Bread Making Machines: Zojirushi vs Panasonic Bread Makers
Do your loaves of bread turn out like bricks? Is your crust too hard/soft? Do you know what your bread machine is capable of? Here's the skinny on selecting and using a bread machine successfully.
Selecting the Right Bread Machine
Bread machines run the gamut from basic bakers to high-end machines with every bell and whistle imaginable. Before you begin to shop, think about how often you will actually use your bread machine and what you plan on making with it.
There are two basic types of bread machines: vertical bakers and horizontal bakers. A 'tall' or 'vertical' bread machine (the bread pan sits vertically and you fill it from the top) definitely will take up less room on your counter. I don't recommend these, however, as it's a bit more difficult to put the ingredients in properly and monitor how the dough is coming along. Also, your loaves will come out extremely square looking without that nice, risen top.
A 'horizontal' bread machine's pan looks like a very normal loaf pan. It's easy to work with and simple to monitor the bread as it's being kneaded. And when the loaf is done, it will look just like a store-bought loaf.
Bread machines also come in different sizes - 1 lb., 1.5 lb., etc. A 1 lb. bread machine will turn out smaller loaves that give you about 8 slices of bread. Smaller bread machines, however, make loaves much quicker -- under an hour usually for a 1 lb. loaf. So you'll need to decide if you want to make more frequent but smaller loaves on the fly, or if you're fine with waiting a few hours for your bread to bake in a larger size machine.
In any consumer publication, you will find the highest-rated bread machines are the Zojirushi. (I happen to own the Model BBCC-X20 priced at around $200.) It will handle even the stiffest dough with ease and has almost every bell and whistle you could want.
If you want a more simple and less expensive bread machine, I would suggest the Panasonic Model SD-YD250 which retails for approximately $130.
There are cheaper models. Don't do it.
What Features Do You Really Need?
These are the features that I consider must-haves in a bread machine:
- Dough cycle
- Dual kneading paddles
- Viewing window
- Crust options (light, medium, dark)
- Horizontal pan
- Preheat cycle
Consider these nice-to-have features only:
- Jam, cake or other non-bread/dough cycles
- Sourdough starter cycle
- Custom cycles
- Delay timer (if you want to wake up to freshly baked bread in the morning)
- Additional ingredients beeper (lets you know when you can add ingredients such as raisons, nuts or chocolate chips)
What Can You Make?
When I bought my first bread machine, I really wasn't thinking beyond loaves of bread. I didn't realize that these also make perfect yeast dough that you can then mold and bake on your own. I now find myself using my bread machine to make perfect little hamburger buns for sliders, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, pizza dough, bagels, soft pretzels, and much more.
My bread machine has both a quick dough and a basic dough cycle. I use whichever cycle best matches the recipe I am trying to make. When the cycle is complete, I dump the dough onto my bread board, cover it and let it rest for 10 minutes, and then forge ahead with the recipe.
And you don't need to look for bread machine-specific recipes. Just about any bread or yeast dough recipe can adapt itself to a bread machine. Most of the recipes I've tried in my bread machine didn't need any tweaking of the recipe or method at all.
Making That First Loaf of Bread
Follow these basic steps and you'll have perfect bread in no time:
- Make sure that all liquids are warm. I follow this rule even though my bread machine has a preheat cycle. Yeast needs warmth (around 100 degrees) to flourish and grow.
- Take all liquids in your recipe (oils,water, milk, eggs, butter, etc.) and put them in the bread pan first.
- Add the salt (and other spices except for the sugar) called for in the recipe to the liquids.
- Measure your flour carefully. Add the flour on top of the liquids RESERVING 1/2 CUP.
- Use a spoon or your hands to gently move the flour around so that all of the liquid is covered and the flour forms a 'seal' around the edges.
- Sprinkle the sugar around the edges of the pan on top of the flour.
- Make a small well in the center of the flour, being careful not to break the seal and let any liquid onto the flour, and add your yeast into the well.
- A few minutes into the first knead cycle, lift the cover and check the dough. Add more flour or more liquid (milk or water) a little at a time so that the dough has the proper consistency. The dough should be pulling away from the pan so that the pan is almost clean, and it should spring back when you poke it with your finger.
- If your recipe calls for two knead cycles, check dough consistence again at the beginning of the second cycle.
- Add any solid ingredients (nuts, chips, raisins, etc.) a few minutes before the end of the second knead cycle.
Bread Machine Tips and Tricks
- If you are using your bread machine's delay cycle, do not use recipes that call for fresh ingredients that may spoil such as milk, eggs or cheese.
- If you are making a sweet bread, you may have to tweak the recipe before trying it in your bread machine. You may need to use extra yeast or cut back on the salt. I recommend making your sweetbread dough in the bread machine, and then forming and baking it by hand.
- If your bread rises and then collapses, you had too high a ratio of liquids.
- When adding in solids like raisins, they will incorporate into the dough a bit easier if you also add in a few teaspoons of additional flour at the same time.
- When making whole-grain breads, be sure to use a mix of whole-grain flours and unbleached all-purpose flour. If you don't, your loves will come out very dense and will not rise much.
- If your crusts come out too soft, decrease the oil or butter in your recipe. If your crusts come out too hard, decrease the oil or butter.
- If you're not having much luck baking bread in your bread machine, try duplicating the recipe and using the dough setting. Once the cycle is complete, follow your recipe from where it instructs you to "punch down the dough". Shape and bake by hand.