Automatic Bread Machines (ABM)

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What's so great about bread machines?
Is it really that easy?
Choosing a machine.
ABM features that I find helpful.
Minor options (to me, anyway).

What's so great about bread machines?

Most of us who get one end up thinking that bread machines are the greatest thing since...well, sliced bread. Why? Because:
  • it slices, it dices, it... oh, wrong commercial!
  • It's easy- you measure the ingredients into the baking pan, put the pan in the machine, and press a button. No mixing, no kneading, no timing or punching down. No pre-heating an oven. The machine does everything. (You might want to watch the dough for a minute or two to make sure that it's not too wet or dry. If you're going to add raisins or nuts, you'll want to set a timer. But that's easy stuff.)
  • There's less of a mess to clean up. You measure the ingredients into the baking pan, etc., and the mixing, kneading, rising, and baking are done in the same pan. You don't have to worry about cleaning bowls, kneading boards, towels, or even your hands. In fact, after the bread is baked, it slips out of the pan and you'll probably have to soak the kneading paddle in cool water for a few minutes to clean it. That's it! No muss, no fuss. Great for the domestically challenged.
  • You can make dough as well as fully cooked bread. That means pizza dough, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, and shaped breads.
  • You can set the machine to have the bread ready at your convenience. You want hot bread when you get home from work or do you like to wake up to the aroma of freshly baked bread? You got it! Would you like to have hot rolls for your special dinner but won't have time because it will take two days to prepare your specialty for 8 people- Elbow Macaroni Stuffed with Maceration of Four Cheeses. No problem! Let the machine make the dough for the rolls while you fill the macaroni.
  • It's fun to experiment. You'll be a lot braver in trying many intriguing recipes if you don't have to spend a lot of time and effort on it. Who wants to knead and rise turnip bread for 3-4 hours, only to find out that it's just blah?
  • It doesn't heat up the kitchen in the summer. What more can I say?
  • and the number one reason we love our ABMs, is that the bread is GREAT! I'm sure that you can make better bread by hand, if you try. But you have to try. You've got to be willing to put the time and effort into slow rising, bread tiles, water mist, and so forth. Most people who make bread conventionally don't go through all that bother. So the bread by machine is as good as most home-made bread done without the machine.

    Is it really that easy?

    Well, there are a few things you have to get used to:
  • When making bread conventionally, you feel the dough and add more flour until it's the right consistency. The bread machine can't do that. You will have to watch it at the beginning of the cycle, until you get a feel for the liquid/flour ratio for your machine and the batch of flour. Once you have that feel, then you can use the delay cycle and so forth with good results.
  • When making bread conventionally, you typically let the dough rise to a particular volume (eg. doubled in bulk), rather than for a specific period of time as the machines do. If this is a problem, you can make some adjustments in the ingredients so that the dough will rise the correct amount in the given time; this also takes experience. But it's usually not much of a problem.
  • You can't add raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, and so forth right at the beginning. Most machines will pulverize them during kneading. You have to time when you add these ingredients.
  • There is a hole in the bottom of the bread where the kneading paddle was embedded during baking. To me this is a non-problem; there are ways to get around it if you want to bother.

    Choosing a machine.

    I have a Toastmaster Bread Box which I really like, but I think the major brands have these features. In fact, most people seem to really like whichever machine they have. One caveat, though. Bread machines seem to be mutating at an alarming rate! If you buy one it is likely that a new/different/improved model by the same manufacturer will appear within 6 months. It's hard to keep up with the features (butter making! rice cooking!) that they are coming up with, so it's possible that any recommendations here will be outdated shortly. Also, I would take the Consumer's Reports bread machine evaluations with a grain of salt. Except of course if they rate YOUR machine tops and then you can tell all your friends "See! CR Labs thinks mine is best." They are all wrong, of course. My Toastmaster is the best.

    These are the features I find helpful:
  • sturdiness to handle 100% whole wheat bread
  • quiet. (The box won't say if a model is or isn't, but the Toastmaster is known to be one of the quieter ones).
  • "cool down" cycle, which actually slightly warms the pan as the bread cools after baking so steam doesn't condense. I realize how important this is because I once turned my machine OFF, but left the finished bread in the pan for an hour or so and it was swimming in water.
  • adjustment for crust color (light, regular, dark)
  • cycles for different breads. I use the basic for almost everything, but some types of bread do need variations in the cycle. Mine has basic, sweet, French, whole wheat, and whole wheat rapid, but probably are nice options rather than concrete requirements.
  • dough cycle. Stops the machine after the first rise so you can take it out and shape it the way you want for rolls, pizza, or special loaves.
  • size. Many people will want the larger sized loaves (2 lb). However, the small size is better for me because I can make more bread (fresher, different types) without worrying about it piling up. If you really want to make a lot of bread, there is a machine that will make two loaves (American Harvest, I think) but I'm not sure how much luck people have had with that company.
  • delayed start cycle so the bread is ready when you awaken in the AM or get home from work.
  • easy to clean.
  • a pan where the blade fits over a post inside the pan, rather than one where a hole in the pan fits over a post in the baking chamber. With the latter arrangement, you have to add the ingredients when the pan is in the machine or they will leak out through the hole

    Minor options (to me, anyway) :
  • glass window. I have it and like looking in, but it's not critical. It's ok to open the cover while the machine is working. The bread won't fall.
  • Some machines have a beep to tell you when to add things like raisins. Mine doesn't but I use a kitchen timer which I just set to the proper time.
  • Some machines have a yeast dispenser, but it's not necessary and I have read questions on how to clean it!
  • If you have the need for flexibility in cycles, the Zoji allows you to custom program the length of the different stages, but at a price. It's one of the most expensive of the machines (I have been informed that certain models of Hitachi and Panasonic are in that price range as well).
  • jam and cake (quick bread) options

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    Updated: April 7, 1996
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