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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, and a Zojirushi Virtuoso (the 2016 model, the BB-PAC20) in 2020 [Updated].
A bread machine is a labour saving tool. A bread machine makes one unsliced loaf at a time. Bread machine bread will have a dense uniform crumb that is strong enough be sliced. The crust will be firm but not crisp. Lacking preservatives, bread machine bread may become stale or grow mould after a few days.
Bread machines process milled grain flour with water, salt, yeast or another leavener, and other ingredients to produce the processed food “bread” – yhey bake bread. They start with processed or plain ingredients. Bread machines use standard bakers’ supplies – flour, fluids, sugar, salt, rising agent (yeast or chemical), seeds, herbs, fruit, nuts etc. They mix the ingredients, process dough and bake dough until the dough becomes a baked product.
A bread machine has a heating element, a motor, a removable pan mounted to the frame, 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. Machines may be used 2 or three times a week for several years. Modern machines have durable no-stick coatings. The pan is a mixing bowl and a baking pan. The size of the pan determines the maximum or optimal amount of ingredients to avoid a loaf that overflows the pan. It is possible to bake loaves that are smaller than the space available inside a bread machine pan, but it takes some planning.
Bread machines follow the series of steps followed by professional bakers and home cooks. The designer can program combinations of steps that should produce results with some combinations of ingredients if the machine is loaded properly. The ingredients are mixed and kneaded. The machine has to wait while the dough rises, and then bake the dough into bread. Each step takes time. Manufacturers try to speed up the process by processing the dough differently or adding more rising agent to increase the speed and magnitude of the rise of the dough.
Bread machines are not all the same. Web sites may say that they all work the same way. Beth Hensperger tried to write recipes that worked well in all bread machines in
- Robotic Kneads, a chapter in The Bread Bible: Beth Hensperger’s 300 Favourite Recipes (1999), and
- The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook (2000),
A bread machine can produce enriched (sandwich) bread similiar to the bread produced by commercial bakeries, generally without preservatives. Some bread machines can produce unbaked dough. Some can be used to bake cakes or mix jam.
There are a few conventional ways of talking about some features of bread machines.
Bread machines all have containers that serve as mixing bowls and baking pans. Bread machines are described by reference to the volume of the pan and the capacity to bake a loaf (by comparison, 1 pound loaf would be regular in a bakery or a home baking recipe; 1.5 pounds would be large:
- small loaf – 1 lb. – 2 cups of flour;
- medium loaf – 1.5 lb. – 3 cups of flour;
- large loaf – 2 lb.- 4 cups of flour; and
- extra large – 2.5 or 3 lb.
The pans have similiar shapes – there are a few general types. The mixing pans have mixing paddles inside the pan, with mechanisms to connect the paddles to a drive system in the machine.The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook (Harvard Common Press, 2000) (BLBMC) calls bread machine pans tall, horizontal, and vertical rectangle. Pan shape dictates the shape of the loaf :
- The tall pan has one paddle in the middle at the bottom; it may be square or oval. A machine that makes small and medium loaves will have a “tall” pan.
- Machines with horizontal pans produce loaves shaped like bread produced in a bakery. These pans have two paddles.
- A machine that makes 2 pound loaves may be tall, horizontal or vertical rectangle.
- Machines that bake 2.5 and 3 pound loaves will have vertical rectangle pans, with a single paddle – e.g. Panasonic 250 or 2500 models; Breville Custom Loaf XL.
Bread machines usually have basic bake and whole wheat bake programs.
- The basic program is for dough made from white flour milled from wheat – usually higher protein “bread” flour. Basic bake is for enriched bread, made with bread flour, with sugar, milk, butter or oil, or sandwich bread. This program is usually the choice for loaves that use a blend of bread flour and whole wheat, rye and other flours . The basic bake program is versatile enough to make some lean loaves, although lean breads may also be baked in a French bread program or a custom program if a machine has those features.
- The whole wheat bake program will knead longer and change other phases. These programs work with thousands of recipes,
Whole wheat flour and bread flour weigh the same amount per unit of volume, Bread flour has more of the proteins that bond to form gluten. It is mixed, kneaded and handled differently.
- Bake (Rapid), Turbo, Quick Bake, Rapid, etc. They will knead for close to the normal time. They shorten the rise phase(s) but require more yeast for faster fermentation, hence the “Quick” or “Rapid” rising aspect of these programs. Some knead more vigorously. Most will call for more rising agent, or a different rising agent (e.g. a quick-rise or rapid-rise yeast) for a rapid rise or quick-rise program. The dough, to reduce the total time, is programmed to rise once and not knocked down or risen a second or third time.The BLBMC noted there were serious differences between machines with regard to these programs.
- French or European Bake. These programs have longer rise and bake phases to bake lean crusty loaves. Some machines allow users to create custom settings (e.g. Breville BBM800XL and some Zojirushi models) to set the times for phases to get this program as a custom.
- Cake or Quick Bread. Quick Breads is a term that bakers use to refer to bread leavened by rising agents other than yeast. This program is for bread and other baked goods leavened with baking powder or baking soda e.g. corn bread and cakes. It mix ingredients into a batter. The leavening agent starts to act as soon as the batter is wet, until the batters sets. Batter made this way can be baked as soon as the mixing has stopped
- Dough programs mix and knead, and rise but omit the baking phase
- Bake only – a feature on some machines noted in the BLBMC. It is not common.
- Jam – some machines have programs to mix jam.
The differences between basic bake, French/European, and the custom program. Times (Panasonic medium loaf, Zojirushi default) in minutes. Baking temp. not tested or published by manufacturers.
|Machine||Program||Rest||Mix/knead||Rise||Rise 1||Rise 2||Rise 3||Bake|
|Zorjirushi BB-PAC20||Custom – |
Some gluten-free recipes involve chemical leaven e.g. baking powder, baking soda and can be baked in a cake program. For loaves leavened without yeast, which are traditionally called “Quick Bread’ (BLBMC p. 538) Hensperger prefers the quick bread program or cake program hat mixes a batter and bakes. In the BLBMC (2000), Beth Hensperger addressed gluten-free (p. 170) baking as making bread with yeast as the rising agent, from specialty flour – flour that lacks gluten but could form crumb with additives that made dough gummy. Hensperger suggested using a quick rise bake program. Gluten-free dough has to be mixed and kneaded which occurs in the mix/knead phase in a bread machine program, and then requires time to rise. Some manufacturers including Zojirushi have built their machines with that kind of gluten-free program
Manufacturers are competitive and rely on marketing to sell their own machines. Manufacturers have not agreed on standards and do not use language the same way.
Most bread machines have a user manual and a recipe booklet. It is worth reading these to determine the basic amounts of flour, water, salt and yeast for basic loaves in the machine’s wheat flour programs – basic bread, whole wheat, European/French. A recipe that has worked in one brand machine cannot be used in another brand. Recipes have to be adjusted for different machines.
There are a few more books and a few web sites about bread machines (and many sites with recipes). Some web sites:
There are reviews on the Web – buried in search engine result under superficial reviews and marketing material (SEO is not the consumer’s friend). Some review site are platforms for marketing and promotion or gateways to marketing sites. Comprehensive reviews by knowledgable reviewers are rare. Consumer Reports may never have done breadmakers or bread machines. Culinary magazines snip and snipe. Amateur reviews tend to recite manufacturer marketing claims or focus on features that someone believes are persuavive to consumers, and not on the machine or the bread. The reviews at Breadmakerguides.com 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 bread machine can be used to bake artisinal loaves but there are usually no built-in programs or functions. The machine can be used as a mixer in a dough program, and the dough can be rested, shaped and baked. It is possible, for some loaves, to leave the dough in the pan and stop the machine, and put the pan back and bake the loave after it has fermented and risen.
In bread machines, as in industrial bakeries, the product depends on the recipe, the process and measurement. Beth Hensperger in the BLBMC, consistently with other baking books, list ingredients by volume but suggests weighing ingredients. A user selects a program, which a manufacturer or writer may call a “course” or “cycle”. It takes from 3 to 4 hours or more, after loading the machine, to run a program and bake bread in a “regular” baking program (as opposed to the quick or rapid options available with almost all machines). Some reviewers say a long cycle is a drawback. But a long cycle may bake a better loaf more consistently.
These are expensive appliances. There is little discussion of repairs after the warranty period, and little public discussion about the ability and willingness of manufacturers to supply repair parts, at any price, over the life of a machine.
The machines are susceptible to failure. The drive system, including the drive shafts, is largely not accessible. Some manufacturers will sell a replacement assembly such as a mixing/baking pan. Replacing a pan may be the only way to repair a failure in the bearing and seals of the drive shafts in a pan.
A home baker needs space, several vessels or machines to mix and rest dough, baking pans and an oven.
Bread dough has to be viscous (the standard engineering term) or tenacious or elastic (bakers’ jargon) but extensible (more bakers’ jargon). Dough must be tenacious (elastic) enough to hold shape until the loaf is baked – the dough has become a loaf of “crumb” coasted in “crust”. A tenacious dough holds its shape until the loaf bakes and the heat kills the yeast. When the baker is producing loaves in pans in industrial ovens, the baker needs extensible dough that flows, fills the pan and rises. A home baker may put the dough in bread pans or shape the dough by hand before baking it in the oven. A bread machine pan, like an oven pan, shapes the loaf.
Most programs require the use of wheat flour to form gluten and and yeast to biologically ferment dough. High protein white flour (USA 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. In a bread machine, kneading is a succession of stop and go operations of the motor and drive train.
If the user has not loaded the machine properly, the dough will be wrong after the initial mix. The wet flour should be a sticky mass that forms into an elastic, tenacious ball of dough. 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.
Baking programs have four main phases called, usually, rest, knead, rise, and bake. Bread machine programs vary the length of time in the phases and other parameters. Most machines will count down minutes and seconds to the conclusion of the program in the timer display. Some machines will display the program phase:
- In the intitial rest phase for a half hour or an hour after being started, bread machines appear to sit and do nothing. Some machines may use the heating element for a few seconds at a time, to warm the ingredients to a common temperature before mixing.
- The first active phase is mixing and/or “kneading”, about 20-30 minutes or more. A bread machine mixes or kneads by turning the padde(s). The machine will not identify mixing and kneading as separate operations on the machine display:
- Mixing involves turning the power on and off in short intervals, for 3-5 minutes, imitating the action of a mixing machine at slow speed. The flour, once wet, becomes a mass and then a sticky ball adhering to the paddle(s). The BLBMC calls initial slow mixing Knead 1.
- The machine pause for less than two minutes between mixing and kneading. The BLBMC calls the second phase mix/knead Knead 2. The bread machine is kneading when it is starts turn the dough quickly for longer intervals, broken by short pauses. Centrifugal force stretches the dough away from the paddle(s). In a machine with two paddles, the ball passes back and forth from paddle to paddle – occasionally the dough tears into two balls – this is not a good thing. The edges of the ball stick to the paddle(s) and pan. The movement stretches the dough until the dough pulls away and moves.
- During the rise phase the gluten relaxes, the yeast ferments some starch producing gas trapped in little gluten balloons, which makes the dough rise; the dough flows to fill the pan and take the shape of the pan. A baker divides dough and puts it 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 (bench and pan) in many bakeries. The machine turns the paddle(s) at intervals in the rise phase, deflating and moving the dough ball – in most machines and programs, twice. The deflated dough fills up again. It is supposed to flow across the bottom of the pan or flow to fill the pan, and expand upward. After the second knock down the dough should relax and flow to fill the bottom of the pan and rise again. When the oven element is turned on, the dough rises in every direction. This “spring” is supposed to push the dough into the four corners of the pan, and fill the pan. Some machines – e.g. – Zojirushi graph the rise into Rise 1 , 2 & 3 and display the subphases in the display.
- The heating element is switched on for a bake phase. 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. 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.