Buying Your First Machine,
Things to Remember and Consider
Just a few years ago, you had to watch what bread machine you bought. Somewhere much better than others and there were brands you wanted to avoid. Today however, even the cheapest of bread machines will do a good job. What do you get with the more expensive machines? You get better warranties, a little better construction, and more bells and whistles.
How do you select a machine?
First, if you are unsure if you are going to use a bread machine much, get a cheap one. This does several things for you. First, it gets you started without spending a lot of money. It will give you a chance to see if you like bread machines, if you don’t then you haven’t wasted a lot of money and lastly it gives you some experience so if you decide you want a more expensive one you have an idea of what features you do and don’t want.
Second, I would not touch a bread machine that didn’t have at least a one-year warranty. Anything less and it tells me that the manufacturer doesn’t have much faith in the quality and longevity of their machines.
Third, don’t let the bells and whistles choose a machine for you. Remember, the only features a bread machine must have is a white bread or basic cycle, a manual or dough cycle, and a timer. Other items are more gadget that anything else.
I also strongly recommend that you look at the manual and the cycle times. Some machines have a preheat cycle. While this isn’t a bad thing if it is like 5 or 10 minutes but some machines like the Panasonic YD-205 can take 45 minutes or more. This is unacceptable to me. Also, look at the white bread cycle times, this should be a little over 3 hours. If it were longer, then I would look for another machine. For example, the Panasonic I mentioned before has a 4 plus hour white bread cycle. Way too long. If you can’t get your hands on the manual then buy from a place that has a good return policy.
One thing I consider more important than what cycles the machine has is the pan. What shape is it? Is it going to make an odd shaped loaf? Will a slice of bread fit in your toaster? Will it make a good sandwich? Myself, I like the traditional shaped pans that make a loaf shaped and sized like grandma used to make.
You also need to consider what type of crust you like. Machines with thin aluminum pans tend to make a lighter and thinner crust than machines with thick cast aluminum pans that tend to make darker and thicker crusts. This is not always the rule, but is usually the effect the pan has on the crust. If you don’t like dark thick crusts then you will probably want to stay away from the heavier pans.
Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t want a machine with other cycles and features. However, just be aware that a lot of them aren’t that great. Below is a list of cycles and features you will find on bread machines. You decide, it is your money and you have to use the machine.
Can You Recommend a Machine?
This is the second most asked question I get. Well, this is a completely subjective thing. However, my top choices are (in the order of preference)…
Zojirushi BBCC-X20. This is an excellent quality machine with a nice set of features, a very nice traditionally shaped pan, and dual kneading blades, which is best for thorough kneading of the dough. This is one of the few machines on the market that has a custom program cycle.
Breadman TR-810. This too is an excellent quality machine. It has a wonderful pan that is very horizontal in shape and has two kneading blades. It is a lot like the Zojirushi above but a little cheaper. However, it is missing the custom program cycle.
Breadman TR-2200. This is a good machine with many bells and whistles including an add-ins dispenser that automatically adds in things like raisins and nuts to the dough at the proper time; however I find it too small to hold the add-ins I want to put in. Another problem I have with this machine is the shape of the pan. In my opinion it is a very odd shape and makes a loaf that’s not very useful unless you make 1 pound loaves.
Breadman TR-3000. This is one of the most unique machines on the market. It is the only machine with a touch screen and built-in recipes. It too has many bells and whistles. Its one draw back is that it is a vertical machine. However, I prefer this vertical loaf to the odd shaped loaf that the TR-2200 makes. This is also an excellent machine for people that plan to make mostly dough and then shape and bake in the oven.
Another good thing to do before choosing a bread machine is to talk to people. Talk to the sales people ask them if they have had many returns, complaints, etc. Talk to other bread machine owners our world wide e-mail mailing list is a great place for this. With over 800 members worldwide, it is a brain trust of bread machine information. Read the reviews on this site. Nevertheless, in the end this information is only going to take you so far. You have to decide which machine is best for you.
Other Things to keep in mind…
To what extent does the company stand behind its product? Is there an adequate customer service team to answer your questions when problems arise while you are baking bread?
What kind of warranty does the machine have? Bread machine guarantees normally range anywhere from 3 months to 1 year. The best value is probably the one with a company behind it that believes their machine is durable enough to last for at least a year. On average you can expect your machine to last 3 years. That is doing three loaves a week during that time. Some machines go much longer, for example my Zojirushi BBCC-V20 is going on 5 years, but 3 years is average.
Your machine’s design can make all the difference in the world. The proper design will allow you the freedom to make almost any type of bread you choose. Do you like the shape of the pan? Is the control panel easy to read? Is it easy to program, etc.
Some machines have a more difficult time handling 100% whole grain breads because such grains make heavier dough’s than refined flour. If you expect to bake mostly with whole grains, look for a machine with increased horsepower so it can easily handle the heavier, healthier, whole grain flour. Most new machines can handle heavy dough. Still, it’s a good idea to listen to your machine as it kneads the heavier dough. If it sounds as though it is straining add a little more liquid. If your machine has a whole grain or whole-wheat cycle, your machine should have no problems with the heavier dough. Dual paddle machines also have an easier time with whole grain dough’s and tend to do a better job of kneading to boot.
Bread pans come in many different sizes and shapes. Machines produce oblong, round, rectangular and square loaves. If you want to make bread for one primary use, say sandwiches, the shape of the pan will make a difference. Make sure the machine you choose produces the right shape for your needs. Currently on the market, you can find both horizontal and vertical (harder to find now) pans. They range in capacity from 1 (hard to find), 1-1/2, 2 and 2-1/2 (hard to find) pounds. Personally, we like the horizontal pans best. They make a much more useful loaf of bread. If you’re going to make most of the stuff on the dough cycle, then pan shape doesn’t make much difference. If your plan is to make gluten-free breads then your best choice is a 1-1/2 pound vertical machine.
Another thing to consider is what the pan is made of. All bread machine pans are aluminum with a non-stick coating. However, some are thick cast aluminum, which will make thicker and darker crusts, while some are thin aluminum, which tends to make lighter thinner crusts. There are exceptions to this, but 9 times out 10, this rule holds true. In addition, the type of bread you make will affect the crust as well.
Domes or Windows
We prefer a machine with a window rather than a dome. There are a few machines out there with domes, but they are generally old and I don’t think you can buy them new any more. The problem with them is that the glass allows for a lot of heat loss. This can cause the bread to not be baked or browned on the top. While we like Windows better, they are not very useful. Most of the time you need to use a flashlight to see in there any way. It is just easier to open the lid and look. It also gives you a chance to feel the dough to make sure it is the right consistency. Just don’t open the lid during the bake part of the cycle.
Make sure the timer is easy to use. Test out different models and brands in the store. Avoid any timer that is the least bit confusing! Most machines require you to count the number of hours between the time you set the machine and the time you want the bread done. So, if you are setting the machine at 9pm and you want the bread done at 8am. You would set the timer for 11 hours. Some of the Breadman machines allow you to set the timer like a regular digital alarm clock. Except instead of the radio going on, the dough is made, and baked.
Cycles. This one area really seems to be a source of wrong reasoning. The only cycles a bread machine has to have is a basic or white cycle, and a manual or dough cycle. All breads and dough products can be made using just these two cycles. However, some of the extra cycles on some machines enable you to create jams and quick breads (baking powder/soda). These cycles are convenient features for specialty uses, and you should consider what types of breads you would be making when you select your machine. For example, if your family prefers sweet breads you may want to choose a machine with a sweet bread cycle. This is also true for whole wheat, French, etc. Once you know what you will want to bake, you can choose a machine with the cycles that best work for you.
Cycles available, include:
- Basic or White. This is the all-purpose cycle used for most bread. You can use it, adapting as directed by your owner’s manual, for almost any type of baking.
- Quick or Rapid. This cycle cuts cooking time by about an hour. Some machines are programmed as rapid bake; their regular cycle is as short as 2-1/2 hours, making all of their breads rapid bake.
- Whole Wheat or Whole Grain. This cycle provides the longer rising times needed for heavier breads. With some machines, you may need to make adjustments if you don’t have this cycle or have the option of programming longer kneading and baking times. You can stop and restart your machine after the first kneading cycle, if necessary.
- French Bread. Lowers the amount of kneading time and increases the time for rising. For recipes that are low in fat and sugar. This cycle makes bread with a crisp crust.
- Dough or Manual. Use this cycle to mix and knead the dough, and allow it to rise. You may then enjoy shaping the dough with your hands and baking it in a conventional oven.
- Raisin or Nut. Really, this timer signals when to add the fruit or nuts so they are not smashed, or dried out, before the baking begins.
- Bake-Only. This cycle is good for baking frozen dough’s, although most of what a bake-only cycle does can be done in a conventional oven.
- Sweet Bread. Sugar affects the rising time and baking temperature, and this cycle compensates. Check your owner’s manual for when to use this cycle or for adapting a machine without this cycle when making sweet bread.
- Sourdough. The Breadman Dream Machine is currently the only machine with a sourdough cycle. It has you put in the ingredients for the sourdough starter. It then mixes it and ferments it, then prompts you for the rest of the ingredients. It then kneads the dough, lets it rise, and then bakes it.
- Jam. Allows you to make your own jam and jellies.
- Rice. Cook rice in your bread machine.
- Cake or Batter Bread. Make sweet breads and non-yeast breads such as banana-nut bread.
- Pasta. Kneads the dough–you roll it out.
- Pizza Dough. Makes dough you roll out, top, and bake for great homemade pizza.
- Programmable. This allows you program in your own cycle. This gives you control over kneading time, how rises, rising times, etc.
Read the instructional booklet that comes with the machine. What you want are educational materials that are clear and precise and enable you to bake breads that consistently rise to your expectations.
Look for… An instruction manual that thoroughly covers the use and care of the machine, including what to do when machine parts become clogged or dysfunctional and who to call for advice or repairs.
It is also handy to have program-timing charts that show you how each cycle is broken down. Like how long the first kneading is, how long the rest periods are, how long the rise portion runs, etc.
A video is a handy and effective way to learn how to use your new machine. However, do not buy a machine simply because it has a video. There are more important considerations.
A recipe book with recipes for your machine is pretty much a given. Good recipe books will include at least a dozen recipes for as many types of bread. The more recipes you’re comfortable with, the more flexibility you’ll have in creating consistently delicious and varied loaves for years to come.
In the end, especially these days the manuals are poor and I don’t recommend this be the deciding factor. This web site and the companion mailing list will provide you with more than enough information and we do offer a free basic manual online and other resources too. We probably provide more information on bread machine usage and baking then you will find in most bread machine books.
Size of Bread Pan
Bread pans range from 1 pound to 2-1/2 pounds. We recommend that you buy at least a 1-1/2 pound machine. In theory a one-pound loaf will make 8 slices, a 1-1/2 pound loaf will make 12 slices, a 2-pound loaf will make 16 slices, and a 2-1/2 pound slice will make 20 slices. However, this is not always the case. Some manufacturers label their machines as 2 or 2-1/2 pound, but the pan is the same size and shape as their 1-1/2 pound machine. Because of this, you may not get the expected number of slices. The other thing you need to keep in mind is that the dual kneading blade horizontal machines don’t do well with 1-pound recipes. There simply isn’t enough dough for it to work right. If 1-pound recipes are what you want, go for a vertical 1-1/2 pound machine.
Crust Color Selection
This feature allows you to control the brownness of the crust. Caution: With some machines, a lighter setting can result in breads that are gummy on top, especially sweet breads. We feel that crust control is a nice feature to have. Generally, you get three crust settings light, medium, and dark. Some machines have a sandwich setting that makes breads with lighter than light crusts, the Zojirushi BBCC-V20 is one such machine. I have found that most of the time the crust settings on the machine don’t do much. So don’t expect the world from this feature. However, it is still nice to have.
The power saver is a memory device that saves your bread in the event of power interruption, such as an inadvertent pulling of a plug or temporary loss of power. The power saver in some machines gives you just 10 seconds to restore power, in others it gives you up to 10 minutes. If power is restored within the set time, the cycle will continue where it left off. If the power should go off during the baking process, you are advised to discard the bread and start over.
Bread machines range in price for $40 to more than $200. For the most part more money doesn’t always get you a better machine, but more bells and whistles. Decide what you want to spend and decide what you want to do as well as what you might want to do with the machine and get one that will do it.