Read an Excerpt
The Bread Machine Magic Book of Helpful Hints(Second Revised Edition)
Dozens of Problem-Solving Hints and Troubleshooting Techniques for Getting the Most Out of Your Bread Machine Includes 55 Recipes
By Linda Rehberg, Lois Conway, Durell Godfrey
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1999 Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway
All rights reserved.
The Various Bread Machine Features
The two questions we're asked most often are: "Which bread machine is your favorite?" and "Which machine do you recommend I buy?" While we're more than happy to rave about our favorites and can recommend several, they're our favorites because they suit our needs. It's far better if we help educate you about all the available features so that in the end the machine you take home will be one in your price range with features that you — not we — feel are essential.
So, if you're an undecided prospective bread machine owner, befuddled by the multitude of options bread machines offer, read on. What follows is a description of the various bread machine features now available. If you check off the options you most desire, you can approach the business of selecting a new bread machine with confidence. You will be an informed buyer.
You can also use the Internet as a resource. (Start with our Web site at www.breadmachinemagic.com and follow the links or try the rec.food.baking and rec.food.equipment news group.) One word of caution: Take in all recommendations with the understanding that almost every bread machine owner loves his or her particular brand and highly recommends it over all others. There are many, many good ones on the market now but it's unwise to select a machine based solely on a few recommendations from people you don't know. Pay more heed to those having problems with a particular model or brand.
For the most part, bread machines range in price from $99 up to $250. As with everything else in life, you get what you pay for. We encourage you to not make your selection based on price alone. Always take the features the machine offers into consideration, too. If money is a concern, look for sales on the more expensive machines. Shop discount stores. Purchase through catalogues such as The Wholesale-by-Mail Catalogue by Lowell Miller and Prudence McCullough (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992), which is updated regularly. We urge you to buy the very best machine you can afford.
These days, most bread machines are sold as 1½- or 2-pound size machines (though that's just a rough estimate of the weight of the breads they produce). The 1½pound loaf calls for about 3 cups flour. The 2-pound loaf uses 4 cups flour.
The benefit of buying the larger 2-pound machine with a vertical pan is that you have the option of making small, medium, or large loaves as desired. The small 1-pound loaves (2 cups flour) are the perfect size for one or two people. Since homemade breads contain no artificial preservatives, they usually remain fresh for only two or three days. You're better off making smaller, fresh loaves more often than baking a large loaf that takes a week to consume. It gives you the opportunity for more variety, too.
Most machines produce a rectangular loaf of bread in a horizontal or a vertical bread pan. There are advantages to both types of pan. The horizontal pan produces the more attractive bread, one that resembles in appearance a homemade bread baked in the oven. It's perfect for gift giving. If it weren't for the telltale hole in the bottom, no one would ever know it was baked in a machine. The vertical pan is more versatile. Because the bread is turned on its side and sliced, every slice is consistently the same size square. If your bread doesn't rise very tall one time or hits the lid the next time, you'll still have the same size slice of bread, just fewer or more of them, whichever the case may be. For that reason, too, only the vertical pan allows you to bake the loaf size of your choice — small, medium, or large.
Some machines will warm the ingredients either prior to mixing or during the kneading phase. There's no need to warm your ingredients to room temperature if your machine does it for you. At first we liked this feature. It seemed to ensure consistently good results, and back in those days, preheating only lasted about 5 minutes. Unfortunately, now it's more of an annoyance than a benefit. In newer machines the preheat cycle can be as much as 40 minutes long! That means 40 minutes before mixing ever begins. Since the most crucial step in producing good bread is to judge the consistency of the dough as it mixes, having to wait 30 or 40 minutes to do so is intolerable. With that long a delay, we'd like to see the manufacturers include a way to skip the preheat cycle when desired. Ask to see the instruction booklet when shopping for a bread machine. Most have a diagram of the cycles and their lengths. Be sure to note how long the preheat cycle is, if there is one.
Rapid Bake Cycle
This cycle bakes bread approximately 1 hour faster than the Standard Bake Cycle. It's also referred to as a Quick Bake or Turbo cycle. The duration of the Standard Bake cycle varies widely from machine to machine; some are 3½ to 4 hours, others are as short as 1 hour! Therefore, some bread machines list no Rapid Bake cycle but their Standard Bake cycle may actually be a Rapid Bake (which we consider to be anything under 3 hours). Refer to the instruction booklet for the length of the various baking cycles.
With the frantic pace of our lives, the speediness of an appliance is certainly a key selling point, but in the case of homemade bread, you need to weigh speed versus flavor. That wonderful flavor you so cherish in homemade bread can only be developed over time. A rapidly produced bread will be good but it just won't have the same body and aroma. However, if baking bread always seems to be a last-minute activity for you, then the rapid baking machines are your answer.
Dough (or Manual) Cycle
This feature signals you to remove the dough at the stage where it's ready to be shaped, allowed to rise one last time, and then baked. Every machine has this option, and even if you're not a hands-on bread baker at this point, you'll learn to enjoy this feature in time. We've nicknamed it the "Fun Cycle." You can use it for something as simple as making your own hamburger buns or tackle something more creative by braiding a beautiful Challah bread for Rosh Hashanah. If you're looking for a show stopper, create a cornucopia made from dough and then fill it with homemade rolls for Thanksgiving. (You'll find recipes for the Challah and the cornucopia in our book More Bread Machine Magic.)
Whole Wheat Cycle
This cycle extends the kneading and rising phases, which is a boon for breads that contain at least 50 percent whole-grain flours. Can you bake whole-grain breads in machines without this feature? Yes. Without the extended cycles, however, sometimes you need to compensate by adjusting your ingredients, adding gluten, or stopping and restarting your machine after the first kneading cycle — all in an effort to achieve taller, lighter, whole-grain loaves.
French Bread Cycle
This cycle is best suited for breads low in fat and sugar. Usually, less time is spent kneading the dough and more time is devoted to the rising cycle, which results in breads with crisp, crackly crusts and coarse, chewy interiors. You can produce crisp-crusted breads in machines that do not have this feature by eliminating the fat and reducing the sugar in your recipes. Such loaves won't be identical to those baked on a French cycle, however.
Sweet Bread Cycle
Some machines offer this feature in addition to offering a crust color selector. It's best suited for breads that are high in sugar or fat (more than 2 tablespoons) or breads that burn easily, such as egg, cheese, and some wholegrain breads. In most cases, your bread will bake at a lower temperature. In other machines, it's also a longer cycle, start-to-finish, than the standard cycle.
This feature comes in handy when you want to bake a bread with raisins, chopped dried fruits, or nuts. The machine will signal late in the kneading phase when it's time to add those extras. It prevents them from being pulverized, which can happen if they're added in the very beginning with the rest of the ingredients. If the machine you purchased doesn't have this feature, you can set a timer to ring about 5 to 10 minutes before the end of the final kneading cycle to alert you that it's time to add the extras.
These are options available on the "deluxe" machines. Some people dismiss them at first, but once they stop and think about slathering a thick slice of warm, fresh-baked bread with some delicious homemade jam or butter, this feature becomes much more enticing!
Quick breads (not to be confused with breads baked on a Rapid Bake cycle) are non-yeast breads such as banana nut bread, pumpkin bread, etc. You can also bake small cakes using the Quick Bread cycle.
Though it won't cool the bread completely after baking, the ½-hour Cool-Down cycle will remove excessive heat and moisture from the machine so you won't be left with a soggy, limp loaf in case you're not around when the baking ends.
Instead of cooling the finished bread, some machines have a Keep-Warm cycle that does the opposite. It keeps the bread warm for several hours until you're able to remove it from the machine.
Delayed Bake Timer
Undoubtedly, this is the most popular bread machine feature of all. It allows you to program your machine to bake at a specified time, which means you can wake to the heady aroma of freshly baked bread (could there be a better alarm clock?) or be greeted by an intoxicating fragrance after a hard day at work. For that reason, this feature is standard on every machine.
Delayed Bake Timer for the Dough Cycle
Those of us with a passion for pizza and dinner rolls love this cycle. You can place the ingredients in the machine in the morning and have dough ready to use when you walk through the door in the evening. Unfortunately, not many machines have this feature, yet, so read the instruction manuals carefully if you're looking for one that does.
We've baked thousands of loaves and we still like to "sneak a peek." Actually, the window isn't the frill it might seem to be at first. The best thing you can do to ensure a successful loaf of bread is to check the dough as it kneads. If it appears too wet or too dry, you can make adjustments and avoid disappointing results 4 hours later. It also enables you to spot the dough that is threatening to overflow the bread pan the moment the baking cycle kicks on. (A mere prick with a toothpick will prevent certain disaster.)
Our last, rarely mentioned benefit of the viewing window is that it's a dandy way to entertain children and visiting grandchildren! Pull up a chair so they can peek in and it will fascinate them for quite a while.
Crust Color Selection
This is a useful feature when baking breads that are high in sugar or fat, or breads containing cheese, eggs, and whole grains. With a medium crust color setting, they'd bake up too dark. Being able to adjust to a light crust setting is requisite. You'll find this feature on most machines nowadays.
Custom Controls/Extended Rise/Pause Cycle
There are a few machines that allow you to program the cycles from start to finish, jump from one cycle to another, extend the rising time, or pause in mid-rise to fill or coat a dough. Much as that sounds like something only an advanced bread machine baker would use, once you're familiar with your machine, these features are relatively easy to use. It's surprising how many times we've relied on them to give a reluctant riser a little more time or skip ahead to the bake cycle when a bread is rising too quickly or to remove a dough and coat it with seeds. They're really bonus features worth serious consideration.
If you live in an area that experiences frequent power outages, this feature may be your savior. If you electricity goes off or someone pulls the plug, all is not lost. If power is restored within 10 minutes, your machine will start up right where it left off. (If not, simply remove the dough, place it in a greased 8×4-inch (small loaf), 9×5-inch (medium loaf) or two 8×4-inch (large loaf) bread pan(s), allow it to rise until doubled, then bake "the old-fashioned way."
Some Panasonic machines have a small compartment in the lid that dispenses the yeast shortly before the second kneading phase rather than adding it in the beginning with the rest of the ingredients. The yeast dispenser guarantees that the yeast will remain dry and not activate prematurely when using the Delayed Bake setting. Since the yeast is separated from the rest of the ingredients, the machine is able to mix the yeast-free dough the moment you press Start, even on the Delayed Timer. This unique feature enables you to judge and make adjustments to all bread doughs immediately.
Other features to consider, which may or may not be important to you:
A removable lid makes cleanup easier.
The size of the machine can be a consideration if you're short on counter space.
If you simply don't have room for another appliance on your countertop, know that there are now combination toaster oven/bread machines being produced.
Some control panels are difficult to read at counter height. Make sure the machine you're considering has a readable one.
When selecting a machine, it's also important to keep in mind the servicing aspect. Most machines are real workhorses and rarely develop mechanical problems, but when they do, the quality of the manufacturer's customer service becomes vitally important. You don't want to be told it will be three months before they can repair/replace your machine. It pays to ask other bread machine owners what their experiences with customer service have been. The good news is, most manufacturers work very hard to keep the customer satisfied. Some of the nicest people you'll ever want to meet work in this industry.
Also, if you have a local appliance repair shop that handles bread machines, ask questions about the problems they see most often and their opinion of the machine(s) you're considering purchasing. They're the ones who know these machines inside and out.CHAPTER 2
Bread-baking Facts and Guidelines
The Science and Art of Baking Bread
We think it would be useful to share a few facts about bread baking in general. For those of you who have never baked a loaf of bread by hand, we'd like to give you a better understanding of some of the elements involved in producing that "mini-miracle" each time you press the Start button. For those of you who are experienced bread bakers, we hope we've done our research well enough to surprise you with one or two new facts.
The Essential Ingredients
Gluten, the protein found mainly in wheat flour, gives bread its structure. The higher the gluten content, the higher and stronger the loaf will be.
Yeast, a living organism, is activated when it comes in contact with warm liquids. It feeds on sugars and produces bubbles of carbon dioxide gas, which cause the bread to slowly rise.
Flour contains gluten, starch, and enzymes that can convert the starch into sugar.
Liquids activate the yeast and bind the dough.
Salt moderates the yeast's activity and strengthens the gluten structure.
Mixing/Kneading the Dough
As the dough is mixed and later kneaded, the tangled elastic strands of gluten in the flour begin to unfold and form a weblike structure. (If you take a well-kneaded piece of dough, roll it out very thin, and hold it up to the light, you can easily see the gluten structure.)
At the same time malt enzymes, found in both wheat flour and barley, begin to break down the starch molecules in the flour(s) and turn them into sugars ... food for the yeast.
The amount and type of kneading largely determines the final texture of the bread. The more you knead the dough (up to a point), the finer the texture will be. As you knead, you break up the little pockets of air being incorporated into the dough. It's these air pockets between the strands of gluten that fill up with the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast. The smaller the air pockets, the finer the bread's texture.
It is possible to "overknead" bread dough ... usually by machine, rarely by hand. Its structure will break down, the gluten will lose its elasticity, and you'll be left with a useless, sticky blob of dough. If you stopped and restarted your machine several times after each kneading cycle, you'd risk this happening to your dough.
When kneading dough by hand, always work in any extra flour a little at a time. Avoid adding large quantities of flour to your dough all at once; you'll end up with a very tough, dry, heavy loaf of bread.
Well-kneaded dough is smooth and satiny and has a soft, pliable body to it. You should be able to knead it with one hand at that point.
Excerpted from The Bread Machine Magic Book of Helpful Hints(Second Revised Edition) by Linda Rehberg, Lois Conway, Durell Godfrey. Copyright © 1999 Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.