I don't have a bread machine. The following selective answers are
based on my perspective from making breads strictly by-hand.
1. Using minced prunes or baby-food prunes instead of oil in bread.
I haven't done it but it sounds unappetizing to me unless one wants
prune-flavored breads. It may be great as a fat substitute in
chocolate cake, but for me, for bread, no way!
But really, there are many wonderful breads, e.g., classic French
bread and sourdough rye that are made without oil, etc. Why not just
stick to those?
10. Bannetons. I've never used the real thing, that is, straw baskets
that leave their pattern on the bread. How does one clean the things?
I use mock-bannetons: well-floured paper towels placed inside metal
mixing bowls. Cost? Practically nothing. It produces a really neat
rustic look to the loaves with flour on the surface.
When it's time to bake, I just invert the mock-bannetons onto my
baking stone in the oven (hot and messy) or better yet, onto my
floured peel. And no, it won't kill the loaves unless you
specifically then punch them down or drop them on the floor or
12. Slashing the tops. I'd be more afraid of slashing myself. Use a
good sharp knife if you've got one or a box-cutter/utility knife. You
can also buy real cheaply (in hardware/paint stores) single-edged
razor blades. Don't be scared to death of killing the loaf. You
won't collapse it.
Don't be so nervous. Bread seems to be able to take a fair amount of
abuse and come out just fine. I do it as a mental health activity.
If you want something to worry about try switching to baking pastries.
Hope this helps,
Mark Judman (Mark_Judman@colpal.com)