THE OCCASIONAL hint had clearly not reached its target, for the parcel was large, and definitely not of amber necklace size.

However, there is a lot to be said for a surprise gift especially when it proves to be sparkling, smug-looking, and lovingly placed by my husband in prime position, centre floor.

He was clearly smitten. “Thought you’d like it,” he said running his finger along its seductive lines, giving the lid a playful flick, then passing me the instructions. “Just think dear, we need never buy any bread again! And every loaf just the sort and the exact colour we want, and when we want it! Each one perfect.”

An offer to let him bond for an unlimited time with this cooking paragon met with a firm “No, I bought it for you dear”.

There are occasions when thumping some good old handmade dough does not come amiss; and truth to tell I”ve always found the occasional batch of bread-making rather therapeutic – the satisfying plait, the cushiony cottage loaf, the crusty cob, the snip of scissors to add a decorative touch. Then later the tapping on tins, and the basking – modestly, of course – in a little appreciation. And when not feeling the urge for a dough work-out, there is always the trusty hook, or as popular in this household:just buy – from farmers” markets to big or small bakeries, the choice is wide.

trouble shooting

However, I am now introduced to the kneading blade, the automatic raisin nut dispenser, the control panel, notes on trouble shooting and such like. “You’ll soon get used to it,” my husband assured me.

Upon hearing that I did not have the necessary “instant” yeast and confident that I was longing to try out the machine, he dashed to our nearest neighbour and borrowed some. “I’ll leave you to it then,” he said and headed towards his apiary.

The instructions and recipe book were clear enough, though exact weights were recommended, which for someone who enjoys freedom and guesswork in bread-making, was not good news. But finally, after adjusting a gram or two, and the odd ml of liquid here and there, it was clunk, click, close the lid, plug in, switch on, and programme.

The control panel was a touch distant and not helped by light reflection, hence I whizzed past “basic baking mode” before I realised it. A speedy pressing of pads took me through various options and sequences. Instructions flashed, arrows darted and a beeper beeped overtime!

I found my reading glasses, took another glance at the “operation” book, flexed my fingers, leaned down towards the machine and did a butterfly tattoo. After an improved encore the bread maker purred into life, and turned out a loaf of bread – evidently just how my husband liked it!

“Excellent,” he said sampling a second slice.

“Truly excellent.” He looked over to where I was about to rinse the bread pan and murmured. “You know we should have bought one of these machines years ago.”

spectacular

I relegated the baking-wonder to a dark spot in the back of a cupboard, and shut the door tight. The envisaged twice weekly appearance would be more than enough. I had reckoned without its recipe booklet on the loose. For the next few weeks the bread maker appeared with the frequency of yesteryear’s weather house-man on a showery spring day.

It’s popularity couldn’t last, of course – so I could put up with the surreptitious lift of the lid snarl as I passed by, and the “Oh you’ve got a bread maker, they’re so terribly clever aren’t they?” exclamations from guests as they tucked in.

“Economical too,” from my husband, posed more of a problem. The machine gleamed with confidence but eventually requests for unusual birthday bread, samples for friends, and family callers, lessened. A return to former habits was in sight.

Admittedly the machine and I did get off to a bad start, and yes, it can be convenient, and yes, with a surprise gift, it”s still the thought that really counts.

Yet comes the day when somehow I manage to get wonderfully low in a loaf’s main ingredient – I could well be run out of it for at least a fortnight and gracious, there I am in the supermarket bakery department, wandering happily between the shelves of truly crusty bread – fresh, warm, tantalising.

My fingers reached out, and were within a centimetre of a glazed masterpiece, when something made me turn and glance down the aisle.

A lone figure was advancing. “Special offer,” said my husband as he strode towards me, with a big smile and his arms full of flours.