How much dough for dough?
March 13, 2005 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about buying a bread machine. Should I pony up the extra cash for an expensive brand like the Zojirushi? Is anyone happy with a less expensive model? (please say yes)

I used to scorn bread-machine bread, but I read somewhere that the technology has improved (or maybe King Arthur Flour just wants to sell me an expensive machine). Mostly, I just want to make white and wheat sandwich loaves. I can't stand supermarket bread, the closest bakery has horrible hours, and between kids and work, I don't have time to make my own bread anymore, even with a standing mixer. Ideally, I'd like a machine that would produce a couple of loaves a week, but I'd also like to use the mixing and rising feature for artisian breads.
posted by bibliowench to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
i used to live with someone who was very happy with some random cheap bread machine. made bread every day and loved the stuff.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:26 AM on March 13, 2005

I have a basic, inexpensive model and it works like a charm. You never tasted anything so good.
posted by wsg at 9:30 AM on March 13, 2005

Follow-on question: Back when they were first introduced we bought a bread machine, and the bread suqued. We wrote them off as hype.

I'm willing to try again. Any tips, links to proven recipes?
posted by mojohand at 9:34 AM on March 13, 2005

We've had a Panasonic (YD-150) bread machine for nearly eight years now. 2-3 loaves per week minimum, sometimes more. Still works like a charm...the only failures have been user error or power failure. We've had to replace the non-stick paddle (it still worked, but kept getting stuck in the bread) and the seal between the pan and the motor spindle, but that's not bad for that many loaves of bread. (total of $50.)

For recipes, the Panasonic book has some good ones. The sandwich bread recipe/cycle makes perfect sandwich bread, but it makes a really good "standard" loaf as well.

Other than that, we've been happy with the recipes out of Bread Machine Magic.

And, of course, trial and error. Even the best recipe will need to be tweaked for humidity level, user preference and yeast freshness.
posted by jlkr at 9:45 AM on March 13, 2005

bibliowench - I've never tried a high-end machine, but the functionality of bread machines is very basic. I've had good luck with a couple of cheap models over the years.

mojohand - I've had good luck with boxed bread mixes. Just buy your own yeast, as you never know how old the box is.
posted by bh at 9:46 AM on March 13, 2005

I got a $30 Toastmaster one for Christmas, and it works great. I have been completely satisfied. I don't even know what features they woudl add in an expensive one.
posted by smackfu at 9:55 AM on March 13, 2005

I've got a black and decker or something (too lazy to go look). It works just fine for me. I never cook inside my bread maker though, I just make the dough and use my oven. It ends up more bread like and less brick like that way.
posted by substrate at 10:00 AM on March 13, 2005

Well I don't have much experience with bread machines, (inherited one from a friend, but never have the time). But since you're looking for validation, I DO have a Zojirushi rice maker after trying several lower priced models. And you would have to pry that thing from my cold, dead hands -- it is 20x better than any of the cheaper models I owned shortly before returning.

I'm not sure if there is extra temperature sensitivity that would help in a bread machine. But maybe my experience with the Zo rice makers will help you feel better when you buy the Zo bread maker ;-).
posted by ontic at 10:13 AM on March 13, 2005

I had some "walmart on special" brand for a few years until 2 xmases ago my inlaws got me the Zo. I don't know what it is, but I make better bread in it. Maybe its a thermostat thing, I don't know. It also feels a lot more solid and offers a lot of different cycles I am just beginning to explore.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 10:28 AM on March 13, 2005

I'm another satisfied Panasonic customer. That said, I can't vouch for what would justify the upgrade. I guess that machine bread is what it is - it won't ever have the sponginess or sourdough "right stuff", but it's far better than what you buy at roughly the same cost. BTW, it was the Amazon (UK) comments on this one that won it for me. I appreciate these could be manipulated, but given the breadth of the positive reviews, I considered this unlikely.
posted by sagwalla at 11:05 AM on March 13, 2005

We just got a fancy Breville model. After hemming and hawing in the shop, the advantages we could see for going for the top end version: three loaf sizes (up to 1.25 kg), nut drawer (automatically opens and adds stuff to the dough, meaning you don't have to wait for the pause and do it yourself), more customizable settings (instead of just using one that's programmed already). We've just done our fourth loaf and they've all been great. Of course, we aren't even using the fancy stuff yet, so the cheaper one might've worked just as well.

The only tip I've learned so far: Breads from scratch are better than breads from store-bought mixes. We tried a Laucke rye mix and set the auto-timer to have the bread ready in the morning, and somehow sitting there for six hours caused the flour and water to cake up on the bottom and not mix properly. There were crusty non-mixed pockets throughout the bottom of the loaf. Doing the same thing from scratch - using bread flour, powdered milk, etc - turned out absolutely perfect.
posted by web-goddess at 12:54 PM on March 13, 2005

I got a reconditioned Black and Decker a couple of years ago for about $80, though I don't remember if it was $80 CDN or USD. I am pleased with it, but I usually just use it for kneading bread, because I like to use a baking sheet so I can make different size loaves. I really don't see the advantage to the expensive ones-- all you get extra are bells and whistles.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 1:16 PM on March 13, 2005

I love my Zojirushi, but I wouldn't say you have to have that brand.

If you want to get excited about baking bread, both machine and handmade, subscribe to the bread-bakers email digest. It comes weekly, and when I read through it I immediately want to start baking.
posted by GaelFC at 1:58 PM on March 13, 2005 [1 favorite]

There are excellent web reviews for bread machines. You should use them and make up your mind based on them. I doubt many AskMe folk are obsessive-compulsive bread machine testers; the wonderful web, otoh, does have a couple such folk.

FWIW, I chose the Zoji after reading the reviews. Partly because my previous machine was a Zoji (snagged it at a pawnshop at a killer price) and lasted for ever and a day.

I'm thinking that Panasonic is also going to be a Very Good Name. Black and Decker, not so much: they're reknown for cheap-ass crap these days.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:07 PM on March 13, 2005

Another happy Panasonic user here. Couldn't go back to shop bought bread. The only thing my version (SD-253) lacks is a delay timer for making dough (it's got one for baking).
posted by amestoy at 3:07 PM on March 13, 2005

Don't be tempted by Expensive Electronic Toy Lust. The cheap basic ones will do pretty much as well as the expensive ones, and if you realize you can't deal with Bread Machine Bread (as opposed to good, home-made bread baked on stones in your oven), even a deluxe bread machine will be useless.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:25 PM on March 13, 2005

substrate mentioned this earlier, but I have to second it: Bread machines are good at kneading and proofing the dough, but tend to fall down at the baking stage. I always take out the dough, put it in a loaf pan, and throw it in the oven -- and the results are far, far superior to what the bread machine could do on its own.
posted by xil at 4:24 PM on March 13, 2005

I have used other brands, and found them fine. Made bread of my in-laws' machine - a Panasonic, I think, definitely not Zojirushi. It worked terrifically. But I would read reviews, before your final decision.

Probably what is most important is getting the maker that fits your requirements - for me, that would include a dough setting, but not something to add nuts. Make a list of the features you would like, prioritise, then start comparison shopping.
posted by jb at 5:25 PM on March 13, 2005

I would have to say that it depends on what you're doing with it. I bake a lot. I love to bake...but I often don't have time to do the whole mixing/kneading process, so I use the bread machine only to do that part. Then I pull it out, give it another manual knead, and set the dough in the appropriate pan/sheet for a second rise...then bake.

My mom owned a high end catering business for years...and we've tried almost every maker out there, from insanely expensive commercial versions to the cheapo discount store variety. Neither of us were ever happy with the "baked" bread that came from any of them because it always seemed too dense and you don't have the option of crust varieties like you do when you bake traditionally.

But, if you're doing the second rise/bake in oven process...almost any breadmaker is fine. I'd stay under the hundred dollar range, and make sure that it's big enough to handle 2 pounds of dough...but other than those qualifications, my experience leads me to believe that they're all pretty much the same.
posted by dejah420 at 6:53 PM on March 13, 2005

Consumer Reports seems to have last done a review of bread machines in November 2001 (p. 17). (Copy almost certainly available at a local library.) The headline - "Even bargain machines can make a good, basic loaf." And, in the story, "Our tests show that you don't need to spend much to get a decent machine. We rated six models, priced from $40 to $200. All were judged good or very good overall."

Also, as noted, much is available on the web: reviews (most machines have reviews)
posted by WestCoaster at 7:22 PM on March 13, 2005

Amazon has some of the crappiest, unreliable hardware reviews that I've ever seen, except for items that have 80+ respondents, and books.

There's some really good advice in this thread, especially the parts about tweaking for humidity and baking in the oven. There are multiple levels of bread making, sorta:

1. buying cheap bread
2. buying good bread
3. bread machine
4. bread machine -->baked in oven
5. cheap mixer --> baked in oven
6. good mixer -->baked in oven
7. good mixer --> baked on stones, or some other fancy pants arrangement, grinding your own wheat, getting good ingredients, becoming a sourdough fanatic.
8. lifetime of tweaking, finessing, artisan breads, unhealthy obsession with crumb, etc.

Making bread with good tools, like a Bosch mixer, isn't that much harder than a bread machine. More steps, but you can make a lot more at once as well.

So, you might get crazy and just jump to the good mixer level and skip a few years of fussing about.

disclaimer: I am an amateur, and this is just one model of bread making. There are others.
posted by craniac at 8:08 PM on March 13, 2005

I got my machine while living in Germany. Ha, only to save the bother of walking across the street for FABULOUS bread (which too often opened too late). Since the paddle got accidently tossed out with some crumbs (assumption), its been gathering dust.

However, the brand was Unold. I was mostly quite happy with it, the complaint being the whole in the middle from the paddle. However, cheaper, low capacity machines make loaves of a shape I find ridiculous for slicing for sandwiches (those early round loaves).

I'm surprised what I hear being said about mixes. I was very happy with the mixes sold in Europe. But my taste in bread may be quite different. I never made white bread.
posted by Goofyy at 8:53 PM on March 13, 2005

Does anyone have a recommendation for a bread maker that can handle a whole wheat loaf? Mine chokes on anything thicker than white flour, which somewhat limits my grain options. The reviews I read of the models mentioned in this thread didn't explicitly discuss whole wheat dough.
posted by rhiannon at 10:30 PM on March 13, 2005

... and right after I posted that I found some reviews on Amazon that say the Zojirushi makes whole wheat bread without breaking a sweat. I would appreciate hearing about other breadmakers, though, to establish whether a top-of-the-line machine is really required to work with whole wheat bread.
posted by rhiannon at 10:33 PM on March 13, 2005

posted by ajbattrick at 1:16 AM on March 14, 2005

The Panasonic models have specific whole wheat cycles (longer mixing and rise times). I've done a number of very dense breads in mine with no problems at all (except the time I didn't add enough water).

I used to make whole wheat bread every week (I like whole wheat toast in the morning) until I got annoyed at having two loaves of bread on the counter, and switched to cereal for breakfast.
posted by jlkr at 5:05 AM on March 14, 2005

We have a Panasonic SD-YD250, and we've been extremely happy with it. It has delayed cycle, a separate place for the yeast so that it gets mixed in at the right time, special cycles for whole wheat and multigrain breads. The extensive list of recipes that came with it were pretty good as well.
posted by tuxster at 9:35 AM on March 14, 2005

I wanted to add, because I'm a dope and forgot, that if you have a good standing orbital mixer like a Kitchenaid, you can do almost any bread mixing in it as well. My giant kitchenaid is the only method I can use when making more than 2-3 loaves at a time. (And it's useful for *so* much other stuff too...gods, I'd be lost without mine.)

You don't have the moist heat first rise, like you'd get from a bread machine...but if you put a bowl of water in and warm your oven up to about 180F (usually the lowest temperature available on non-commercial or non-convection ovens) and turn it off while you're doing the mixing part, the oven should cool down to about 90-110F, which is perfect conditions for rising. (Also, if you leave the water in during the baking process, you'll get a very firm crust...perfect for making things like bruschetta. (mmmm...bruschetta...)
posted by dejah420 at 12:45 PM on March 14, 2005

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