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Bread machines: Don't go down island without one.

March 5, 2010
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On Great Exuma in the Bahamas, the preferred provider of fresh bread is a Bahamian Earth Mother known to all as “Mom.” Each morning during winter and early spring, she parks her bakery van down by the docks. With every fresh loaf, Mom bestows a hug on the purchaser and calls on God to bless him or her. Daily bread and trespasses forgiven, five bucks, while it lasts.

Other moms live on other islands. Lorraine’s mom of Lorraine’s Café at Black Point comes to mind, but like most Bahamian baking moms, she usually only bakes when someone calls in advance. Island grocers sell factory-made loaves, of course, but they come by ship from the United States and often have had a second boat ride before reaching some of the smaller islands. It can be pretty uninspiring stuff.

All the moms excepted, good bread can be hard to find, and not just in the Bahamas. The Spanish bake superb baguettes called “pistolas,” but they somehow failed to bring this skill to their Caribbean conquests, probably because they had left the Spanish moms home. Bread in the Dominican Republic, unless purchased from European bakeries in the bigger cities, is universally mediocre, while Cuba’s government-issued loaves taste as if leavened with sawdust. In the Caribbean, the best hope for great bread is, of course, Martinique and the other French islands.

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Otherwise the quickest and best way to get bread is to bake it in your onboard breadmaker.

Bread machines are designed to plug into a standard household outlet. As such, they use fewer than 15 amps of vAC power. This is well within the capabilities of any generator and any boat equipped with a substantial inverter and bank of house batteries.

My Oster bread machine is a rounded rectangle measuring 14½ by 10½ by 11 inches, which means it would fit under settees and galley lockers of most motor yachts and larger sailboats. Of the many fine brands, I chose Oster because it has a hinged lid rather than a removable top. I mounted it on a countertop using straps sold at marine stores to fasten down televisions. The bread pan’s orientation is horizontal, yielding traditional brick-shaped loaves.

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A healthy supply of flour and yeast (specially made for bread machines), salt, sugar and water are all that’s needed to make bread. These ingredients are readily available on most islands and cost about what you’d pay back home. Assuming three loaves a week, a 4-ounce jar of yeast lasts us about two months; a 5-pound bag of flour about two weeks. That’s all you need to produce crusty French and sourdough breads, hearty wheats, and even crispy English muffin bread dusted with corn meal just like the packaged kind.

Bread baking and its cleanup are simple. Measuring out and combining the ingredients into the machine is more a science project than cooking (until you smell the bread baking). It only takes about 5 minutes to throw some ingredients together, press the start button, and voila!

Down island some of you will also miss a good pizza, the kind you get up in New York or Boston. And while you cannot bake a pizza in the breadmaker, it does have settings to make the dough.

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Your yacht may be swinging at anchor off the beach at Great Guana Cay, with nary a neon sign for a hundred miles, but that’s no reason forgo the aroma of browned crust, seared pepperoni, garlicky tomato sauce, and melted mozzarella. Homemade pizza on the hook? That’s amore.

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