I like to have fresh home-made bread when I can. It just adds something to any meal, even if the bread is just a side item rather than part of the main event.
That said, I'm also not a very good baker. I understand the concepts, but I don't think I quite have the touch to do it right all the time- I can still whip up a loaf of bread from scratch and have something edible, but the subtleties sometimes go wrong.
So my solution was the ubiquitous bread machine. It takes most of the grunt work out of the process. It may not be perfect for every type of bread, and it may limit you to making loaves, but it can do something I can't when it comes to baking- consistency - it always mixes and kneads the dough for the same amount of time, in the same manner, always rises at the same temperature and amount of time, and always bakes at the same temperature and same amount of time. Plus, it lets me fire and forget- so I can set it up, then get back to helping my wife keep the kids from destroying the house.
It lets me focus on getting the measurements right, and not worry about not kneading enough etc. Since it's more consistent than I can ever be, I can try out minor variations on bread formulas and know that the difference in results is due to the change in recipe, and not due to me being lazy about kneading, or messing up the timing when a certain toddler needs daddy NOW!!!!
So I have a few tried and true breads I do in my machine on a semi-regular basis, and I sometimes try something new or some variant. It usually does a great job, and we end up with a good, but not always pretty, hunk of fresh bread.
Today is different. Today is a bad bread day! The garlic-herb Italian bread I set up last night smelled great, but is terribly sunken in the middle, and has a slightly weird texture.
I assumed that the main mistake was that I did my measurements while I was very tired, and probably screwed something up (like using a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon, or vice versa...) because I wasn't paying attention.
Wrong. I set up another bread (basic french bread) this morning to act as consolation for last night's failed experiment. It's mostly done baking right now, and it's sunken in the middle. Sigh. I guess my batch of yeast is losing it's potency- that or I just need to pay more attention when measuring out ingredients.