Should I buy a bread machine?
February 7, 2021 9:05 AM   Subscribe

For allergy reasons, I avoid most store-bought breads. I'm a good baker (decent at breads), but I am a full-time healthcare working mom, so don't have a lot of spare time. Is a bread machine a useful thing for me?

I don't totally understand why one would have a bread machine--does it actually make tastier bread, or does it make proving a bit more fool-proof (ha!)? Does it speed up the process like a pressure cooker?

Any other pros or cons? And/or specific recommendations for bread machines, etc.? My spouse is working from home these days so we are going through bread like it's water!

Thanks in advance!
posted by stillmoving to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It doesn't really speed up the process. But it does make it into a hands-off, set-it-and-forget-it, zero interference process. You put the ingredients in, and three hours later, you have bread. Or you can use it on the timer setting, put your ingredients in and have fresh bread at breakfast time.

I love that we have a bread machine. It's used every week in this house. Cleanup is minimal.

Personally I find the machines that have two kneading fins better than the ones with just one. The resulting bread is a more practical shape. So that would be my recommendation.
posted by Too-Ticky at 9:25 AM on February 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I have a Mellerware Ma Baker bread machine and it's grand. I don't think it speeds up the process, but it basically does everything except combine the ingredients, so you can just set it going and forget it. It kneads the dough, then lets it rise, then bakes it without you having to remember to do anything. I think if you're used to baking your own bread you might find the range of breads it can produce a bit restrictive but it's great for producing reliable, good bread easily.
posted by Zumbador at 9:26 AM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We have the Zojirushi virtuoso, after having owned the one-level-down Zojirushi for 15 years. When my husband brought the first one home I was appalled at the cost but we used it for those 15 years at least once and more like 3x a week and it was a workhorse. It's got the two fins and also produces a very loaf-like loaf because it's sideways. Downside is it does take up a fair amount of counter space so I actually have it on a buffet.

I'm a huge fan because it really is set and forget, and part of my "robot army" - I can load it and the slow cooker up in the morning and come home to great soup and bread, toss things in overnight, etc. It also has a cake setting for things like zucchini loaf and pound cake, which are helpful both for set-and-forget and also for when my oven is full of other things.

The virtuoso lets you program your own settings so you can get a broader range of breads, but I don't that often and mostly have stuck to the recipes that either I tested in the original one or that came in the box with it. I also use it for pizza dough weekly (it has a dough setting, plus you can customize one) because we're out running around and so I just set it for when I want the dough and voila. The dough setting is also good for buns and cinnamon rolls and challah if you want it braided; I haven't done bagels or pretzels with it myself.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:32 AM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I just got a hand-me-down bread maker, and I Love it. It's so easy. It's sort of like a pressure cooker vs an Instant Pot - one you have to manage time, and come back and do work at set intervals, the other you put food in, touch a few buttons, go about your day and voila - perfectly cooked food at the end without in-between steps.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 10:05 AM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you are gluten free, having a bread machine is amazing. Gluten free bread dough requires extensive mixing, beyond what you can do without an electric mixer, to get the gelatin or xanthin gum to stretch and approximate gluten—most newer machines have a special gf function that already has a longer mix cycle, only one rise, etc.
A bread machine also doesn’t heat up the entire house during the summer.
I got an older model Zojirushi out of someone’s free pile and found instructions on how to program it to do ideal gf bread (no gf setting) and it’s awesome!
posted by zem at 10:41 AM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I've had bread machines for decades. My current bread machine, a Zojirushi bought new over 10 years ago, is still going strong. Just made bread this morning, actually. Agree with all the comments about two mixing paddles and the horizontal loaf shape. I have gone through several cheap machines, and a Cuisinart that was a bit pricey, and nothing has worked as well or for as long as the Zoji. One of the reasons I chose it is that the company keeps parts available for a long time. I'm on my second bread pan, and third set of paddles (non-stick materials eventually stick).

When my sons were teenagers and living at home I'd make a loaf of bread four to five times a week, and kept the machine on the counter. It was a huge time saver to put the ingredients in the machine and set the timer before bed, and wake up to fresh bread in the morning. We're empty nesters now and I make three to four loaves a month and so keep the machine in the cupboard and drag it out as needed. I don't use the timer very much any more.

The bread does taste better than store-bought bread, but it might take you six or so loaves to come up with the recipe that suits your specific combination of ingredients, machine, and climate. The loaves will still be good, and excellent toasted, but to get a consistently well-formed loaf with the desired crust and crumb takes a little bit of experimentation. Start with a basic recipe, evaluate the results, adjust the recipe, and try again. I have a basic recipe that I've been using since I got my current machine that works with my specific set of circumstances.

I love warriorqueen's comment about their "robot army" and agree entirely.
posted by angiep at 11:35 AM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've had two different bread machines and quite liked them, especially during a time when I was unable to eat store bought breads for medical reasons. These were both lower priced machines and worked great -- I got rid of the first one when I gave it away to a friend, and bought another a few years later.

Personally I hate kneading bread dough. If bread machines did not exist, I would say I hate making bread. Hate is a strong word and I do not use it lightly. So I was glad to have it. Of course this colors my personal perspective greatly.

From what I hear from others about the breadmaking by hand process is that it "doesn't take any time at all" because you just do the required kneading turning etc while you are "just walking by the kitchen" which sounds great if you are home for the hours that takes, have time to just mosey by the kitchen and get your hands covered in dough, etc. The machine lets you start the bread and then go do something else for 3 hours. Or, once you have the recipes figured out and have it down how much flour and liquid you need exactly, you can set the timer and have the machine start 3 hours before you wake up.

You do need to poke at the machine when it is first mixing, especially before you get used to using it, to see if you need to add more flour or water.

Many machines have some sort of rapid bake setting that will give you a loaf of a not particularly good bread in as little as an hour. I didn't usually use that because the other breads were much better, but if (for example) terrorists are threatening to harm your family unless you can give them a loaf of freshly cooked bread in an hour, well you will be all set.

I also used to find the machine very handy for bringing hot fresh bread for a certain quaint custom that used to exist in the world when I was younger called a "potluck".
posted by yohko at 12:01 PM on February 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Before you buy a bread machine, try the 5 minute bread popularized by Mark Bittman.

The idea behind it is that old-world bread recipes were developed before they had actual refrigerators. With a fridge, you can mix the ingredients for a higher-moisture dough, let it sit for 1-7 days, then when you feel ready, just take it out, give it 20 minutes to wake up, and pop it in the oven. It's highly versatile for loaf bread, focaccia, pizzas, and more. It's the laziest bread ever. Just re-use the same dough container; no washing needed.

Bread machines make sense if you absolutely don't care about the crust at all. The bread machine cycle is about 2.5 hours, I think, so actually having dough in the fridge might be faster to the table.
posted by dum spiro spero at 12:55 PM on February 7, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Nthing Zojirushi (Virtuoso). I held off on a breadmaker for years because I thought it would take up too much room or be too annoying to clean, but it's not and the bread is really good. We use it 1-2x a week (just the two of us) and keep it in a cabinet until we need it. The bread is so much better than store-bought sandwich bread; we add ingredients, turn it on, and a few hours later there is magically bread. I also use it to make dough for rolls and a few other breads.
posted by miscbuff at 1:02 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I like my Zojirushi bread machine enough that when we go on vacation (pre-COVID with a whole beach house full of relatives), I take it and use it every day. The bread is a lot cheaper than fancy bakery breads, and a lot tastier and freer of questionable additives than regular store bread. You have a choice of how dark you like the crust to be.

I love making homemade pizza (commercial pizzas give me a migraine), sausage buns, dinner rolls, and focaccia, using the dough setting. When grocery shopping is difficult, I can always make fresh sandwich bread; I buy yeast by the pound and store it in the freezer, where it lasts for years. One of our favorite treats is a milk and egg whole wheat bread made with a cup of dried pecans and a cup of dried fruit (raisins, apricots, and dried cranberries).

I'm on my second bread pan and second set of paddles, the first having lasted over a decade. The only thing I don't like about my Zojirushi is that it always beeps loudly to remind us to add the nuts and fruit (although I prefer to add them at the same time as the flour so they get chopped up a bit), which means we can't set it to have fresh bread ready at breakfast, because the beeping inevitably wakes me up. The Sunbeam bread machine I had twenty-five years ago didn't do that, so we often enjoyed fresh bread for breakfast.
posted by chromium at 1:04 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: You put in the ingredients, you push the button. 2-12 hours later you take out the bread and eat it.

That's the advantage. Once you have the recipe worked out (which can take some experimentation, depending on the type of bread you like to make) it's a 5-minute job to dump the ingredients in and push the button.

You don't even have to take the bread out on a super-specific schedule (thus "2-12 hours" as noted above). The machine will keep it warm and you can take it out when convenient or when you have the time. Also, you can schedule the machine to start at the right time to (for example) have the bread ready just when you wake up, or just when you get home from work, or any other time that is convenient.

If you're really into some kind of gourmet bread baking scene you might find the quality worse than you like, but for normal eating purposes it is just fine.

I haven't made bread outside of my bread machine for maybe 20 years--just because it is so easy and convenient. I like bread cooked in the oven just a little bit better, but it the slight increase in how much I like it is not at all worth the extra work involved over the pushing the button on the bread machine.
posted by flug at 2:04 PM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For your use case, it'd be a no-brainer. As Ronco products say... "set it and forget it" (provided you got the recipe right), and with the timer function, it can bake bread and have it ready before you get home, or before you wake up. It is not a time-saver, merely an effort saver. But if you pre-package the ingredients so you can just dump a whole batch of bags into the bread machine and go to sleep, and wake up with fresh bread, what's not to love?
posted by kschang at 2:28 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I love my bread machine. I haven't bought bread for home use in a couple of years now. (I sometimes buy a nice baguette or focaccia for dinner at someone else's house.) I love knowing exactly what's in my bread, and being able to add things to it when I feel like it. Also one should not negate the benefit of waking up to freshly-baked bread, it's wonderful.

There's a great bread machine book by Beth Hensperger, which has a ton of good recipes so you're not stuck with the recipes in the booklet that comes with the machine. This is it, it's pretty great.
posted by suelac at 2:53 PM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Over the lockdown we really appreciated our ancient bread machine. It does make a weird shaped tall loaf, so we usually put in the ingredients for an extra large loaf on the "dough" setting, and when it was done put it in two loaf tins, let it rise again and baked it in the oven for a better toastable shape and crust. We also use it a lot for lunchbox scrolls, pizza dough etc.
posted by slightlybewildered at 2:54 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I love fresh, hot bread machine bread.
I don't like cold, days-old (or even hours-old) bread machine bread. The recipes I've tried have all been too dense when cooled.

So I would say, if you consume bread at a rate where a small hot loaf would be eaten while it's hot, amazing.

I know a person who owns a rental recording studio. He drops ingredients into the bread machine the night before and programs it to make a hot loaf for his renters to devour for their morning break. It costs him $0.50 plus butter, and it engenders shocking loyalty from his clients. For him with his studio, a bread machine is perfect.

For me at home - I'd eat max 3 slices and then not finish the loaf and find it unpalatable when it cooled - well, I have a bread maker, used it just long enough to discover that I don't like the bread when it cools, and now it's a paperweight.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:47 PM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i love and miss my Zojirushi bread machine so much and am currently struggling with the replacement issue so: if you live anywhere humid, seriously consider buying a replacement tray/bucket and blade to store when you buy your machine. This will make the third set I have had to buy and the replacement parts get more expensive and annoying to find the older the machine is. Not a problem in dry places, but the rust issue has been real for me.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:54 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I think if you're a competent baker you'll be disappointed with bread from a machine. I personally don't really like the specific flavour of machine baked bread. The labour in baking either sourdough or the no kneed/ 5 minute bread recipe up page is pretty minimal and I don't think the effort done by the machine is worth the drop in taste.
posted by Faff at 11:30 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I also have a 2-paddle horizontal Zojirushi and that Beth Hensperger book and they're both great. We got the bread machine as a wedding gift, so it is now 21 years old and it still works great. We use it often, sometimes using the delayed timer, and it makes great bread.
posted by ceejaytee at 9:06 AM on February 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We have a cheap breadmaker that makes tall loaves. They're fine, but they don't keep well. More often these days, with two kids homeschooling during lockdown, we use it to knead the dough and do the first raise. Then we pull out the dough, shape it into rolls, do a second raise, and bake them for twenty minutes. Fantastic crusty bread rolls in time for lunch.
posted by Hogshead at 3:00 PM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Every thrift store has like 5 bread machines at all times, so you can get one and try it for cheap! If you decide you like it, you can upgrade to a nicer one if you like.
posted by exceptinsects at 3:14 PM on February 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

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