Pressure Multi-cookers

Multi-cookers were, 2009-2018, electric pressure cookers with:

  • a heating element in a round plate below the cooking vessel,
  • stainless or non-stick metal pots,
  • sensors, a control panel and
  • a programmed control responding to feedback from the sensors.

The conglomerate Midea of Guangdong Province, China patented a multi-cooker in 2006. The Instant Pot pressure multi-cooker took off in 2015-6 with social media and presence in Amazon Market Place. Fagor America and its European parent company brought the Fagor Lux to market in 2015 and the Fagor Lux LCD in 2017. Fagor America ceased operations including honoring warranties and providing support for customers and dealers in 2018. The devices reemerged from the reorganization of the Fagor companies under the Zavor brand.

Jarden Consumer Appliances, owner of the Crock-Pot name and brand, introduced a pressure multi-cooker with a non-stick metal insert called the “Express Crock Multi-Cooker”. Multi-cookers without pressure cooking capabilities came into the market 2018-19. These were new iterations of rice cookers or slow cookers programmed for saute, steaming and other functions including “slow cooking”. Examples: Zojirushi Multicooker EL-CAC60; Philips HD3095/87; T-fal RK705851; Aroma Housewares ARC-6106 MultiCooker; Midea Mb-fs5017 10 Cup Smart Multi-cooker. Cuisinart introduced a 3-in-1 Cook Central slow cooker with a nonstick insert with a saute setting. In 2019, Instant Pot put is brand name on an appliance line including rice cookers and air fryers.

Every player in this market claims that a multi-cooker can “replace” a rice cooker, a steamer, and a slow cooker. A pressure multi-cooker ot electric pressure cooker may supercede other devices if it is more convenient or has a capability to cook some foods faster or “better”.

An electric pressure cooker or pressure multi-cooker will not be capable or cooking all recipes taken from a slow cooker recipe source. A slow cooker heats the food into the range where the food simmers slowly. The slow cookers sold in America in the 20th century used constant low heat. While in principle the food was not boiled, most of these device eventually cooked the dish at a temperature above the boiling point of water. Electric pressure cookers or pressure multi-cookers switch the power off when the device decides the pot is hot enough, and then turns the power on to bring the temperature up. It isn’t the same as controlling the flow of power to an element on a stove, and it is not the constant low heat of the traditional low cooker. Slow cooker settings in electric pressure cookers and pressure multi-cooker put out enough heat to warm the base of the pot to a set temperature, monitored by a sensor.

Kristen Chidsey, the Mind “full” Mom, noticed one issue with following a slow cooker recipe in an Instant Pot. Instant Pots have three settings in the slow cooker settings: Low, Normal or Medium, and High. Slow cookers often have a warm setting and low and high slow cooking settings. Instant Pot slow cooker program Low setting provides the function of a slow cooker Warm setting in a slow cooker; it is not equivalent to a slow cooker Low cooking setting. A rule of thumb for following a slow cooker recipe with a pressure multi-cooker: cook at medium (“normal”) where the slow cooker recipe says low.

Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) did not perform well as a slow cooker. CI/ATK tested the low and high slow cooker settings by heating 5 lbs (i.e. 2.7 liters or 2.8 quarts) of water for 5 hours. It warned that the slow cooker settings on some devices are too cold, and on others too hot.

CI/ATK say that its slow cooker recipes in Multicooker Perfection work well if a device gets the food to 195-210 F and maintains that temperature. CI/ATK recommended the Fagor Lux LCD and Lux devices those devices met those marks and could perform a large subset of the CI/ATK slow cooker recipe repertoire. It recommend the comparable Zavor models when Zavor acquired the names, rights and supply chains and began to ship product. Fagor went out of business and provides no customer support; Zavor is still establishing itself, as of late 2019 and does not honor Fagor warranties or provide support for Fagor models. Zavor models are more expensive than Instant Pots, and not widely available (at end of 2019). Parts and accessories are rare.

Pressure cookers can cook the same soups, stews etc. that can be cooked in a slow cooker or in a pot on a stove or in an oven. Pressure multi-cookers, including Instant Pots, can perform many slow cooker recipes in slow cooker programs. Madhur Jaffrey has recipes for lamb (and goat) including a lamb pilaf using Instant Pot slow cooker progam setting in her Instantly Indian Cookbook. Melissa Clark has Instant Pot slow cooker versions of every recipe Dinner in an Instant. Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection did too.

Pressure multi-cookers are useful when the user know how the devices tranfer heat to food over time, to cook food to a safe and palatable condition. A cook needs information about the device and about the assumptions of a recipe. The use of new tools is not necessarily instinctive or intuitive. Meal planning depends on the available tools and ingredients, and the goals of feeding people and satifying appetites.

A limitations on pressure multi-cookers: size and working space. An 8 quart model is as bulky as a 6 quart ceramic slow cook. Pressure cookers are bigger than other cooking vessels because the user has to leave them partly unfilled for dishes that expand as they absorb water.

Another limitation is that the engineers have not allowed users to use these devices manually. There are preset temperatures and times, and programmed cooking programs. A frustration of using a pressure multi-cooker is finding a way to use the device as a simple cookpot, which becomes necessary when a cook wants to cook a thin broth or sauce down, or cook for a few more minute when the dish is not cooked enough. The multi-cooker has to be set again to a setting that will boil or simmer. The sauté setting will bring the pot to a boil but may burn the food. There probably is a simmer setting but where is the simmer button? Can the cooking pot can removed and put on the stove; is there an element available? This is not hard, if you know what to do when the time comes!


Instant Pot

The principals of Double Insight developed the Instant Pot in 2008-9 and were on the market by 2012. The Instant Pot pressure multi-cooker took off in 2015-6 with social media and presence in Amazon Market Place. “Instant Pot” is not a trade mark like Vacuum Cleaner or Bandaid – it is a brand name. Instant Pot launched a sous-vide heater in 2018, and a blender early in 2019, It merged with Corelle Brand LLC in March 2019, and launched new rice cooker and air fryer appliances in time for Black Friday.

Instant Pot markets its pressure multi-cooker as a replacement for other appliances by providing “Smart Programs” that control the cooker to work in a way equivalent to other appliances.

Almost all other pressure multi-cookers, and many devices with a bottom element have a program or setting to brown or sauté. The electric skillet was a common appliance in last few decades of the 20th century. I recall devices with a dial contol marked with temperatures – like a dimmer switch. Some electric skillets had thermostat controls.

Instant Pots, like almost all pressure multi-cookers, control the sauté function with programmed settings and use feedback from a “digital temperature sensor”. The Lux, Duo and Ultra models have three temperature settings for the sauté program. There are different ways of selecting the sauté settings. The manuals identify the effect of using the settings in a range of temperatures. The Ultra models have three defaults, and allow a user to select or specify a custom temperature:

DuoUltraRange F(C)Setting F(C)
LessLow275-302 (135- 150) 221 (105)
NormalMedium320-349 (160-176) 336
MoreHigh347-410 (175-210) 345
Custom ≥ 104 – ≤ 338 (40-170)

The sensor is on the outside. The device preheats to a temperature above the set temperature and signals that the pot is “hot”, in the LCD display. The cooking surface is hotter than the set temperature when the hot signal shows. The display turns to “on” when food is added to the pot and heated. The transfer of heat to the food lowers the temperature of the cooking surface.

The hot signal is one of Instant Pot’s overheat/burn protection systems. When the display goes from “On” to “Hot” during cooking, the food is dry because all the moisture has evaporated, and there is a risk of overheating.

Instant Pot limits the cooking time on a sauté program to 30 minutes, and automates the time function. For instance setting a period of less than 5 minutes does not mean that the device will cook at the set level for the programmed time. I have had it reach go from preheat to on to off in a few seconds. It subtract a few minutes apparently to adjust for the period of cooking that occurred while the device was reaching operating temperature. I couldn’t find an explanation in the vast web literature about the device or in Instant Pot’s official web literature. The time can be set at 20-30 minutes, and the device treated like a skillet – watch, stir, deglaze – and shut off by stopping the program. (Or keep oven mitts handy and lift the vessel and use it as stovetop pot to simmer or boil or reduce the liquid – whatever).

Using an Instant Pot to sauté is like cooking in a narrow, tall Dutch Oven on a moderately hot to hot stove. The steel pot is preferable – it withstands stirring with various implements, and is easier to clean. The optional tempered glass lid is useful in cooking in sauté program.

The Instant Pot’s key program is Pressure Cook, an electric pressure cooker function with high and low pressure/temperature settings, and cooking time programable in one minute increments. Preheating is automated. The device will cook for the programmed time at the operating pressure programmed. It may show a hot or burn setting – some foods are a greater risk for such misadventure.

Cooks Illustrated/America’s Test Kitchen’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) runs a little differently than other electric pressure cookers. It heats to 247 F. but takes several minutes longer to reach operating pressure than other pressure multi-cookers and electric pressure cookers. Instant Pot models introduced before 2018 peak at over 13 psi but operate with operating high pressure of 10.2-11.6 psi, in the same operating pressure range as other electric pressure cookers. Electric pressure cooker recipes work in Instant Pots, with few adjustments. I may add 10% cooking (i.e. at operating pressure) time on some recipes.

A pressure multi-cooker can cook many foods using pressure cooker programs. Laura Pazzaglia and other pressure cooker writers concentrate on the pressure cooker functions of pressure multi-cookers. Laura Pazzaglia suggests recipes should be adapted for pressure unless a recipe uses ingredients that fail under pressure or create functional complications. Her books and web site provide tables for cooking specific items in most pressure cookers at different operating pressures.

Laura Pazzaglia, Barbara Schieving and other writers have several recipes for rice and suggestions for cooking rice on pressure settings. These writers have little to say about the Instant Pot Rice program. The Rice program uses low pressure with automated functions to cook long grain white rice and some short grain white rice. It provides a basic steamed rice function, and may support a few other preparations. It has been a work in progress in the manuals, recipe booklets, independently sourced recipes and support documentation.

Instant Pot identifies three temperature settings for the slow cooker function across the pressure multi-cooker product lines in the 6 and 8 quart models.The Instant Pot manuals for the Duo and Ultra models (5, 6, and 8 quart) indicate the slow cooker functions cook in a range of 180-210 F. The ranges for each setting:

DuoUltraRange F (C) Set F (C)
LessLow 180 – 190 (82 – 87.8)185 (85)
NormalMedium 190 – 200 (87.8 – 93)194 (90)
MoreHigh 200 – 210 (93 – 99) 208 (97.7)
Custom ≥ 104 (40) – ≤ 208 (97.7)

Cooks Illustrated/ATK’s Multicooker Perfection (2018) reported that the Instant Pot Duo (8 quart) did not perform well as a slow cooker. It reports that the Instant Pot slow cooker high setting will heat water to to 206 F. – i.e. the Instant Pot is set to not boil water. Laura Pazzaglia explains the weaknesses of the Instant Pot slow cooker program:

Medium and high are simmer settings, and supposed to make an Instant Pot “replace” a traditional slow cooker.

Readers have reported under-cooked food and less evaporation when slow cooking with all Instant Pot models, …  The under-cooking is … a side-effect of all new generation thermostat-regulated slow cookers versus the traditional wattage-regulated cookers and the uneven heat distribution between a stainless steel insert compared to ceramic inserts.

A pressure multi-cooker is different from the traditional slow cookers, and will not perform some recipes. Instant Pots can perform many slow cooker recipes in the slow cooker program. One approach to using the Instant Pot as a slow cooker is to find tested multi-cooker slow cooker recipes. Some books provides recipes that can be done using slow cooker program in a pressure multi-cooker.

  • Melissa Clark’s Dinner in an Instant (2017) has Instant Pot slow cooker versions of every recipe;
  • Cooks Illustrated/ATK Multicooker Perfection (2018) has slow cooker versions of every recipe with a suggetion for the Instant Pot of using Instant Pot slow cooker high setting where the Multicooker Perfection recipe says slow cooker low;
  • Madhur Jaffrey has recipes for lamb (and goat) including a lamb pilaf using the slow cooker program of an Instant Pot (her Instantly Indian Cookbook refers to a 6 quart Duo v. 3). She advises using the sealing lid ands leaving the pressure release valve open.

Contrary to the Instant Pot Manual, the optional tempered glass lid is not helpful in slow cooker setting cooking; it may be counterproductive.

A cook can use the pressure cooker for some ingredients that work in a pressure cooker e.g. dried beans, and other tools and methods to make the rest of the dish e.g. sauté or brown other ingredients in a vessel of choice, add in the pre-cooked ingredient, heat on a sauté or steam setting and then let it all simmer for a while onslow cooker setting. Or add the ingredients, simmer on the Instant Pot slow cooker setting and raise the temperature to a boil for as long as it takes to make sure everything is cooked.

Even low sauté can heat the dish to a boil. Steam setting does it too – even the no pressure steam setting can bring liquid to a rolling boil. This means a short time. (The Ultra settings are not useful for getting a higher slow cooker temperature). This may involve watching and stirring to distribute heat. The glass lid can be usefully used let some heat out while simmering on one of these higher heat settings.

A short time on a pressure setting can speed up a dish that fails to cook on a slow cooker setting. The pressure settings require the sealing lid, locked in place. The pressure setting will boil the food. The release valve can be closed for pressure, or left open. If the valve is left open, it will vent; and some cooking fluid will evaporate.

Recipe sources:

Title/NameType Who  
Cooking Under Pressure Book1989Lorna J. SassGoodreadsStovetop "standard" recipes, have to be adjusted for lower pressure devices
hip Pressure CookingBook2014Laura PazzagliaGoodreadsPressure recipes: standard and electric cooking times
hippressurecooking.comWebLaura PazzagliaPressure recipes: standard and electric cooking times
MaoMaoMom KitchenWeb[eponymous]Instant Pot recipes
Vegan under PressureBook2016Jill NussinowStovetop standard recipes
Dinner in an InstantBook2017Melissa ClarkInstant Pot recipes
The Electric Pressure Cooker CookbookBook2017Barbara SchievingGoodreadsElectric device recipes
Pressure Cooking TodayWebBarbara and Jennifer SchievingElectric device recipes
Instant Pot Recipe BookletBooklet2018Instant Pot corporate; various contributorsInstant Pot recipes
Multicooker PerfectionBook2018Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen)Electric device recipes
Madhur Jaffrey's Instantly Indian CookbookBook2019Madhur Jaffreyrecipes from Indian cooking books for Instant Pot

The Instant Pot product sheet for the Ultra model says the Ultra program “provides complete custom programming for pressure and non-pressure cooking”. Laura Pazzaglia explains the program this way:

…the ability to pre-program the cooker with any cooking time, any temperature or one of two pressures.

…the Ultra feature will let you set the right temperature to, for example, scald milk (180°F/82°C) and melt chocolate (104°F/40°C).

The Ultra function temperature range is ≥ 104 – ≤ 208 F (40-97.7 C) . People experiment using the Ultra function for Sous-vide. It would be wise to use a thermometer to verify the temperature of the water.


Electric Pressure Cookers

A pressure cooker reaches cooking temperatures above the boiling point of water (212 F. or 100 C.). Pressure cooking involves time to bring water to a boil, reach cooking temperature, and a period at the operating pressure and temperature. Pressure cookers use high heat to build pressure and get food to a cooking temperature; low heat to maintain heat and pressure. Pressure cookers have sealing lid and valves. The lids are metal with locking rims. The cook cannot see what is going on an monitors the events in the pot by watching valves pot shut and by readouts in electronic models.

Recipes for pressure cookers state the cooking time as the period under operating pressure. Recipe will address how to release pressure. Pressure cookers have two working valves (many have additional emergency or safety valves):

  • Float valve: responds to steam pressure, pops up to seal the lid and engages a lock to prevent opening the lid while the device is under pressure; and
  • Pressure Release valve, also known as pressure limit valve, pressure regulator knob, steam release hande, steam release reset button, rapid release button.

Pressure will drop when the heat is removed, or when the pressure release valve is opened. Some recipes call for a natural drop before the valve is opened. This is commonly a a step in cooking rice and grains – and part of cooking. Other recipes call for opening the valve when the full heat/pressure period ends.

Most devices have low and high pressure settings . The American standard for high pressure limit is 15 psi; the European standard is 1 bar, or 14.6 psi. Stovetop pots tended to go to those limits, although many models did not. Stovetop pots were the standard for most recipes until electric pressure cookers became more common in the last decade of the 20th century.

A stovetop pressure cooker uses an external heat source. Stovetop pots are expensive compared to some cookware but many good models are less expensive than electric pressure cookers. A stovepot pot can be heated to pressure quickly using high heat. A stovetop pot can saute, fry and simmer. The stovetop pot requires the cook’s attention: to turn the stove down when operating pressure is reached, and then to turn off the heat when the pressure period ends.

Electric pressure cookers and pressure multi-cookers have become popular but have not pushed stovetop pots out of the kitchen or the market.

An electric pressure cooker has an outer shell, a heating element, an inner pot, a sealing lid and a control set. A modern machines has a microprocessor and an electronic control panel. The device turns the heating element on to sauté or build pressure. When operating temperature and pressure are reached, it cycles off and on to maintain pressure and temperature. The device will turn the heat off at the end of the period entered as the cooking time (at the operating pressure), and sound an alarm.

Electric pressure cookers cook at lower pressure and temperature than the upper limit(s); but above the boiling point. Laura Pazzaglia’s Hip Pressure Cooking FAQ observes that

Electric pressure cookers build pressure up to 15 psi but then maintain a lower pressure during the cooking … the “operating pressure” is 11.6 even though the cooker reaches 15 psi while it’s building pressure.

‘Operating Pressure’ is the true pressure at which an electric pressure cooker cooks“.

There are exceptions; e.g. – Instant Pot Max, marketed in 2018, is said to operate at the standard pressure.

Laura Pazzaglia’s Hip Pressure Cooking site has a FAQ which includes the pressure/temperature graph. The lower pressures of electric pressure cookers require an adjustment to cooking times from standard recipes. Laura Pazzaglia has charts on a cooking times page at her Hip Pressure Cooking site. Her charts recognize that there are differences between stovetop and electric machines and different brands and machines by leaving some parameters within ranges. Some writers provide notes about performance on some recipes in specific devices.

An electric pressure cooker provides the option of cooking without the pressure sealing lid using a sauté setting (or any hot setting that can be activated without locking the lid). Some have multiple saute (the device serves as an electric skillet) settings, some have only one saute setting. This is a way to use the device to cook some ingredients (e.g. softening onions and “blooming” spices and garlic and ginger) before filling the cooking pot and starting the pressure cooker. Using these settings to cook ingredients that have to be removed and added later is less convenient – it may be better to use the pressure cooker pot for other prep steps and pressure cooking, and manage the saute item in a skillet or wok on the stove. An electric pressure cooker is narrow and tall, and not easily handled and used like skillet. A user may needs to able to continuing cooking after the pressure cooking has ended – some final simmering to reduce a dish or cook ingredients added after the pressure cooking. The sauté setting may be too hot for anything less than a full rolling boil. Electric pressure cookers need – and most have – a simmer setting or an equivalent.

Recipe books and web sites for pressure cookers, electric pressure cookers, and multi-cookers:

Title/NameType Who  
Cooking Under Pressure Book1989Lorna J. SassGoodreadsStovetop "standard" recipes, have to be adjusted for lower pressure devices
hip Pressure CookingBook2014Laura PazzagliaGoodreadsPressure recipes: standard and electric cooking times
hippressurecooking.comWebLaura PazzagliaPressure recipes: standard and electric cooking times
MaoMaoMom KitchenWeb[eponymous]Instant Pot recipes
Vegan under PressureBook2016Jill NussinowStovetop standard recipes
Dinner in an InstantBook2017Melissa ClarkInstant Pot recipes
The Electric Pressure Cooker CookbookBook2017Barbara SchievingGoodreadsElectric device recipes
Pressure Cooking TodayWebBarbara and Jennifer SchievingElectric device recipes
Instant Pot Recipe BookletBooklet2018Instant Pot corporate; various contributorsInstant Pot recipes
Multicooker PerfectionBook2018Cook's Illustrated (America's Test Kitchen)Electric device recipes
Madhur Jaffrey's Instantly Indian CookbookBook2019Madhur Jaffreyrecipes from Indian cooking books for Instant Pot

Jill Nussinow, writing mainly about vegetables, provided standard pressure cooking times. She thought that electric time did not have be lengthened where the release is slow or natural – the device provided extra cooking time because electric pressure cookers provide a little extra cooking time coming to pressure and while the pressure drops.

Laura Pazzaglia’s book provides times for both standard and electric pressure cooker. She doesn’t have a formula. The addtional cooking time may be zero or may as much as 50%. Her tables are at the end of her book,and are also available online at hippressurecooking. Her tables are consistent with Jill Nussinow’s observation that necessary adjustments are variable depending on ingredient and release method (and release time).

Recipe sources and manual use terms for the two main options for when to use the pressure release valve – the end of the period of operating pressure, or after waiting for pressure to come down:

End of OPWait
Instant Pot Recipe BookletQuick Release Natural
Sass, Cooking under PressureQuick Release Naturally
ATK, Multicooker PerfectionQuick Natural
Pazzaglia, hip Pressure Cooking Normal Natural
Schieving, Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook Quick Natural
Clark, Dinner in an InstantManual Natural

There are variations on each option including modified or slow (i.e. incremental, pulsed) quick release and a timed wait with a manual release to be able to open the pot.

Many electric pressure cookers and multi-cookers have sauté functions; some call it “brown” or “browning”. They vary in temperature; usually hot enough to melt fats but not always warm enough to carmelize the food.

Some have a button or setting to engage a “simmer” function. Simmer is a setting in Fagor/Zavor Lux devices that to heat the food at 200 F for up to 30 minutes. Instant Pots can simmer at a slow cooker setting; the slow cooker “high” setting should match the Fagor/Zavor simmer setting. The temperature is an indirect reading – it is what the manufacturer says in the manual and is calibrated to what a sensor outside the pot is reading.

About “Instant Pot” recipe sources:

  • An “Instant Pot” pressure recipe should work in any electric pressure cooker or pressure capable multi-cooker; but variations may be needed;
  • With adjustments of time, an “Instant Pot” pressure recipe should work in a stovetop or standard pressure cooker;
  • Instant Pot has used different terms for preset sauté temperatures in its pressure multi-cookers; and a recipe source may use the term for one model. Other electric pressure cookers and multi-cookers will be different in some ways. A stovetop user has to use the heat setting of the the stove or cooktop. A use will have to see what the food is doing when using any pressure cooker as a skillet;
  • Some “Instant Pot” and multi-cooker sources use the pressure and sauté settings almost exclusively, but:
    • Some regard the rice function (low pressure and “automatic” time), as a good way to to steam white rice, or using the Instant Pot with additional ingredients like a rice cooker device;
    • Some address slow-cooker functions; this is a tricky area;
    • Some discuss the other functions that are useful for some cooks.

Slow Cookers

I used a slow cooker for many years. I have invested time and effort in learning that method of cooking. Slow cookers braise food in liquid at low heat.

Most slow cookers made from the 1950s to the early 21st century used ceramic crocks heated by a single electric heating element- low powered and poorly insulated. Elements were like elements in electric ovens and toaster ovens: straight metal, shaped into a circle or oval to surround the lower part of crock. Elements in modern machines are ribbon or wire elements in a belt. In some modern machines the element may have insulation. In basic devices the power is turned on to allow a constant electric current produces constant heat stated as in watts. The element heats the crock which heats the food. The heat at the element will be greater than the temperature of the inside surface of the crock. The element may be contolled by a switch or a control panel.

The ceramic crock slow cooker was inspired by the ceramic beanpot. This article on CNET has pictures and illustrations of old devices. Ceramic beanpots, like Dutch ovens and casseroles, cook dry beans in water or broth. Beanpots involved long cooking times at low heat. The constraints for dry beans are heat and time. The heat source had to provide steady low heat, and keep the cooking water below the boiling point of water (212 F. or 100 C.). A slow cooker can be used like a beanpot, to cook beans in fluid. If heat is constantly applied, the beans will be heated, and simmered or gently boiled. Writers (e.g. Anupy Singla, The Indian Slow Cooker; Rick Bayless, Mexican Every Day) suggested several hours on high in a normal ceramic crock slow cooker. Some beans need a long time on high. e.g. chickpeas (garbanzo beans), black urad beans, or red kidney beans. Some recipes incorrectly suggest that dry chickpeas cook in 6 hours on low.

I tried a recipe with dry white chickpeas in that device once. The other ingredients were well cooked at 6 hours on low before but the beans were not done – rather crunchy. Chickpeas are said to need 3 hours or 4 hours on high in a crock pot or slow cooker. I haven’t tried that; I won’t. I am suspicious about recipes that say that chickpeas can be done in less than 10-12 hours. I have since done curried chickpeas (using a chana masala spice blend); cooking time of 14 hours on high.

The ceramic crock slow cooker would cook root vegetables in a few hours; less dense material more quickly. Rival (now a Jarden Brand) began to build and market the Crock-Pot in the 1970’s (by the 1990’s “the Original Slow Cooker”) as a device to cook stew and chili. Rival and its competitors pushed the standard size of the crock from 5 quarts to 6 or 7 quarts. The manufacturers increased the wattage of elements to meet concerns that the device was not cooking the food well enough to be safe and palatable after 8 hours of cooking. Another innovation: the three and four position switch. With the latter the cook can select Off; Warm; Low; High. Warm is not a cooking setting. High means the element runs hotter than low. This article says that 7 hours on low is equivalent to 3 hours on high.

I used a 6 quart ceramic crock Crock-Pot with a manual off-low-high switch for years. It heated the ingredients enough: it created humidity under the lid and some bubbling in the pot; some ingredients would bake to the sides. I made stews and chilies that filled the pot to 2/3 to 3/4, cooked on low for 5-7 hours. I refrigerated or froze leftovers. These recipes require precooked or canned beans.

Many slow cooker recipes for recommend using canned beans, because beans take long than any other ingredient. Most canned beans (most canned vegetables) are cooked in the can in a salty broth; salt is used to counteract the effects of this cooking – manufacturers think that without salt, the food takes on offensive flavours. This is a problem for many people – no sodium beans are available but consumers have to find them.

In June 2015, Rival published a statement about Crock-Pots that can still be seen in the Wayback Machine archive here. It includes these assertions and disclaimers about cooking, food safety and slow cooker:

  • The simmering point of water is 209 F.;
  • The contents of a crock should reach that point in 7 to 8 hours on low or 3 to 4 hours on high;
  • Food doesn’t need to reach the boiling point for safe eating – the simmer point is acceptable;
  • The safe to serve internal temperature is around 160 degrees, which your food may reach well before three hours.
  • Just use your best discretion.

Rival did not say which ceramic crock slow cookers could bring food or fluid to 209 F. in under 3 hours on high or low setting. The simmering point of water usually refers to a range from 185 F. to 205 F. The water has thermal energy and bubbles slowly. A small amount of water turns to gas, condenses, and becomes visible as a mist. The water is not actually boiling and the mist is not steam, which is the gas made up of water molecules at a temperature in excess of the boiling point of water.

Simmered food should reach an equilibrium that is will be sustained for a time. The situation will change when heat is added to the system, too much evaporation has occurred, or the food is cooked.

The food safety aspect of cooking is to avoid the conditions in which bacteria contaminate the food. Bacteria are dead in frozen food, dormant in cold food, and die off at about 140 F. They thrive in cool to warm food. They digest the food and excrete complex chemicals that spoil or poison the food. Most cooking methods raise the temperature fast.

Books and recipes before 2016/17 assume 5.5-6 quart ceramic crock slow cookers with high and low cooking settings. Culinary writers try to get a stew, chili or curry done in 6 hours or less – fast slow cooking. Cook’s Illustrated/America’ Test Kitchen produced three America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution cookbooks 2011-2015. Each discussed the uses and some of limitations of the device, and provided workable techniques and recipes – addressing the ceramic crock slower. Each book had product reviews of a few products. The products tended to work the same way.

Innovations extended product lines and marketing opportunities; some innovations added some value for consumers. Timers give cooks an option to turn off or turn down the heat. Jarden/Rival had a line of Smart-Cookers with buttons that allowed the user to select 4 or 6 hours on high, or 8 or 10 on low. These are not what a user may want. The Crock-Pot Count-Down timer was a good innovation and has been widely emulated.

The limitations of ceramic crock slow cookers include:

  • A 6 or 7 quart crock is heavy;
  • The crock could not sauté, fry, or roast food. Some ingredients have to be cooked in a skillet or other vessel first to ensure the dish would be fully cooked, or to enhance flavour (bloom spices, heat onions and garlic, brown some ingredients);
  • The ceramic crock cannot be used on stove elements, in hot ovens, or in microwave ovens;
  • Manufacturers and culinary writers warn users
    • to not lift the lid or stir the food;
    • to not add cold ingredients into a hot crock;
  • The food near the element gets hot first and is always hotter. Food touching the crock near the element may brown, stick or even burn;
  • Ceramic crocks develop cracks and break down. The heat source is in a belt around the lower part of the crock; recipes place variable demand on the device. Manufacturers deflect by blaming users for ignoring warnings and limit their liability to short warranty periods.
  • Replacement ceramic inserts are hard to find – out of production, or out of stock;
  • The device draws power constantly. It is cheaper and more efficient than using an oven, but not necessarily as efficient as other appliances.

Devices sold as slow cookers or having a slow cooker function, in 2019:

  • oval or round vessels with surrounding elements with ceramic cooking vessels or chambers;
  • oval or round vessels with surrounding or bottom elements, with metal, coated metal cooking vessels or chambers
  • round metal pots with bottom elements (electric pressure cookers and other multicookers).

Slow cooker sizes vary. There are many 3 and 4 quart devices. 5, 5.5, 6, 6.5 quart models were common – nearly standard. There have been a few 7.5 and 8 quart models. There are roasting pans/ovens in the shape and style of slow cookers – these are larger than slow cookers.

Some modern slow cookers have metal pans, with non-stick or ceramic coatings. Metal pan slow cookers may have the heating element in an aluminum hotplate below the pan – like rice cookers and electric pressure cookers. A rice cooker heats a metal pot of rice and fluid to a boil, and uses automated controls to change the heat to low simmer. An electric pressure cooker brings the contents of the pot to a rolling boil with a hotplate element (e.g. Instant Pots: 1000 watts in 6 quart pots). A pressure cooker heats food and fluid to the boiling point; under pressure the temperature rises higher. The elements in these devices are below at the cooking vessel, and temperature and pressure sensors are outside the inner pot.

Machines with high wattage elements and/or metal pots rely on temperature sensors and programmed controls to prevent the food from overheating. Temperature sensors are typically outside the cooking vessel, and read a temperature at a point on the outside surface. The chip makes progammed calculations that control the current and the read out/display, if any. Usually, the control chip turns the element off when a set temperature is reached, and turns it for short periods on maintain temperature at the point calculated by the manufacturer’s team. The temperature of the contents of the vessel over time should rise and then graph as peaks and troughs along a mean.

Cook’s Illustrated/America’ Test Kitchen The Complete Slow Cooker (2017) recommended modern slow cookers with features including temperature sensors, countdown timers and electronic controls. CI/ATK tested heating performance by heating 4 quarts of water in 6 and 7 quart slow cookers Parts of the tests and results are in a YouTube video and a background story. There is a graph which shows that several devices in their tests will heat the water to 210 F. on high heat in about three hours; other devices take longer. CI/ATK pointed out that many newer machines run too hot to execute the CI/ATK library of slow cooker recipes. They like devices that heat the food to nearly the boiling point in a few hours and stabilize the heat. CI/ATK highly recommended a 6 quart KitchenAid ceramic crock model with a 350 watt belt element, and a Cuisinart model with a coated aluminum pan and a 250 watt hotplate element.

Wattage does not necessarily predict results. A 200-250 watt element is not hot enough to to fry in a metal pot. It heats the food faster in a metal pot than a ceramic. Ceramic crock machines with lower wattage elements will not heat water to 210 F. in 3 hours on high. Crock-Pot has 370 watts for an 8 quart crock, 240 watts for 6 quart models and 210 watts for 4 quart models. These machines would execute most recipes within the parameters of the recipe books, with a little variation depending on the crock and the contents of the crock. A few hours at low may be enough for soup, stew and chili. Several hours at high will do dry beans.

It is useful to know if device can heat water to 190-210 F., how fast, and on which setting.


Dry Hard

Dry pulses, the seeds of several legumes are inexpensive but take time to cook, which uses time and personal energy, and fuel or power. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization recognizes 11 types of pulses harvested as dry grains: dry beans, dry broad beans, dry peas, chickpeas, cow peas, pigeon peas, lentils, bambara beans, vetches, lupins and pulses nes (not elsewhere specified). Split pulses are commonly called grams. Some whole pulses are called grams. It depends on the source of information.

Cooking dry beans was a matter of folk wisdom, and became difficult and obscure through the 20th century after the food industry became able to cook dry beans and present them as precooked in cans and in restaurant supply. Dry beans re-emerged in pastoral, local, and vegetable focussed recipes. Some recipes focussed on traditional methods such as ceramic cooking vessels. Paula Wolfert and others writers who wrote about Mediterranean (southern Europe, the Aegean countries, the Levant and North Africa) cooking introduced dishes and techniques that fell out of favour, to be reintroduced in popular books by Yotsm Ottolenghi in the early 21st century. Others used the stove and pots of the 20th century. Others used slow cookers and pressure cookers; even microwave cooking. Anything that would braise or boil dry beans.

Green beans, string beans, soybeans and some green peas are not dry beans.

Lentils are variants of one or two species in the genus Lens. They have a flat, disk-like shape. In the North American grocery market, the common products are large brown and green lentils grown in the USA and Canada, noted in the Lentil#Types section on the Wikipedia page.

Peas are round; variants of Pisum sativa. Chickpeas are in the genus Cicer. White chickpeas (garbanzo bean; Egyptian pea; kabuli chana) have been grown, cooked and consumed around the Mediteannean and in Asia as far east and south as India for a few millenia of recorded history. In India, dark chickpeas (aka bengal gram) have been cultivated since before recorded history.

Most kidney-shaped or oval beans are variants of Phaseolus vulgraris, a pulse that evolved in South and Central America. The American variants include pinto, navy, Great Northern, lima, red kidney, cranberry and black turtle beans. Phaseolus has travelled and been modified and used in European and Indian agriculture and cooking. Cannellini beans (white kidney), and Great Northern beans were adopted in Italian, Mediterannean, and European cooking and agriculture. Red Kidney beans have become a north Indian food. Some sources recite old botanical taxonomy and refer to some European and Asian dry beans as Phaseolus. Broad beans, and faba (or fava) beans are vetches (Vicia faba); Lupini beans are lupins. Broad beans and lupins are the original Meditaranean and European dried beans.

Canned beans are cooked to a point, canned, and cooked in the can at high temperature. Canned beans are high in sodium, except for some brands.

In Indian cooking, dal may refer to small pulses: lentils, urad beans, mung beans, and pigeon peas. It may include split dark chickpeas and whole chickpeas, white or dark. The term covers many pulses. This Indian cooking site explains and has images. I like Anupy Singla’s books. She explains the terms for whole, split and skin or skinless legumes, which I have summarized:

English name(s)DescriptionIndian name(s)BotanyCooking
Brown lentilwholemasoor dalgenus LensIndian lentils are small;
American lentils are larger
Red lentil;
pink lentil
split brownmasoor dal duhligenus Lens
Mung bean;
Green gram
wholesabut moong dalVigna mungo;
South Asian peas;
Mung beansplit, skinnedmoong dal;
duhli moong dal
Vigna mungo
Urad bean;
black gram
wholesabut uradVigna mungo;
South Asian peas
hard; long cooking time
Urad beanspliturad dal chilkaVigna mungo
Urad beansplit, skinnedurad dal duhliVigna mungo
Pigeon peawholesabut toor dalgenus Cajanus;
India; South-East Asia
Pigeon peasplitduhli toor dalCajanus
Chickpea (white)
Garbanzo bean
wholekabuli chanagenus Cicer
Chickpea (black)
Bengal gram
wholedesi chanaCicer
Chickpea (black)splitchana dalCicer
Blackeyed peagenus Vigna;
Africa; spread to
America and India
Red Kidney beanrajmaphaseolus vulgaris;
central American,
spread to India

It is important to understand the usage of names in recipes. Ural beans can take a long time. There is a large difference between urad beans and urad dal!

Dry pulses last years. This can lead to problems. It is hard to tell how when the beans were harvested. Dried pulses have to be cooked in water. Old pulses are drier and harder to cook. Age is not easily judged from appearance.

The cooking time depends on the seed, age, and cooking method. Many recipe books understate cooking time for some pulses, The age of the pulse cannot be identified easily. Soaking before cooking reduces the cooking time, saving energy and giving the cook some confidence about getting the beans cooked on schedule for a predictable meal time. There are varations – soaking in brine; adding baking soda to the cooking water.

Clay pot cooking was used in every culture – ceramics predated metal cooking vessels. The word olla is Spanish, based on Latin. The Romans had good pottery. After the decline of the Roman empire the olla – the bulbous cooking pot – was the common ceramic vessel. Paula Wolfert wrote about cooking in ceramic pots. Rick Bayless wrote about ceramic beanpots in several books. It was slow cooking. It used as little fuel or energy as necessary.

Mexican and Central American cooks simmered pinto beans and black (turtle) beans in an olla in enough water to keep the beans covered in water through the entire process. According to Rick Bayless writing in Mexico, One Plate at a Time (Scribner, 2000), cooking in an olla heated the beans and water to 205-210 degrees (F), just below boiling. The beans would be cooked for several hours. Little water was lost to evaporation. The beans absorbed much of the water, and the cooking fluid became a broth. With this method, the beans were not soaked or pre-cooked.

Dried pulses can be cooked in cooking vessels on home stoves. Stove and ovens became the preferred approach where hot stoves were workable, including Europe and North America. Stovetop elements and burners heat the contents of metal pots above the boiling point of water, even at the lowest settings. With stoves, metal pots and cheap energy or fuel, the prevalent approach became to soak and boil.

A ceramic or metal beanpot or casserole (e.g. a Dutch Oven) filled with beans and water can be put in an oven; some beans are called baked beans. An oven might be set as low as 250 F. to simmer the beans slowly; many recipes suggest a hotter oven. The constraints on slow simmering and baking are to start early enough to get the beans soft and well cooked by meal time, to use enough water, and to keep the heat low and steady.

Rick Bayless agreed in Mexican Everyday (2005) that a slow cooker was a method of cooking pinto beans, black turtle beans and some other phaseolus beans. This simple device get the beans and water hot enough to simmer. Pinto beans take up to about 8 hours on low. Black turtle beans can be done in 6 hours on low. It depends on the slow cooker. Lentils only take a few hours in a slow cooker.

Some dal can be done with a few hours on low in a slow cooker – the true lentils. Other dal can take a long time in slow cookers – urad beans, rajma (red kidney beans) and chana dal (chickpeas). I have recipes that for curried chickpeas that cook, starting from dry (i.e. not soaked) beans, 12 to 14 hours on high. Split peas take time too. I add hours and/or use high when a slow cooker recipe says split peas can be done in less than 10 hours on low!

With a slow cooker, pre-soaking beans is not required, if you have time to cook them. Soaking beans allows a reduction in cooking time and permits using less cooking water as the beans will absorb less water as they cook.

A pressure cooker is a good way to cook dried pulses. There is a risk of overcooking split pulses which is a benefit if the cook wants soft texture. There is a risk of splitting the skins of larger pulses: so what. I like my beans cooked, not chewy. Modern pressure cooking cookbooks and resources have methods for dried pulses.

If chickpeas have been soaked, they take about 15 to 18 minutes on high pressure in a pressure cooker. Some books say 8-10 minutes but that only parcooks them.

A multicooker on slow cooker settings may not work – depending on model. The multicooker may be an electric pressure cooker (e.g. Instant Pot) with controls to slow cook. Electric pressure cookers can be relied on for pressure cooking. Not all electric pressure cooker multicooker models can reach a slow cooking temperature and maintain it. They have the power, but the designers of some models did not figure out how to use that power for slow cooker functions.


SD-YD250 Bread Machine

Reviews at Everyday Sandwich and Make Bread at Home describe and illustrate the Panasonic SD-YD250.  It has loaf size settings for medium (1.5 lb), large (2 lb) and extra large (2.5 lb) loaves baked in an extra large vertical rectangle pan. Large loaves are shaped like a tall pan loaf. Extra large loaves are long when laid down, and relatively wide and tall, compared to other loaf shapes.

Like more expensive Panasonic 2.5 lb loaf machines – the SD-RD250 and the SD-YR2500 – it has settings for medium, large and extra large loaves but not for small loaves. The SD-YD250 seems to have the motor, drive train, non-stick pan and heating element of the newer, higher priced models.

Like most bread machines, it is tool to mix, knead, rise and bake bread with wheat flour. The SD-YD250 can bake daily or sandwich bread, whether with white flour or whole wheat, as well as I can bake those loaves in conventional baking pans in an oven. Also, loaves made with specialty varieties of wheat, (e.g. spelt). It can bake loaves with other flour or meal added to wheat flour (e.g. light rye – a mixture of white flour and rye flour, although manufacturer deprecates using rye flour).

The pan coating releases the loaf easily at the end of the bake cycle but the paddle stays on the shaft in the pan. (Removing the paddle from the pan can be done immediately with an oven mitt, or after the pan cools after taking the loaf from pan.  It works better before the bits of crumb around the end of the shaft dry out and bond the paddle to the shaft.)

The inside measurements  of the pan are 19 cm (7.5 inches) long by 14 cm (5.5 inches) wide in the pan’s normal operating configuration when it is vertical. Any loaf will be or should be 19 cm x 14 cm.   The pan is 14.5 cm (5.7 inches) bottom to top. In a Panasonic extra large pan, a 2.5 lb. recipe of 4.4 cups of flour and about 2 cups of liquid would bake a loaf over 14.5 cm “long”, 19 cm “high”, and 14 cm “wide”.

There is no viewing window in the lid; this is not a drawback. The yeast dispensing compartment is a rare feature. The way to keep yeast away from the water before the mixing phase starts in this machine which takes dry ingredients first at the bottom of the pan is to put yeast first, before the flour. The dispenser has drawbacks. The dropper – a little button – has to be jiggled to make sure it is seated before filling the compartment.

A medium loaf baked on a basic cycle has about 3 cups of flour and 1.25 cups of water or fluid. This dough is hydrated at 71%.  It could be baked in a 1.5 pound bread pan (about 2,600 cubic centimeters) – perhaps filling it. A 1.5 pound conventional oven pan is 25 cm (10 inches) long, 13 cm (5 inches) wide and (about) 8 cm deep.

With white flour on the basic bake cycle, the height of  medium loaf from the bottom of the pan to top of the loaf at the wall of the pan would be around 75% of the height of the Panasonic extra large pan: about 9 cm at the side of the pan. To the top of the domed top of the loaf, 11-12 cm is reasonable; more is tall.  Height changes with:

  • type of flour (e.g. rye flour does not rise as well as wheat flour); or a small change in the amount of flour (1/4 cup), water, salt or yeast; or
  • cycle, e.g. French Bake – the bread rises and is less dense – more space for the same mass.

Height affects how I store and slice the loaf, and can be a sign that a loaf lacks structure.

This machine’s program assumes the use want primarily to bake bread leavened with yeast. There is no cycle to mix and make bread leavened with other methods (e.b. baking powder), and no gluten free setting. Breads that are mixed but not kneaded can be mixed outside the machine, and baked on a bake-only cycle.

There are two kinds of cycle, “bake” and “dough”.  Each cycle has three phases; a bake cycle has the fourth one:

  • (Initial) Rest – the ingredients come to a common temperature. The heating element, as far as I can tell is used for short intervals but not enough to heat the outside of the machine;
  • Knead – a two part phase. 1. Mix the ingredients together, hydrates the flour; 2. Knead to work the proteins in the flour into gluten;
  • Rise – fermentation. 2 hours in basic bake cycle. The heating element is deployed to keep yeast at a good temperature (the dough may heat up on its own) on a cooler day. The mixer drive is deployed for knockdowns in this phase;
  • Bake – the heating element bakes the bread.

The motor has two speeds: off and on.  Mixing involves turning the power on and off in short intervals.  Mixing, for a medium loaf, on any cycle, is under 5 minutes:

  • 30 seconds – 40 pulses: 1/2 second on, 1/4 second off;
  • 120 seconds – 120 pulses: 3/4 quarter second on, 1/4 second off;
  • 30 seconds on;
  • The yeast dispenser drops yeast;
  • 35 second pause.
  • 60 seconds – 10 pulses: 4 seconds on, 2 seconds off.

The mixing forms a ball of dough centered on the paddle.

To knead the dough, the machine pushes it around the pan. The dough sticks to the sides of the pan, and is stretched until it snaps away. This is similiar to the operation of a stand mixer, with programmed pauses. This involves longer intervals with the motor on.

This machine has a long warm rise. In this phase, it uses the motor for short intervals twice. This deflates or knocks down the dough. In basic bake cycle there are 2 sets of about 15 slow turns  at – 2:00 and – 1:40 on the countdown timer. After the second knock down (which is 50 minutes before baking phase)  the dough should relax and flow to fill the bottom of the pan and rise again. In the first part of the bake phase, the dough should spring. A tenacious dough holds its ball shape for a long time. It may gather at one end of the pan.  The result is that the top of the baked loaf slopes. This happens with some dough in this kind of pan.  There is a hydration zone.  A tenacious dough may not flow.  A wet dough may balloon or collapse.

It supports low sodium baking, as any bread machine does. If the salt is reduced, the yeast should be reduced by the same proportion.

This Panasonic model uses less yeast than machines by other brands. It kneads hard and gives the dough a long rise with a bit of heat to keep the dough at the right temperature to ferment. It deflating the dough softly in short knock-downs. It need only about half as much as another machine. This means, with many or most recipes, for 50% sodium, I am using half the salt and one quarter of the yeast.


Bread Machines

Bread baked at home, whether in a machine or a conventional oven can be better than many retail offerings available in grocery markets.  A home baker can bake for dietary goals e.g. low sodium.  A drawback: home baked loaves have a shorter shelf life.

Bread machines came on the market about 1986, and became popular outside Japan by the late 1990s.  My first bread machine was a Black & Decker B1561. I replaced it with a Panasonic  SD-YD250 in 2016.

There are well informed and thoughtful reviews on the Web – buried under superficial reviews with thoughtful SEO. Comprehensive comparative reviews are rare; comparative reviews are usually gateways to marketing sites. Consumer Reports may never have done breadmakers or bread machines. Culinary magazines tend to snip and snipe. The reviews at are throrough and informative, but the site is not comprehensive. The New York Times affiliate Wirecutter site tackled the subject periodically (eg. 2019), but only covers a few machines.

A good machine can be had for under $100.00. A more expensive machine may have more features, but many features are low value buttons and pre-programmed settings. A bread machine has a heating element, a motor, and a pan mounted to the frame. The pan serves as mixing bowl, proofing box, and baking pan . The bowl has a paddle shaped mixing device (it may be called a dough hook or kneader) connected to the power train by a shaft in sealed bearings at the bottom of the pan. Even the best built machines do not necessarily withstand the strains of being used 2 or three times a week for more than a few years.

A professional baker works with technology with hundred of kilograms of flour and water, with some control over parts of the process – how long to mix, rest, bake and control over temperature. A home baker works at a smaller scale, with control of time and oven controls, and may have machines to mix dough or store it while it rises.  A home baker may put the loaves in bread pans or shape the dough by hand before baking it in the oven. A home baker needs space, several vessels or machines to mix and rest dough, baking pans and an oven. Bread machine makes one loaf at a time. One pan to wash. Modern machines have durable no-stick coatings.

Bread machines are described by reference to the baked loaf as small (1 lb.), medium (1.5 lb.), large (2 lb.) and extra large (2.5 or 3 lb.) (a 1 pound loaf would be regular in a bakery; 1.5 pounds would be large) . These terms to describe the volume capacity of the pan.  Typically, a small loaf made of wheat flour would have 2 cups of flour; a medium loaf 3 cups, and a large loaf 4 cups. The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 2000) calls bread machine pans tall, vertical rectangle, and horizontal.  The tall pan has one paddle in the middle at the bottom, and may be square or oval.  A machine that makes small and medium loaves will have a “tall” pan.  A machine that makes large loaves will be vertical rectangle or horizontal.  A machine that make extra large loaves – e.g. Panasonic 250 or 2500 models; Breville Custom Loaf XL – is probably vertical rectangle.

A bread machine does not bake quite as hot as kitchen oven; any machine puts out enough heat to bake the dough completely without burning the crust. The pan shape dictates the shape of the loaf. Most machines that bake 1.5 or 2 pound loaves have a “tall” vertical pan. This loaf is manageable it can be bagged and handled. Machines with horizontal pans roduce loaves shaped like bread produced in a bakery. These pans have to have two paddles and complex drive trains. There are machines that bake 2.5 and 3 pound loaves. These loaves may be the right amount to feed a family – but they will make the consumer to handle this bread differently than bread purchased from a bakery or a store.

In bread machines, as in industrial bakeries, the product depends on the recipe, the process and accurate measurement. Beth Hensperger in the Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, consistently with other baking books, list ingredients by volume but suggests weighing ingredients.

A user selects a baking program or “cycle”. A basic cycle could be from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the machine. Some reviewers say a long cycle is a drawback – for customers looking for fast results. But a long cycle may bake a better loaf more consistently.

Most cycles assume and require the use of high protein wheat flour and yeast to biologically ferment dough. High protein white flour (bread flour or Canadian All Purpose flour) and regular grind whole wheat flour (coarse ground is available) are similar in density, weight, starch and protein but form gluten, ferment, rise and bake differently. Whole wheat flour has bran and wheat germ. In traditional baking, it has to be mixed longer to distribute fluid and ensure hydration. There are different approaches to kneading, with some favouring less and others more. The BLBMC and some sources assume that a whole wheat bake cycle involves a longer kneading time and a longer rise. Total “kneading” time is a confusing indicator. Kneading is a succession of stop and go operations of the motor and drive train. Some machines work the dough hard, in short bursts.

Most bread machines have cycles for basic baking (white flour) and whole wheat baking, and dough cycles that omit the final baking phase. Many machines have a cycle manufacturers call Bake (Rapid), Turbo, Quick Bake, Rapid, etc. for fast fermentation. Most machines have a cycle that bakes or mixes and bakes batter.  This may be called “bake cake” but is appropriate for bread leavened with baking powder or baking soda.

Gluten free settings get some space on the packages. Gluten free bread is mixed but not kneaded (kneading develops gluten from protein in flour made from wheat and a few other grains); it is leavened with chemical leaven e.g. baking powder. Some machines have settings that mix ingredients and bakes. This can be called Quick Bread and would be use for corn bread and other loaves that are not knead. Some machines have a Cake setting that bakes a wet mix. That’s what gluten free bread machine baking means. The best bread machine(s) for gluten free bread: a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon, a baking pan and an oven.

The machine will count down minutes and seconds to the conclusion of the cycle in the timer display, but the display will probably not provide other indications of the machine’s progress. Many bread machines appear to sit and do nothing for a half hour or an hour after being started in a rest phase. Some machines may use the heating element for a few seconds at a time, to create a warm temperature, to warm the ingredients to a common temperature.

The first active phase is mixing and/or “kneading”, about 20-30 minutes or more. The ingredients have to be mixed into dough and then worked to develop gluten. A home baker mixes before kneading – manually mixing flour, water and other ingredients in a bowl before moving it or using a mechanical method (dough hook in stand mixer) to stretch and folding it on itself, pushing it and repeating the motion for several minutes. A professional baker will probably use a mechanical mixer; many home bakers may have one. A mechanical mixer or stand mixer uses mixing arms, a paddle or a spiral dough hook in a circular or elleptical motion. A mixer is controlled manually, and has a range of speeds.  With a stand mixer, the baker uses a slow speed to mix the ingredients and then mixes at a higher speed to knead. The bread machine has changes from rapid short pulses to longer runs, broken by short pauses. The BLBMC calls initial slow mixing Knead 1 and mix/knead Knead 2. The initial mix is only a couple minutes long. There may be a pause between these parts of the phase. The machine will not identify these steps on the machine display.

If the user has not loaded the machine properly, the dough will be wrong after the initial mix. It has to be wet – enough, but not too wet.  A dry dough will not, knead, flow and rise.  A wet dough may collapse. A dough may be saved by the addition of water or flour during the initial mix and before the knead/mix starts – or ruined by an excessive or untimely intervention. Ideally, the machine should be paused and then allowed to return to mixing. Stopping and restarting the machine will go back to the start of the initial rest. It will eventually get back to mixing, but time will be lost, gluten will have started to form, and some fermentation will have occurred.

Some machines have a pause function on the panel; some can be paused by pulling the plug and using the power interrupt. The machine will resume where it stopped – if it has that feature!

The designers will have set the program for what they regard as optimum handling of white flour in the “basic” cycles and whole wheat flour in the whole wheat cycles. Some machine allow users to create custom settings (e.g. the Breville BBM800XL and a few Zojirushi models).  

Professional bakers with industrial mixers may use 10-15 minutes of “intensive mixing” – the mechanical mixing of yeasted white flour dough dominant in professional bakeries for French loaves until Raymond Calvel devised the hybid style in the 1960s. Intensive mixing develops gluten in white flour rapidly. Home bakers with stand mixers use slower speeds due to limitations of machinery (see the stand mixer review by America’s Test Kitchen in print and YouTube) or to use a hybrid, modified or improved mixing method.

The dough ferments in the rise phase.  The gluten relaxes and flows to fill the pan and take the shape of the pan. The yeast ferments the starch which produces gas that is trapped in little gluten balloons, which makes the dough rise. A baker divides dough and puts in oven pans. Two hours in a bread machine is short compared to the rise/rests in some artisinal baking techniques, but compares to the combined times for bulk fermentation and proofing in making bread in many bakeries.

The heating element is switched on for a bake phase in a bake cycle; there are dough cycles that stop after mixing or rising.  The dough springs into space above the dough when the baking element is turned on. The machine powers the element. The designer expects the machine to reach the right temperature with that element heating the air inside that space – there is no direct temperature control setting in most machines.

Bread machines produce good results with white flour and whole wheat flour – baked loaves, and pizza and flatbread doughs.