I live in Japan, where all those fancy breadmakers are manufactured. And I
don't know a single Japanese family who uses one! I don't think most Japanese
people are even aware of their existence. Japanese people just don't eat a
lot of bread.
Some restaurants will offer you a choice of rice or bread with some kinds of
"western" meals, and I am often asked if I eat bread or rice, as though one
could only eat one, and it's necessary to choose. Japanese store-bought bread
raises the term 'balloon' bread to new heights. It is inevitably white, the
slices often as thick at 'Texas toast', too wide to fit in an American
toaster. People toast it at home in a small toaster oven, and it is part of
many people's breakfasts, along with butter and jam, a boiled egg, and a cup
of strong, delicious coffee or milk tea. It's unusual to make sandwiches at
home (people usually prefer onigiri, cold steamed rice shaped into thick,
palm-sized triangles, wrapped in thin sheets of 'nori', a kind of seaweed),
but they are on the menu at the hundreds of small snack and coffee shops
sprinkled all over Japanese cities.
Very few Japanese families bake anything at home because they have no ovens.
At the most they may have a combination microwave-convection oven which will
accomodate a single loaf pan; a muffic tin or regular cookie sheet is too big
for any I have seen. Baking of any kind is a sort of specialized hobby for
housewives who will attend classes to learn how to make cakes or cookies. All
the ingredients are incredibly expensive; the baking industry enjoys high
protective tariffs on everything from flour to walnuts.
There are lots and lots of bakeries in Japan, featuring all kinds of jam buns
and curry buns and apple tortes and croissants and French bread and acres of
plain white blocky sandwich bread loaves which they slice to order when you
buy it. Recently bagels have started appearing, but forget looking for
flavorful whole wheat/whole grain bread.
I can get whole wheat flour here and occasionally make bread from scratch, to
the amazement of my Japanese friends. I would love to find a whole wheat
bread recipe that makes somewhat moist, dark bread using other ingredients:
carrot or pumpkin, perhaps? Josh Haygood, where are you?
Flour in Japan is generally of two types: for bread or for cakes and cookies.
To make decent pie crust you have to mix the two. Perhaps the bread making
machines are calibrated to the characteristics of the Japanese bread flour
used in developing recipes for them.
I'll be looking forward to some recipes and tips for making bread from
scratch, now that our long, hot, dry summer is almost over.