A few months ago, I was walking around an open-air flea market in Lambertville, New Jersey, looking for the perfect tchotchke, when I spotted two crimped silver rocketship-looking things standing upright on a table. The gentleman manning the table saw the bewildered look on my face and addressed me by saying, plainly, “Bread tubes.” I took a beat to see if there was more to his explanation. “Five bucks each.” Whether due to the mystery of the man, or the mystery of the tubes, I knew I had to have them. When I found my friend later, I held up my new purchase and said, “Bread tubes.”
What is a bread tube? Not to be confused with Breadtube, an online group of leftists inspired by Peter Kropotkins’s anarcho-communist manifesto The Conquest of Bread, a bread tube is exactly as it sounds: a tube in which you bake bread. Available in five decorative shapes — flower, square, heart, scalloped, and star — a bread tube and the resulting bread it makes is like throwing a party for a sandwich: whimsical, weird, and, if you play it right, delicious.
The Pampered Chef, the company that manufactured bread tubes in the late ’90s, advertises them in the enclosed pamphlet this way: “Turn ordinary refrigerated bread dough into fun and fancy shapes for interesting bread baskets, snacks, appetizers, and desserts.” How convenient; these are all of my favorite things. But there’s more: “Bread Tube can be used as a cutter to cut sliced cheese, sliced deli meat, or cookie dough. Match the shape of the meat and cheese to bread made in the Tube!” While cutting deli meat into fanciful shapes is an image pulled straight from nightmares, I very quickly got behind the idea of baking bread shaped like scalloped towers. Ten bucks for such ingenuity was a steal.
The pamphlet that comes with the bread tube lists “refrigerated French bread dough” as the base ingredient in all five of its five bread recipes, so (unless you somehow have refrigerated French bread dough on hand) it’s necessary to forge one’s own path when using the tubes as vessels to bake. I’ve found that an easy white sandwich loaf recipe suffices, as simplicity is better to get the intended effect. You can also try raisin breads or seeded breads — one blogger even succeeded with pumpkin bread — just avoid brownie mixes and more liquidy things. The bread tube method should be easy, above all.
Once the dough is ready, you lightly oil the bread tubes and their lids, stuff the dough inside, and place the caps on top. The breads are baked in their tubes upright in the oven, which helps them spring up. You then must wait many painstaking minutes until the loaves are perfectly cool to unmold the freaky breads from their tubular casings.
When you regularly bake bread at home, the task can occasionally feel tedious — there are only so many ways a loaf of bread can look, after all, and most of them are dependent on your level of skill. (Even though I’m fairly sure I know how to braid my own hair, my challah always looks like several lewd serpents.) But using the bread tube cured the occasional mundanity of regular bread-baking, producing an advanced, artistic bread shape with very little effort, instead of an advanced, artistic bread shape with too much effort. The resulting bread slices were perfect for little snack bites, mini sandwiches, or to serve as the base for canapés.
Looking at those weirdly shaped breads provided a much-needed injection of serotonin, and what’s more, standing upright next to each other, bread tube breads are a dead ringer for the cover of the Wilco album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. I’m not saying that the bread tubes changed my life, but I’m also not not saying that. Though they were released over 20 years ago, there seems to be a plethora of available shapes on Etsy, eBay, and Amazon — just act fast, I’ve got my eye on a few more.