Choosing a Bread Maker

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Help Choosing a Breadmaker

I've been thinking for some time about getting a bread machine. It's just hubby and me, but I really like the idea of making my own bread, especially knowing what goes in it. I recently purchased a bunch of old "Quick Cooking" magazines that had some really good recipes for bread makers. I mostly plan on making whole wheat loaves and buns. Hubby says that we should get one that will last a long time. I figure I'll be using it once a week. What kind should I get? What do I need to know about bread machines?

Before You Buy a Breadmaker, Test Drive It

Before you spend your hard-earned money on a top-of-the-line bread maker, test-drive a gently-used one from a thrift shop. Bread makers are one of those "gadgets" that people either love and use all the time, or use a few times before relegating them to the closet. At some point, the latter ends up donated to a thrift shop. Used bread makers go from $5 to $15, whereas you'll easily drop $89-$249 for a new one. Be sure it has all the parts and ask to plug it in to make sure it turns on before you buy it.

Many people are disappointed because bread maker bread, while hot and tasty, doesn't have the hand-kneaded chewiness of pricey artisan bread. You can, however, use it on the "dough" cycle to do most of the work for you, then toss the ball of dough onto a floury counter top for a quick hand-knead before popping it into the regular oven to bake. The final hand-knead gives the loaf that pricey artisan feel. Some might ask, "Why use a bread maker at all?". The yeast has to be just the right temperature before adding the flour, it has to be kneaded just so long, the dough has to be just the right temperature to rise, and you can only let it rise so much or it gets grainy. Letting the bread machine do most of the work saves time.

Rescue a gently-used bread maker from a thrift shop today and give it a test drive. If you hate it, you can re-donate it and have only wasted a few bucks. If you love it, you can use it until it dies, then put the pricey model of your dreams on your Christmas list for Santa to bring.

Choosing a Bread Maker for Whole Wheat

I've been using a bread machine for about 15 years. It saves us a bundle over store bought bread, it tastes better, and I know exactly what's in it. I've used generic $50 bread machines for years and they are great with one caveat.

If you're planning on making whole wheat bread, they only have one mixing paddle and a so-so motor. They will not mix and knead whole wheat bread properly and the motor will wear out pretty quickly. Zojirushi, though, makes a great machine for making whole wheat bread. It has two paddles and a much stronger motor. I've had mine for over eight years and average one to two loaves of whole wheat bread a week in it. Yes, it's more expensive, but it has lasted, it does what I want it to do (whole wheat), and it has paid for itself in bread savings (a homemade loaf costs about 35 cents).
Babette in Colorado

You Don't Need a Bread Maker

As much as I love the delicious results from bread makers, I have worn out at least five bread makers over the last 10 years, all for the same reason. The main shaft in the bread pan loosens and allows grease to leak up from the mechanism supporting it. Not a welcome addition to the dough! My advice is to make your own homemade bread. If you don't have a three-hour block of time in your schedule, use a quick-rise recipe or refrigerator-rise recipe to work around your other activities.

Before Buying a Bread Maker, Consider How You'll Use It

For the reader looking to purchase a bread machine, I would strongly suggest that she, rather than starting out with a pricey, high-quality model, go the opposite route and look for a free or cheap one from Freecycle, thrift shops or yard sales instead. They are fairly easily to find, and it's a great way to try one out and see if you really will use it regularly before spending a wad of cash on a shiny new one.

One thing to consider is what you will use it for. There are lots of uses for bread machines, both for loaves baked right in the machine or for their dough-making capabilities for rolls, pizza dough, buns, or just regular bread that you prefer to bake traditionally in the oven without the hassle of hand-kneading. If you already have a sturdy hand mixer like a KitchenAid, keep in mind that it can also be used to knead dough, so if you're only planning to use the bread machine's dough feature, and you already have a good mixer, you might not need the bread machine.

If you do decide to get a used bread machine, and as is often the case, there is no accompanying manual, you can look up the model in your search engine and see if you can find an online manual for it. If not, the Hillbilly Housewife site has a very helpful generic how-to users guide for bread machines, which should help you figure out how to use most any version. This is how I learned to use my own Freecycled machine.

I find that a loaf of homemade bread is one of those wonderful things that costs so little but adds so much. For mere pennies, it lends a very special touch to a humble, frugal meal. If you like whole wheat or other whole grain breads, you'll save even more, not to mention the huge savings for a pizza-loving family that makes their own pizza dough instead of ordering takeout.

Features You'll Want in a Bread Maker

One suggestion I would offer is to make sure the bread maker has a power outage feature, where if the power goes off, the memory will store the course in process. Even if the power just "blinks," you may have to start all over without this feature.

Another feature I like is the ability to bake the bread vertically, so the slices are more uniform. With the horizontal machines, the loaves can really make the slices of bread too large. Also, get a machine that has various size bread options.

I bought my first two machines new. Since then, I have gotten my machines from garage sales or second hand stores for between $5 and $10. When there is just my husband and me, I use the machine two to three times a week on average. When my son is home, it is used every day at least once. I mostly make whole wheat bread or the dough for hamburger and hotdog buns. My first store bought machine lasted about nine months and the second one lasted about six months. One of my second hand machines lasted over two years. I have used different brands and haven't seen that much difference in them.

Get a Good Mixer with Dough Hook

My advice would be to buy a good mixer with a dough hook, rather than a bread mixer. I can make two or three loaves of bread/rolls with a mixer in far less time than it would take in a bread machine, and a mixer has the added advantage of having additional uses. I had a bread machine and found it not cost effective, limiting as to recipes, and we do not like square bread with a hole in it!

Homemade Bread Without the Bread Maker

Has your reader read about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day? I've just begun making the basic free form bread and it is great! Best of all, no big out lay for a single-tasker that will take up space.

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