Since the appearance of the first bread maker in the 1980s, people’s opinion on them has remained fairly split into two camps. For professionals and enthusiasts, bread machines might seem like a cheap and inadequate method of making bread. However, for those who don’t have the time or baking experience to make fresh bread by hand, bread makers could be a very helpful tool to break into the realm of baking. If you fall into the latter category, here is everything you need to know about this user-friendly appliance.
Why You Need a Bread Maker at Home
Making your own bread is a rewarding experience, regardless of the method. It allows you to control exactly what goes into the bread you eat, ensuring you don’t get any of the preservatives that you might find in store-bought bread. There’s also the added bonus of filling your house with the smell of fresh bread. Making it in a bread maker, however, is typically more energy-efficient than in a standard oven.
Essentially, bread makers give people an opportunity to have fresh bread regardless of access to bakeries or limited time. Perhaps the biggest benefit, though, is that bread making machines don’t discriminate—they’re a perfectly suitable tool for even the most inexperienced bakers.
Choosing the Right Bread Making Machine
While there is a wide variety of bread makers, they usually follow the same user-friendly methods in the breadmaking process. Despite this, there are various features to look out for depending on your needs or desires. The best bread maker, as with most appliances, is subjective and based on what you value most.
If you’re making bread mostly for yourself, it might be the best option budget-wise to get a bread maker with a lower capacity. On the lower end, you can find a breadmaker with a capacity for 1-pound loaves; the bigger machines, on the other hand, allow for loaves over twice the size. At the end of the day, it depends on how much bread you can eat before it goes stale and choose accordingly.
Also, read about how to choose a mixing bowl for bread dough.
If you’re looking for something a little more flexible and don’t want to be limited in your loaf options, many bread makers have several different modes and sizes to choose from. Some machines allow you to pick between different presets—be it multi-grain, French, or regular white bread—to give you some more room to experiment with your baking. On the other hand, those looking for variety in loaf size should look into bread makers that account for different tiers (typically several options between 1-pound and 2.5-pound loaves).
Having too many features could get tiring or confusing for beginners, but anyone looking to take their bread making a step further has various high-end features to consider. Some machines have a plethora of options to tweak the breadmaking process; some of the more popular are delayed start and keep-warm features that ensure your bread comes out perfectly exactly when you need it.
Another consideration is whether the bread maker has backup power and/or interruption recovery features—these make sure your bread isn’t ruined with any short-term momentary power outages. A fruit and nut dispenser, while more of a niche feature, is good to have if you’re looking to make chunkier bread. Some makers even come with gluten-free settings if you need to make gluten-free bread. Overall, the added options and automatic settings included in one bread maker might appeal more to some people than others, so be sure to peruse the features to find the one that suits your needs—whether culinary or budgetary.
Types of Bread Makers
Bread makers come in all shapes and sizes and can range from basic to quite sophisticated with a variety of features. The simplest bread machines have the bare essentials when it comes to functionality—this isn’t to say that there aren’t quality options in this category, but they usually only allow for 1 loaf size and have a limited number of pre-programmed options. Below are some of the features that differentiate the bread makers on the market.
A lot of bread machines come with their own recommended recipe and/or pre-programmed settings, making it a stress-free process for inexperienced bakers. These kinds of features effectively make baking automatic, and possibly even kid-friendly. To make it even quicker and easier, you could look for bread makers with a quick-bake mode to speed up the process further.
Delayed Start and Warming
If you’re looking to make bread for a specific time—say, you want it to be fresh out of the machine after work—find a bread maker with a delayed start option. This allows you to put your ingredients in, set a timer, and be around to enjoy the bread as soon as it’s ready. This function is often paired with a warming setting, which keeps your bread at a warm temperature until you serve it.
One of the biggest problems people run into is finding that the loaf stuck to the bottom of the bread maker, making it impossible to get out easily. To combat this, there are a few features to look for: the simpler solution is getting a machine with a non-stick pan, but you could also opt for an alarm setting that notifies you when your bread is done. This way, you can immediately remove it from the maker before it gets stuck or overdone.
While not an essential perk, having a large and bright display can be very helpful when checking the remaining time or chosen settings. A large LCD screen not only looks nicer and clearer but also lets you see any modes you selected with no confusion.
The most versatile bread makers come with various choices for loaf size—sometimes up to five different tiers between 1 and 3 pounds. Those looking to take things into their own hands could consider machines with programmable options, as it offers more control in the baking process. Similarly, the best breadmakers give you more options to play around with, such as different crust colors or types of wheat.
Ingredients Required to Make Bread in a Breadmaker
While the most basic bread can be made with just flour, water, yeast, and salt, there is a great room to experiment with different ingredients. Oftentimes, bread making machines come with their own recipes or recommendations, making it easier for beginners to see what they need. Either way, the ingredients you can use in your bread depends on the type of bread you’re looking to make. For a simple white bread, the aforementioned ingredients are enough (but you could add something like milk as well).
If you’re craving some sweet bread like Brioche, the list of ingredients gets a little longer. For sweetness, you’ll want to add sugar, and depending on the desired outcome, one or more of milk, heavy cream, and butter. In addition, you can add eggs or egg yolk to make your bread a little more spongy.
Obviously, if you’re looking to make whole-grain or seeded bread, your list of ingredients will include the grains and seeds you want to include. This means that you’d use whole wheat flour instead of regular flour, and add the ingredients you want—some examples are poppy seeds, sesame seeds, oats, and flax seeds.
Experimenting With Recipes
Once you get the hang of the basic recipes and ingredients, you can look to add different items to your repertoire to make your perfect loaf. This could include brown sugar, honey, different types of yeast, or even chocolate. For things like nuts and fruits, some bread makers come with a design that dispenses them at the perfect time.
Pros and Cons of Bread Makers
While bread machines can turn the average joe into a baker, they simply can’t replace perfectly-baked oven bread. What are the key advantages and disadvantages of a bread maker overall?
- Makes the kneading process simple and easy
- Preset modes and timing to make the process simple for beginners
- Easy cleanup
- Convenient and time-efficient
- Makes bread baking accessible to everyone
- Potential to over-knead the dough
- A little too automatic; depending on the programmability of the machine, you can be stuck using rigid modes
- Limited capability to make sourdough bread
- Possible model-specific issues with how the bread comes out (gummy middle, dense crust, etc.)