder of the possibility. I’m not sure I would have tried using the timer if the book hadn’t reminded me of the possibility.

Now one of my favorite breakfasts is waking up to the smell of fresh bread, timed perfectly.

All but volume IV and volume VI are general-purpose bread books. They each contain a wide variety of white, flavored, and whole-grain breads, and desserts and pastries. As the series goes on, the variety increases, including cheese breads, spice breads, vegetable and fruit breads, and international and holiday breads. Volume V has a special section for making dough for non-bread purposes such as pizza, monkey bread, pita pockets, and so forth.

The fourth volume is dedicated to whole grains and tries to avoid white sugar. The former makes for some great recipes, the latter for some obscure ingredients. For the most part, you can replace any sweetener with the same amount of sugar or honey—replace with sugar if it’s dry or with honey if it’s wet. If, as with the chocolate coconut bread, it calls for equal amounts of honey and fruit juice concentrate, I just double the honey, and it works great.

The sixth volume focuses on hand-shaped breads. Make the dough in the bread machine—the hard part—and then bake in your oven. This is my most recent acquisition, so I’ve only tried a few and still have a lot bookmarked. It includes several flatbread recipes—which work great on a grill—and of course a lot of sweet rolls. It also includes simple instructions on how to shape rolls and buns: knot rolls, cloverleaf rolls, Parker House rolls, and so on. One pleasant surprise was a recipe for mahlab rings. I have all of one recipe that uses mahlab (crushed black cherry seeds). It’s a great recipe—and up to now the only reason I keep mahlab on hand.

It’s very difficult to go wrong with these recipes. One of the things that really sets this cookbook apart is that the author claims to have tested every recipe, and it seems to be true. I don’t think I’ve ever had a recipe fail, whereas in other books, even famous ones, I see what must be major typos or combinations that cannot ever have been tested. The only time I had any trouble with these books was when I switched to a store-brand whole wheat that acted very differently from the whole wheat I had been using. It seemed to really soak up the water, making a very hard dough. I solved the problem initially by adding extra water while it was kneading. For subsequent recipes, I mixed the whole wheat with equal amounts of white until that bag of whole wheat ran out and I went to a different brand.3

PB&J on honey whole wheat bread

Peanut butter and jelly on honey whole wheat (IV).

Mozzarella pizza

Pizza on Mediterranean cheese flatbread (VI).

Tomato on coconut bread

Tomato, cucumber, and garlic on coconut bread (V).

From my list of favorite recipes, these are the breads I make most from this collection4, to give you an idea of the variety of breads. The highlighted lines are the best among my favorites. (You should be able to click on the “Volume” header if you want to see the list sorted by volume rather than by recipe title.)

BreadVolume
Austrian malt breadBread Machine I
Blueberry oatmeal breadBread Machine V
Chocolate coconut breadBread Machine IV
Cracked wheat breadBread Machine IV
Cracked wheat oat breadBread Machine II
Cracked wheat oat breadBread Machine IV
Cranberry cornmeal breadBread Machine V
Four seed breadBread Machine II
Garlic dill breadBread Machine V
Hawaiian sweet breadBread Machine V
Honey wheat breadBread Machine IV
Hungarian onion breadBread Machine III
Lemon ginger breadBread Machine III
Maple walnut breadBread Machine IV
Mediterranean cheese flatbreadsBread Machine VI
Orange-craisin bunsBread Machine VI
Portuguese sweet breadBread Machine I
Portuguese white breadBread Machine I
PumpernickelBread Machine IV
Raisin breadBread Machine I
Raisin rye breadBread Machine II
Rice breadBread Machine II
Saffron raison breadBread Machine II
Seeded rye breadBread Machine IV
Slightly rye breadBread Machine III
Strawberry or peach breadBread Machine II
Walnut sticky bunsBread Machine V

You can see that I like rye bread, and have several varieties in my repertoire from this collection. There are a lot of recipes I haven’t tried yet that sound interesting, such as the Italian Easter Bread and New Year’s Rum Bread from the second volume, or the white chocolate macadamia bread from the third volume. Those ought to make some amazing rolls.

You can also see, if you sort that table by volume, that the fourth volume is definitely my favorite. That’s where most of the really special breads are. Those two Portuguese breads in the first volume, however, are worth the price of the book alone. They are high rising light beautiful white breads.

Each recipe lists the ingredients in the order that they’re added to the bread machine, including a special line or so for the ingredients to be added at the nut/fruit stage.

Some of the books include non-baking recipes, such as for toppings and spreads in book three.

The notes at the beginning are very helpful. When the maple walnut bread was clearly not kneading correctly because of the new brand of whole wheat flour I was using, I looked up the symptoms in the front of the book, followed the directions for handling it, and got great bread out of it that would otherwise probably have been dense and hard.

The books provide direct instruction for converting other recipes to bread machine recipes, but the recipes themselves are indirect instruction. As I made more and more recipes from this book, I also got better at making conventional recipes in the bread machine—and even better at recognizing when a conventional recipe has a typo. The books also provide a couple of ingredient glossaries with instructions on what each kind of ingredient does in a recipe, and often how to substitute for it.

These are part of the Nitty Gritty series; they are not shaped like your normal cookbook but are wide and short, as you can see in the photo.

Orange craisin bun

Orange craisin buns with orange sauce (VI).

Apple and brie sandwich

Apple and brie sandwich on maple walnut bread (IV).

Walnut sticky buns

Walnut sticky buns (V).

There is a Big Book of Bread Machine Recipes that collects five of the six volumes. It does not include the whole grain book, book IV. I’ve never seen it, and it seems to be very pricy on the used market. The individual books usually run a couple of bucks or less at used book sales. The most I paid was for volume VI, which I bought online in order to complete the set for this review. I did that because the big sales I like to attend kept getting shut down. I splurged at $4.09 for it, but paid no more than $2.99 for the rest, and most of them were $2.00 each.

  1. And if you don’t enjoy browsing used book sales, probably a lot less expensive when taking into account the gas and time it takes to drive to used book sales. That volume I bought cheap in Shreveport, Louisiana, while driving to Chattanooga, does not count the gas involved in getting off of the highway—or the fact that if I didn’t enjoy browsing bookstores I might not have driven anyway.

  2. For adding nuts and fruit, you could of course set an alarm and add them at the appropriate time. But that would be defeating the use of a timer. Also, you’d have to do some serious math.

  3. I don’t remember what brand I had been using; it never occurred to me to care, until I got the rough brand (from H-E-B, a local Texas chain). A lot of brands disappeared when the shutdowns and panics disrupted food distribution this year. When flour started showing up again, I paid a little more for the King Arthur whole wheat, which was the only whole wheat flour left on the shelf. It’s been fine.

  4. When I don’t want to try something new, of course. One of the hardest parts about collecting cookbooks is deciding whether to try something new or something I know is amazing.

  1. <- Jack-o-Lantern soup