How I started
I’m an amateur home baker who bakes from the comfort of my own home kitchen for the enjoyment of my friends and family. It all started a week before Teachers’ Day and my eldest child specifically requested to bake some cookies for his favourite teachers. I started scouring the internet for easy baking recipes and cheap baking recipes for cookies and muffins. This was all bearing in mind I have zero baking paraphernalia, a tiny oven and had to factor in all the failed attempts. So while I was at it, I went looking for fun baking recipes as well so that my children can partake in the baking process and learn something from it.
For someone who hasn’t heard of greasing baking pans and trays, the difference between baking paper and grease paper and the difference between the self-raising flour and all purpose flour, making sense of most recipes proved to be daunting. Looking for the ingredients in the supermarket aisle was also equally stressful as I didn’t even know if I’ve got the correct items. I’ll write again on how my collection of baking supplies grew larger and larger at another time. My list of baking supplies include basics such as like various baking tins, muffin tins, cooling wire racks, cookie cutters, rolling pins, digital kitchen scale, sieves, springform tins, measuring spoons, measuring cups and baking papers, etc.
Starting on bread
After I got the basic cookie and muffin baking down pat, my best friend suggested trying out bread. The reason being that bread is more readily consumed every single day at home. At that point, all I could think of was “How hard can it be?” I would take that ALL back once I started kneading the dough by hand.
I still remembered the first part of my recipe consist of an ingredient that I erroneously thought I had in my inventory: Bread Flour. So after a mad rush out to my local baking supply store to acquire the much needed bread flour, I carefully mixed in all the ingredients after measuring it to a T and waited for the yeast to do its magic and make the dough expand.
I waited and waited. Kneaded it some more to introduce more air into it and waited and kneaded. It was back breaking work. The reason being that bread dough is a lot firmer and less watery than cake batter and unless you have a heavy duty table mixer, it was not going to withstand the thick consistency of the dough. To cut the long and frustrating story short, I managed to bake the dough into hot dog buns that wasn’t very fluffy. It was at that point that I began being curious about acquiring a bread maker or give up baking bread altogether.
Understanding how a bread maker works
After first hand experiencing how much bloody EFFORT it takes to manually make the bread dough ready for the oven to be baked, I was a bit bewildered what exactly the bread maker will do. Apparently, all you got to do is measure out the ingredients of the bread recipe of your choice and dump it into the bread machine and wait the 2-3 hours and voila, you got piping hot, freshly made bread at the convenience of your own kitchen. Just like playing Hay Day on your iPad, simple.
So this is how it works: The bread maker has a modified bread tin with an attachment mixer at the bottom of it which mixes the dough. So you secure this modified bread tin into the main body of the bread maker which is a customised mini oven that fits the bread load tin. The modified bread loaf tin locks in place if you turn it clockwise and unlocks for washing when you turn it anti-clockwise.
Once you got all your bread making ingredients in, close the bread maker’s lid and set the machine to the correct setting for loaf size, and bake program (this is because some bread makers make jams and cakes as well) the attachment mixer at the bottom of the bread loaf tin starts turning and mixing your ingredients for you. That’s right, you get to do none of the back breaking kneading! Some bread makers have a glass window on its lid so you can see the live action happening in there. Just a side note, kids love watching the dough ‘come alive’ as it looks like a blob moving on its own around the bread tin because the moving attachment mixer is at the bottom of the modified bread loaf tin and hence out of sight.
After sufficiently kneading the dough for you, the machine will temporarily pause for a while and allow the yeast (a crucial ingredient of you are baking bread) to do its job and rise. The rising happens really slowly but at the end of the quiet bread dough rising period, you would have noticed that the bread dough have almost doubled in size.
In some bread makers, a beep will sound at this point in about 30 minutes into the program and this is the point where you add in the extra ingredients, like raisins if you are following the raisin loaf recipe; and bananas and crushed walnut if you are following the banana nut bread recipe. The bread maker will come to live again with its whirring while it mixes the ingredients around again and another pause while it allows the yeast to rise a second time. This is to allow for more even rising of the yeast.
This is followed by the final baking step where the bread maker will get extremely hot inside and somewhat hot outside so do be careful if you are going to handle it. This is when the bread baking is taking place and the machine will beep once the bread is ready for consumption. Some bread makers also keep the baked bread warm for up to an hour as part of the program but of course you can interrupt it once the bread is baked and remove it for consumption.
Being automatic already afford it a lot of pros as you already know, hence I’m going to explain why I personally find it useful. You DO NOT have to watch it. As an amateur home baker, I have the habit of watching my bakes through the oven glass. I also adjust the heat if I feel I have to, based on the look of the baked goods. This means that the oven constantly have my attention. With this bread maker however, after putting in all the ingredients, I do not have to give it a second look until the bread is ready for eating. I can watch a movie or sleep through it or go to the mall. Another plus point I appreciate is that it handles the dough for me. I really detest kneading dough.
2) Guaranteed fresh
Another thing I love about home baking is that you actually see all the ingredients you are putting into making your food. Store bought bread tend to have plenty of nasty additive and preservative in it to make it look better, last longer and taste stronger. There is even a scandal, in a certain supermarket chain, I will not mention that bread are half baked halfway across the world many months ago and shipped in to be finished baking to be masqueraded and sold as “Freshly baked”. That to me is disgustingly unethical.
3) Less wastage
When I was buying bread constantly from supermarkets, I tend to buy more to save money and save more trips to the supermarkets. Like 2 huge loaves for $5 instead of one loaf for $3.80. While buying it in bulk, I think I’m saving, in reality, bread doesn’t last so long and I may lose half a loaf to mould or expiry date. So another plus in owning bread makers is that I get to bake smaller portions and bake more often for fresher loaves.
Spending the money you do not have to. Due to the fact that I already have a proper oven when I considered buying this bread maker, I was initially not so keen. This is because a bread maker is essentially a mini oven. Why buy a mini oven when I already have a big oven? Maybe I should get a dough kneader instead, or a sturdier table mixer.
2) Kitchen counter top space consumption is also a thought I do not fancy as I already have enough gadgets on the kitchen bench top. So to be worthy of a space on my kitchen bench, the bread maker cannot be a white elephant.
The Search for a bread machine
When I first started searching about bread machine reviews online, it was like when I first started searching for cake recipes without knowing what I was looking for and most importantly I did not define what I wanted exactly. The range of bread machines ranged from a low of about $50 to a high of a couple hundred bucks. So what is it I want? Should I purchase a top of the range bread maker that can do the widest range of bread and cake recipes with all the frills and is hugely reliable and go from there or should I be less daring and just go for something with good online reviews, reliable and try it out for size?
I figured that the way to start was to decide what qualities I think a bread maker should have, to be to me, the best bread maker. Also, since bread makers can allow you to make other non bread recipe items like jams and knead dough, I would also have to sous out the baking functions which are important to me, recipes and functions which are good to have and those baking functions which I will never ever bake even if the bread maker can do it. Basically, I do not want to pay extra for something I will never use. So I’ll start with shortlisting two bread makers with the best reviews and price is ok with me and then make a decision between the two after making sure the price difference is justifiable based on my own usage.
Shortlisted Bread makers
After a quick check on Amazon.com, I can see that Zojirushi, Breville and Panasonic are popular brands for bread maker. To narrow down my search I shall only focus on the bread maker that has more than 500 reviews and at least 4.0/5 for customer rating.
The Panasonic SD-YD250 and the Sunbeam 5891 seem to be the most popular bread makers that people purchase online and care to post a review about. In my local stores, I seem to be seeing less of the Sunbeam bread maker and more of the Panasonic bread maker. Somehow, seems more legit when brick and mortar stores carry it more? Not too sure, that’s one of my weird logic when it comes to choosing products. There is also a huge different in term of price. Although Zojurushi is rated highly but the high price can be a huge downside, even the 1-pound model is already higher that others.
At this point a question pops into my head, what is my criteria to choose a bread maker. I can come out with some general guidelines that apply for any kind of kitchen equipment when you consider buying: price, brand, size, ease of use & clean and maybe colour. But what are the specific attributes that only relate to selecting a bread maker? There are so many other things but here is the list that I that I can come up with after some study: Size of Loaves, Pre-set program, viewing window, blade, timer, etc.
|Points to consider||Oster CKSTBRTW20 2-Pound Expressbake Breadmaker, White||Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker 120 Volts||Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread Maker with Yeast Dispenser, White||Sunbeam 5891 2-Pound Programmable Breadmaker, White||Zojirushi BB-CEC20 Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker, Black||Zojirushi BB-HAC10 Home Bakery 1-Pound-Loaf Programmable Mini Breadmaker|
|Loaf Size||14.1 inches x 13.8 inches x 13 inches||13 inches x 18 inches x 10.5 inches||9 inches x 14 inches x 13.5 inches|
|Ease of Use & maintain||Not mentioned on the product but most people say Yes||a removable nonstick bread pan for easy cleaning||For cleanup convenience, the baking pan is nonstick.|
|Size of Loaves||2.0 lb||2.0 lb||2.5 lb|
|Pre-set program||· 9 bread settings and 3 crust settings for variety of breads, dough and jams· Expressbake setting bakes bread in under an hour||Quick baking cycle prepares breads in about 2 hours. Choose from three crust shades–light, medium, or dark–and from 10 pre-programmed settings that consist of Basic, Basic Wheat, Basic Dough, Quick, Quick Wheat, Quick Dough, Jam, Cake, Sour Dough Starter, and Home Made.|
|blade||· Dual kneading blades knead dough thoroughly for a higher rise|
|Preset timer/delay start||13 hours||13 hours|
|Raisin and Nut dispenser||x||x|
|LCD panel||· Large LCD display – easily indicates each stage of the bread making process||CD control panel|
I have no idea why I list the lid window as a point to consider as it isn’t functional at all and the presence of one is merely a novelty factor where for the first few bakes, you get the pleasure of peeking in and visually keep track of its progress. I’m not sure if this only concerns my bread maker, but sometimes, during the mixing step, some flour gets so close to the corners of the bread loaf tin that it doesn’t get mixed evenly into the main lump of dough, so when I see that happening in the window, I get my itchy hands in it and use a plastic utensil and manually push the flour to the middle for a more even mix. It has got to be a non-metal utensil so as not to scratch the non-stick surface of the bread load tin inside the bread maker.
The raisin and nut dispenser is a feature that not every bread maker has. It’s one of those good to have features but not crucial. This is because you can simply open the lid and dump the extra ingredients in.
The Breville custom load pro boasts a collapsible mixer blade. Similar to the raisin and nut dispenser, this is a nice to have feature that isn’t crucial to the process of bread makers. As most mixer blades are not collapsible in the loaf tins, the finished baked bread will have a hole at the bottom of the loaf where the mixer blade was. Although not aesthetically pleasing, it does not affect the taste of the baked bread. While I wonder if being collapsible affects its durability in the long run, I applaud Breville for coming up with such an innovative feature.
Brand Comfort is totally personal. This depends on the brand you grew up with, personal experiences and I guess, to a certain extent, the brand reputation. Maybe your mother’s friend’s sister’s daughter’s best friend had a horrible experience with a faulty machine and faced terrible customer service and it in some way affected the way you perceive the brand forever? As for me, I grew up perceiving Panasonic as a slightly expensive but reliable brand. So, like I said, totally personal.
When I read up best bread maker reviews online, I also took into account the number of reviews it garnered. For example, if a bread maker review has a 5 star rating but only one review, it would be questionable. Like maybe that customer was extremely lucky at roulette? However, a critical mass of reviews with consistent 4 stars and above ratings translate into a reliable bread maker for me. And both the Breville and Panasonic qualify as reliable bread makers. After perusing the ratings and review, I got to give the Panasonic bread maker another point as they have a higher rating and higher number of reviews. Of the few bad reviews that I happen to glance through, it seem the main gripe for the Breville bread maker is that it sometimes comes with flimsy parts and the customer service may be questionable. As for the Panasonic bread maker, there are a couple of unhappy customers who have purchased the machine and it is faulty without even baking one loaf of bread. This is a concern as after spending a premium for these higher end bread makers, the last thing you’d like to have is that it breaks down prematurely. The only saving grace is that customers who contacted Panasonic regarding issues they faced with their new bread makers reported great after sales service and support.
The delay start function is a special function that the lower end bread makers tend to not have. We all know that baking bread takes time, to the tune of 3 hours give or take. Hence, to have freshly baked bread at 7:30am in the morning before we go off to work is not possible unless you rise from bed at 4:30am to start the bread maker. Enter the delay start function and there you have it, piping hot, freshly baked bread just in time for breakfast. I got to love this function the most of all.
Just looking at the specs, we can see that the Breville bread maker has a huge arsenal of settings and functions.
So in conclusion, the Breville bread maker is the one jammed packed with features and innovative features. While the Panasonic bread maker also has a couple of nifty features like the raisins and nut dispenser, its list of feature is way less than the Breville Custom Pro Loaf bread maker. However, the Panasonic bread maker seem more reliable and sturdy based on the bread maker reviews and they also provide good after sales service.