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.
A bread machine makes one loaf of bread, usually with wheat flour, in less than 5 hours.
Home bakers cannot create the same results as professional bakers – either in industrial baking or artisanal baking. Home bakers may have a good oven, a stand mixer and lot of space and time. (Home ovens reach temperatures of 450 F (230 C) which is enough for most bread). A bread machine cannot produce what a professional baker or a serious home baker can produce.
A bread machine is not a versatile as a cook in a reasonably furnished kitchen. A bread machine is a small oven and a small mixer. It has a heating element, a motor, and a double purpose pan – baking pan and mixing bowl – mounted to the frame. The mixing paddle is connected to the power train by a shaft housed in sealed bearings at the bottom of the pan. Most machines have distinct cycles for baking dough leavened with yeast including a basic cycle, and a fast cycle manufacturers call Bake (Rapid), Turbo, Quick Bake, Rapid, etc. quick-rise baking. Some have additional cycles for whole wheat flour bread.
Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 2000) was a comprehensive resource. It treated all bread machines (it listed 18 customer service numbers for manufacturers of machines on the market at the time) as equivalent, with a warning to “Take Stock of Your Machine”. This understates difficulties in designing bread machines and writing formulas for bread machines:
- the processes of mixing ingredients, working dough and baking dough in a bakery or at home steps involve doing something until a result it observed (the dough is mixed and supple; it has risen, or is ready to bench or bake);
- a machine works in simple steps, without feedback. The designer can program combinations of steps that should produce results with some combinations of ingredients if the machine is loaded properly;
- machines are different:
- a machine might mix ingredients and knead the dough properly, but might not be able to rest or work the dough,
- a machine can only shape a loaf if the dough fills the machine pan -it has to flow and rise by the right time and spring;
- a recipe writer cannot test every recipe in every machine.
Bread machine manufacturers and recipe writers discuss small (1 lb.), medium (1.5 lb.), large (2 lb.) and extra large (2.5 lb.) loaves. The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook recipes have ingredient lists for 1.5 lb. and 2 lb. loaves. The manufacturer is describing the size of the pan that is expected to contain and bake enough wheat flour and water to produce a loaf of a particular size. An author provides a list of ingredients to fill a pan large enough to hold those ingredients
A professional baker works at scale with labour saving technology, with some control over parts of the process – how long to mix, rest, bake and control over temperature. A home baker works at smaller scale, with control of time and oven controls. A home baker working dough for a couple of loaves may arrest an overly active fermentation by knocking down the dough and getting it in the oven. A bread machine works on one loaf. Timing and sequence are programmed. A bread machine cycle cannot be reprogrammed; the parts of a cycle can’t be paused or extended.
Hensperger noted that a basic cycle could be from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the machine. Some manufacturers see a short cycle as a selling point. Some critics say a long cycle is a drawback. This may be true for customers looking for fast results. A long cycle, with a long rise, may bake a better loaf.
Many bread machines appear to sit and do nothing for a half hour or an hour after being started. The manufacturer may call this a rest phase in machine manual. Some machines may use the heating element, at low temperature to warm the ingredients to a common temperature
The bread machine has to mix the ingredients. The manufacturer may call this a knead phase. A home baker working by hand will conceptualize mixing flour and water as a separate step from kneading dough. A professional baker can use a mechanical mixer. In a mechanical mixer or stand mixer, the machine might use a spiral hook to move the dough. A mixer is controlled manually, and has a range of speeds.
Hensperger writes (pages 20-21) that a bread machine use a few minutes at low speed to mix the ingredients and moves to two higher speeds to work the dough. She calls these steps Knead 1 and Knead 2. The appliance may not have progress lights or other technology to tell the user what is going on. This phase may be about 15 minutes – a few minutes at low speed, followed by an increase in speed. The dough gathers into a ball around the kneading paddle. The machine pushes the ball around the inside of the pan, squeezing and stretching it. The motor and drive train do their work in this phase. The quality and performance of the motor and drive train, and other design elements matter – the pan coating has to hold the dough and let go as the machine throws the dough ball around the pan.
Bread machine mixing speed is set by the program. A bread machine replicates mechanical mixing methods used in professional bakeries, on smaller scale. Most machines try for a short intensive mix.
The dough rests in the rise phase. The dough ferments during this time. A 2 hour rise phase in a bread machine is short compared to the rise in some artisinal baking techniques, but compares to the combined times for bulk fermentation and proofing in making bread in many bakeries.
Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook explains the why and the how of baking bread in a bread machine. It has text sections, sidebars, and short detail sections. The table of contents and the index don’t locate all of them. For instance p. 354 the shapes of bread machine pans. Topics:
- p. 12 flour, and
- pp. 46-47 white flour from wheat,,
- pp. 62-63 whole wheat and non-wheat grain flour,
- p. 125 proteins in flour
- pp. 106-107 whole wheat flour,
- pp. 133-135 rye flour.
- p. 140 diy milling of whole grain flour,
- pp. 150-152 non-wheat specialty flour,
- p. 193 organic flour,
- pp. 13-14 yeast. Hensperger suggests two alternatives for each recipe:
- SAF instant dried yeast (SAF Red),
- 25% – 33% more bread machine yeast than instant dry yeast. For instance, for Dakota Bread, BLBMC says 2 tsp SAF or 2.5 tsp bread machine. (Hensperger has moved away from this approach. In a version of the recipe for Dakota Bread in 2015 on her blog she said 2 tsp “bread machine yeast”).
- p. 13, p. 59 vital wheat gluten. She suggested added gluten in almost every formula for bread baked in the machine up to 1 tsp of added gluten per cup, less gluten for bread flour;
- p. 15, p. 290 Salt
- is not used as a seasoning or flavour agent;
- should not be exposed to the water and the yeast before the machine mixes the ingredients;
- can be reduced if yeast is reduced by the same proportion.
- p. 15 ingredient measurement;
- p. 18 converting volume to weight for flour and sugar;
- p. 76 eggs;
- p. 168 dough enhancers,
- pp. 170, 172 gluten free ingredients;
- pp. 182-183 baking with whole grains, and preparing whole grain;
- pp. 197-198 using the machine to mix and knead dough for baking in an oven, and the meeting of bread machines and home artisanal baking methods:
- starters and pre-ferments,
- shaping loaves
- baking stones, tiles and ceramic containers (and cloches);
- p. 233 olive oil;
Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook recipe are consistent with other recipes on amounts of flour and water and other ingredients (milk powder, butter, oil, sugar or honey etc., seeds etc.
Bread and bread machine recipe books for the American market, including The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, say the home baker should use bread flour to bake white bread, and as the white flour in any recipe that calls for some white flour. Hensperger describes bread flour as having 12.7 % protein. White bread flour in the USA has 11.5-13.5 % gluten-producing protein. All purpose white flour in the USA has 9.5-11.5 %. Canadian all purpose flour is milled from hard red wheat, and has the same protein content as USA bread flour. Canadian Millers’ technical standards are not necessarily reflected in retail packaging. I am not sure what a retail Canadian White Bread flour is supposed to be.
Other flour has less gluten-producing protein. Rye flour for instance. King Arthur says its Light Rye flour has 7% and its Dark Rye has 10%.
The amount of flour in a cup by volume depends on how the cup is scooped or filled. Most recipes go by volume so the measurement of flour introduces discrepancies with a recipe. Measure by weight is more exact – but a recipe in cups has to be converted and converting volume to weight is fuzzy. The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook suggests 1 cup of bread flour or whole wheat converts at 5 oz. Panasonic suggests measuring flour by weight at the conversion rate of 1 cup = 4.9 oz. Reinhart say 4.5 oz., which must mean he measures differently. 4 and 7/8 oz. (4.875) or 4.9 reconciles to recipes in BLBMC and other recipes that use flour as scooped into a measuring cup. Scales in ounces go down to 1/8 oz, but not necessarily to decimal fractions. Metric kitchen scales go to the nearest gram. Conversions of 1 cup (volume) to weight in oz./g., for white bread flour and whole wheat flour:
- 4.875 oz. = 138 g.
- 4.9 oz. = 139 g.
- 5.0 oz. = 141 g.
The volume to mass conversion for other flours varies. Millers have conversions for their products – e.g. King Arthur. There are generic conversion calculators and tables but these have to used with care.
Hensperger described the varieties of dry yeast as: 1. active dry yeast; 2. fast acting or instant dried yeast; 3. quick-rise (rapid-rise) yeast; 4. bread machine yeast. Instant yeast, under any of its names, is the choice for bread machines. The proliferation of types and names arose because manufacturers use different techniques and marketing terms. The manufacturers do not explain how rapid/quick-rise products are made, or how bread machine yeast is different from the rapid/quick-rise products. Bakipan, for instance, says that its “Fast Rising Instant Yeast [is] … cake yeast in a semi-dormant state. The drying process in its manufacture reduces moisture content, giving it a longer shelf life than cake yeast while retaining optimum activity. When activated, it provides ultimate baking activity in all yeast dough, low sugar to highly sweetened breads. Bakipan® Fast Rising Instant Yeast is a fast-acting yeast that can shorten the rise times for traditional baking …” Specifications and methods are omitted from marketing claims. The manufacturers don’t, according to what home bakers say on Web, respond to inquiries from home bakers (perhaps from anyone who isn’t a high value customer).
Hensperger prefers SAF instant yeast. The Panasonic manual (2013) implies all dry yeasts are equivalent, to be added dry with the dry ingredients or through the yeast dispenser. The range of views about the amount of yeast:
- For a 1.5 lb. loaf, Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook calls for 2 tsp instant dry yeast or more and 1-1.5 tsp. salt for 3 cups of flour. This amount of yeast is in the range of recipes in other books at the time, and of many recipes published on the web. It is .67 tsp instant dry yeast, or more, per cup of flour.
- Manufacturers of instant, rapid/quick rise and bread machine yeasts recommend .5 tsp yeast for each cup of flour for bread machines: Red Star Quick-Rise; Bakipan Fast Action and Bread Machine; SAF Gourmet Perfect Rise and Bread Machine. Fleishmann’s recipes on its web pages imply the same amounts of its instant Quick-Rise (Rapid-Rise) or its Bread Machine product, or more;
- Some machine manufacturers go down to .33 tsp per cup of flour. e.g. Panasonic. Panasonic’s recipes for medium loaves call for 1 tsp of yeast for a medium loaf:
- Basic White Bread – basic bake cycle, 3 cups bread flour, 1.25 cups of water, 1.5 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of yeast;
- 100% Whole Wheat – bake whole wheat cycle, 3 cups whole wheat flour, 1.25 cups of water, 1.5 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of yeast.
In several online converters: 1 cup, (48 tsp (US)) instant dry yeast = 136 grams; 1 tsp = 2.8 g. My average for 15 samples of 1 tsp of SAF Red was 2.8 g. It was worth testing because most recipes are by volume. It possible to test because instant yeast has a sandy texture and doesn’t pack down like flour
Salt can be measured by volume with measuring spoons, but should be used carefully with level measurements. It is better to go by weight. The conversion rate of 1 teaspoon of table salt to 5.7 grams – the teaspoon that the recipe writer will have assumed. Table salt is not all the same – some is pretty finely ground and more dense.
Hensperger favours the use of vital wheat gluten (gluten flour or added gluten) in formulas for many breads baked in the machine. Manufacturers don’t mention it in their manuals and recipe books. As this additive changes the balance of the loaf and the performance of the dough (flow and rise) the effect may be different according to the machine.