Bread Machines

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].

There are well informed and thoughtful 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 comparative reviews are rare. Consumer Reports may never have done breadmakers or bread machines. Culinary magazines snip and snipe. 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.

Bread dough has to be viscous and extensible, but still tenacious and elastic enough to hold shape until the loaf is baked – the dough has become a loaf of “crumb” coasted in “crust” that hold its shape until consumed by humans, other animals, or micro-organisms. A tenacious dough holds its shape for a long time. When the baker is producing loaves in pans in industrial ovens, the baker needs viscous, extensible dough that flows. A home baker may put the dough 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.

A bread machine makes one loaf at a time, with the methods of industrial baking on a small scale. The bread machine is a mixer, proofing box, a baking pan and oven. 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.

A 1 pound loaf would be regular in a bakery; 1.5 pounds would be large.  Bread machines are described by reference to the volume of the pan and the capacity to bake a loaf:

  • 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 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 to have two paddles.
  • A machine that makes large loaves will be 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.

A bread knife is a good tool to have; this also affects the way that bread machine use will think about loaves and recipes.

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 manufacter 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. Some reviewers say a long cycle is a drawback. But a long cycle may bake a better loaf more consistently.

Most programs assume and require the use of wheat flour and yeast to form gluten and 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.

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. The machine 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 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. 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 that have to flow into a single loaf. 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.

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.

Bread machines usually have basic bake and whole wheat bake programs. Basic is for enriched bread, made with bread flour, with sugar, milk, butter or oil, or sandwich bread. The basic bake program is versatile enough to make some lean loaves, and to bake loaves made with a blend of bread flour and whole wheat, rye and other flours. The whole wheat bake program will knead longer and change other phases. While whole wheat 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.

Other cycles:

  • Bake (Rapid), Turbo, Quick Bake, Rapid, etc. These may have shorter rest phases than the rest in the corresponding regular or basic programs. 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.
  • French or European Bake. These programs have longer rise and bake phases.
  • Some machines allow users to create custom settings (e.g. Breville BBM800XL and some Zojirushi models) to set the times for phases.
  • Cake or Quick Bread. This program is for bread and other baked goods leavened with baking powder or baking soda e.g. corn bread and cakes. These don’t need time to rise – the leavening agent starts to act as soon as the batter is wet, until the batters sets – it rises in the oven.
  • Bake, or Bake Cake – a bake only program that heats and bakes batter and ingredients mixed outside the machine.
  • Dough programs mix and knead, and rise but omit the baking phase.

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.

MachineProgramRestMix/kneadRiseRise 1Rise 2Rise 3Bake
Panasonic SD-YD250 Basic301511050
Zorjirushi BB-PAC20Basic311935204060
Panasonic SD-YD250 French401017555
Zorjirushi BB-PAC20 Custom –
French/Euro
2218355070

Gluten-free programs were not available when Beth Hensperger wrote the BLBMC (2000). She addressed gluten-free (p. 170) baking as baking with specialty flour. Gluten-free does not mean yeast free. Some gluten-free bread is leavened with yeast, but some gluten-free recipes involve chemical leaven e.g. baking powder, baking soda. She suggested using a quick rise bake program. For loaves leavened without yeast, which are traditionally called “Quick Bread’ (p. 538) she prefers the quick bread program or cake program that mixes a batter and bakes. Gluten-free bread is mixed but not kneaded – but it has to be mixed which occurs in a knead phase in a bread machine program. A yeast-leavened gluten-free dough needs to rise. It does not necessarily have to be knocked down after rising, but some gluten-free programs include knockdowns.

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