I believe there are few who would disagree that there is nothing like the aroma of fresh-baked bread, and the feeling of pride and empowerment one gets when successfully baking great loaves. Homemade bread is nutritionally superior to commercially baked bread as well, but I think most people will admit that they bake their own bread mostly because of the taste, and it’s just super-cool to make your own bread. At any social gathering, fresh-baked bread tops the scale on the Wow-Factor, and there will seldom be any left to take home.
But, bread baking is most definitely an art, and a skill that takes some time to get good at. Making bread by hand has a steep learning curve, and many people just don’t have the patience to stick it out. And, unfortunately, just like any other art or craft, there are those who are just not cut out for it, no matter what. But for those unfortunates, and others who would like homemade bread but don’t want to go to all the trouble, there is still a solution….the Bread Machine. Thanks to modern technology, just about anyone can make perfectly fine loaves of delicious breads. Basically, you just load the machine, turn it on, and wait until it tells you the bread is done. Does it compare to hand-crafted loaves by master bakers? Well, no…but it is infinitely superior to what is available in stores, both in taste, and nutrition… I will show you, in my opinion, the 2 best bread machines that you can use in your kitchen.
The Best Bread Makers:
|My favorite bread makers||Brand||Max loaf size||Price|
|Zojirushi BB-PAC20||Zojirushi||2-pund loaf||$$$|
|Breville Loaf Maker||Breville||2-1/2-pound loaf||$$$|
|Oster Expressbake||Oster||2-pund loaf||$|
|SKG Automatic Bread Machine||SKG||2-pund loaf||$$|
Store Bread vs Homemade Bread
Nutritionally, commercial flour (even so called, “Whole Wheat”) isn’t all that great to start with. All of the bran and oils have been removed to keep it from going rancid on the shelves, and all the nutrients left have long since oxidized. The label says it is “Fortified”, because the FDA makes them add 14 synthetic nutrients back into the flour to make up for the 70 or more they have removed, just enough to keep you from getting Beriberi and Pellagra. I did my doctoral thesis on commercial flour, and it is one of my pet peeves, but that is a subject for a future article. To this empty-calorie endosperm starch, they also add dough conditioners that contain things like soy lecithin, guar gum, and other things to offset the sorry condition of the flour. And by the way, they do not use good bread wheat to make the flour. They use whatever is cheapest at the time. That’s why the labels never tell you what species of wheat was used.
Making bread at home won’t help with the flour, but you can eliminate all the extra additives, which does help some. You’ll be adding things like honey, which has loads of nutrition, oils packed with Omega 3 and Omega 6 oils, and more. And if you get the right bread machine, you can even do what I do, and grind your own flour from fresh wheat, of a variety of your choosing, with all of the nutrition intact. As far as I know, the only bread machine that can handle whole grain flour is the Zojirushi Home Bakery. They cost more, but if you are going to be serious about home baking, and want a machine, this is the one to get. Another option is to grind your own flour, but sift out the bran. Then it will work in most standard machines, and you can use the bran for other things. The bran has a lot of the fiber you need. The bread will still contain all of the wheat germ, which has most of the other nutrients, and is missing from commercial bread. As far as taste, well, there is no comparison between fresh-baked bread at home, and the cellophane-cocooned lumps of starch from the store. Home baked bread is fresh, nutty, a little floral, and can be flavored with all kinds of spices, like rosemary, thyme, dill, etc… You have total control over the finished product.
As for cost, my bread at home probably costs a little more than what you would start out with because I am very picky on my ingredients. For white breads, I only use Golden 86, or Prairie Gold wheat from Montana. These are the top wheat varieties available for making artisan white breads. For red wheat breads, I only use WB4551 from S.E. Kansas, also known as Turkey Red. . I buy direct from the growers. This is also the top-end of the market for bread wheat. My loaves usually cost me around $1.00 per loaf, depending on what other ingredients I use. I also only use local unpasteurized honey from a beekeeper I know personally, so that bumps the cost up a little, but we are worth it. You will probably be using store four, at least at first, and store honey (be advised, most store honey is not ‘honey’ at all, but an artificial concoction made with high fructose corn syrup…), so your cost would be .25 to .50 cents per loaf, on average.
A Brief History of Bread…
Bread is the most widely consumed food in the world. Every culture, no matter how primitive, has some form of bread associated with it. Archeological evidence suggests that making wheat may go back as far as 30,000 years. Undoubtably, the first breads were flatbreads, like tortillas or roti. Humans had begun grinding wild wheat and making a gruel (sort of like cream of wheat, without the cream…) very early on. It’s just a short hop from that, to cooking the paste on flat rocks to make flatbreads. This was probably what sparked the agricultural revolution around 20,000 yers ago. And little wonder… Bread is delicious, very portable, has a good shelf life, and when made from whole ingredients, very nutritious. Yeast bread, just like most other fermented and leavened foods, most likely came about by accident. Some wild yeast got into the dough, and it rose. Not wanting to waste anything, someone baked it, and culinary art was created. This was well before any recorded history, but by the times of early civilizations in the Fertile Crescent, and Egypt (around 5,000 BC), bread-baking was well established.
Of course, the process was refined over the years. In the early years, during the Greek and Roman Empires, the trend was for no-knead type breads, such as ciabatta, and focaccia. By 200 BC, kneading had been discovered, and bread-making came into its own. Pretzels, donuts, bagels, yeast rolls, pumpernickel, rye, etc…, all became possible from this simple technique.
All of the developments have not been necessarily positive. In the mid 19th century, mills in France had come up with a way to remove all the oils, and bran…in other words, the parts that contained most of the nutrition. Then they bleached the remaining endosperm, which is over 90% starch with dead calories, to make it, “whiter than white”. The new white flour made bread that was extremely light, white, and nutritionally bankrupt, all for the sake of appearance. It was very expensive, and serving white bread was a mark of affluence, so naturally, everyone wanted it. Not long after this, there was a world-wide plague of pellagra and beriberi (both are nutritional diseases caused by a lack of vitamins, mainly the B-Complex family, such as niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin). In the 1930s, most governments had traced the diseases to the use of commercial white flour, and passed laws requiring mills to add some vitamins back into the flour, just enough to keep you from getting these diseases. They removed over 70 nutrients, and had to replace 14… great math, huh? The bran and oils were sold to the lucrative animal feed market, and the mills were not about to let those profits go. They added (and still do) a minimum amount of synthetically produced vitamins and a few minerals, and called it “fortified”. Here’s is another surprise for you….the so-called “Whole Wheat” flour is nothing of a kind. They add just a tiny bit of bran to white flour, along with some brown food coloring, and cellulose (read, “sawdust”) for bulk. The only way to get the full nutritional value of wheat is to grind it yourself, as you use it.
Anyway, I am sure most of you will be using commercial four for your bread, and that’s OK. Most bread machines are designed to use this kind of flour. The first bread machine was released in Japan in 1986 by Mashushita Electric (Panasonic, in the US). The first automatic bread machine was the Raku Raku Pan Da, made in Japan by Funai Electric in 1987, and marketed in the US as the DAK Auto Bakery. These bread machines became very popular, and still command a respectable following.
Is machine-made bread as good as hand-made? I don’t think so, but it is perfectly edible, and some machine do a good job that approaches hand-made loaves. Bread-making, and baking in general, is a true art, and not everyone will have the talent and the patience to do it. But with a bread machine, anyone can make perfectly acceptable bread, with consistent results.
A Closer Look: Bread Machines For Home Use
There are two main types of consumer bread machines. One makes a vertical loaf, like if you took a loaf and stood it up on its end. The other makes a horizontal loaf, like what you get in the stores. There is no real difference between the two loaves, other than where the paddle hole will end up (more on this in a bit). Other than that, the two machines work the same.
A bread machine is pretty simple. In fact, it is so simple that a diagram is unnecessary.
It has a heating element, a software control program, a motor to drive a set of paddles, and a removable loaf pan. They will usually have several settings for different kinds of bread. All you have to do is load the ingredients according to the particular recipe, select the proper program, hit, “START”, and go about your business. The machine will tell you when the bread is ready. All that’s left is to remove the loaf pan, ease the bread loaf out, and remove the paddle (if it comes out with the bread). This will make a small hole in the crust, but nothing to concern yourself about. Just grab some butter, get a slice and chow down…. Easy Peasy.
That is really all there is to using bread machines. There is no reason why you can’t enjoy fresh-baked bread all the time. To help you get started, I have rated two widely available machines. I hope you find this article, and the ratings helpful.
Zojirushi Virtuoso Model BB-PAC20 Review
- Dimensions: 18” x 10.5” x 13”
- Weight: 22 lbs
- Makes a 2 lb. loaf
- 2 paddles for even kneading
- 2 heating elements, one on top and one in the bottom, for even baking
- User-Friendly interface with customizable settings.
- Makes many different kinds of bread, jams, and even meatloaf.
- One of the few bread makers available that can handle fresh whole grains
This is not one of the cheapest machines, but it is more than worth the price. It makes a 2 lb. loaf that approaches the quality of hand-made loaves. It even makes great loaves from difficult to work with grains, like fresh ground spelt and kamut.
I got a unit for testing from a semi-local whole foods shop. It was well-packed, and required no real assembly. It was ready-to-go right out of the box, for all practical purposes. The build, fit, and finish were excellent. Nothing sloppy about this unit. It felt bomb-proof. I wiped it down good, and dried it off before using it, just out of habit. It was not that heavy, and did not take up much counter space. The manual was easy to understand, and the recipes looked right.
I figured for the first go-round, I would give it a real test. Spelt and Kamut are very ancient varieties of heirloom wheats, and are very touchy to work with. They require delicate handling. I ground up some kamut and spelt, and mixed them 50-50. I used no modern wheat whatsoever. I set it for the recipe for white bread, and reduced the water by 25% (spelt absorbs more water than modern wheat), and reduced the kneading time by 1/2 (the gluten in kamut is super-delicate). This allowed me to test the custom settings. I used the medium crust setting. I added the rest of the ingredients, hit the start button, and went about my business. In a little more than 2 hours, the machine told me it had done its job. I removed one of the most perfect-looking heirloom loaves I had ever seen. After letting it cool a bit, I sliced it, and both the texture and flavor were spot-on. This is an amazing accomplishment for a machine.
The Zojirushi has a delayed start that lets you set the time you want the bread finished, and it worked perfectly. You can load it, go to work, and come home to great fresh bread.
I also tested it on jams (it made outstanding jalapeño, tomato, and Mustang Grape jams), and a meatloaf, which was almost textbook perfect. I talked to a friend of mine who has had her machine for over 15 years, and it still works perfectly. Would I use this and give up making bread by hand? Absolutely not, because I enjoy making bread by hand, but if I had to use a machine, this would be the one. I will probably use mine occasionally, when I get pressed for time, and certainly for jams and meatloaves. It would be worth the money even if that’s all it did.
> Check Out The Zojirushi Virtuoso On Amazon <
Breville Custom Loaf Bread Maker BBM800XL Review
- Dimensions: 9.6” x 16.4” x 13.3”
- Weight: 21.7 lbs.
- Collapsable kneading paddle does less damage to loaf upon removal.
- Makes different sizes of loaves; 1 lb, 1-1/2 lb, 2 lb, and 2-1/2 lb loaves.
- Has settings for whole grains
- Nut and fruit dispenser
The first Breville machine I was sent for testing had problems. The collapsable paddle was hung up, and nothing I did could free it. I contacted the distributor and they gave me a return authorization, and sent another one to me. The second machine seemed to work OK. I have talked to others who have had this machine, and they all said the paddle wears out in about a year, and replacements are hard to find.
The 800XL was comparable in size and weight to the Zojirushi. But, the 800XL only has 1 paddle and 1 heating element. The quality and build made me think it came from WalMart. It seemed much more cheaply-built than the Zojirushi. The interface was easy to understand. It has an automatic fruit/nut dispenser, which I regard as superfluous. The Zojirushi ‘beeps’ when it is time to add fruit and nuts. Another thing that annoyed me about the 800XL was that it does not pause when the lid is opened, like the Virtuoso. This could be a safety issue. Also, the loaf pan just sits in the bottom, held only by gravity, but even at that, the pan is very difficult to remove, especially when hot.
The 800XL is supposed to be able to handle whole grains, so I decided to try making a loaf with some fresh-ground Hard Red Winter Wheat, Turkey Red, to be exact. This is a variety brought into the US from Russia, and makes great brown bread. I followed the directions for Whole Wheat, set the crust to medium, and let the machine do its thing. This unit makes an awful noise when kneading. It sounded like it was going to come apart. It was a little disconcerting. In about 3 hours, it produced an acceptable 2 lb loaf, however, the loaf was not baked evenly. It was darker on the bottom. Other than that, the loaf was fine.
I tested all the other functions, and some of them did not function correctly, mainly, the jam setting, and the nut dispenser when making raisin bread. It dropped the raisins much too early, and many were crushed, affecting the doughs moisture level. The raisin bread came out gummy because of it. The paddle seized up after every loaf, and I had to lubricate it with olive oil and spin it by hand a few times to get it to work again. I don’t think the temperature is right for jam, because it came out pretty runny. The meatloaf came out just a tad under-cooked, and I had to finish it off in the oven. But, the delayed finish time worked OK, It was only off by about 5 minutes.
> Check Out The Breville Loaf Maker On Amazon <
Conclusion: Picking The Best Bread Machine
Both units produced edible bread, but the Zojirushi made better products and was more consistent, and less troublesome. The Breville is around $25.00 cheaper, but for that extra $25.00, you’re getting 3 or 4 times the machine. I would rate the Zojirushi at 5 stars, and the Breville 3-1/2 stars. Don’t get me wrong, the Breville works…just not as good as the Zojirushi.