Cooking can be fun.
I especially enjoy the process that precedes the actual cooking: going into a crowded supermarket, browsing long aisles packed with condiments, flavor packets, rice bags, sauce packets, and organic produce. I like coming home to an empty kitchen, tying on an apron around my waist and propping up a recipe book on a clean counter and getting to work.
Of all the type of cooking that can be done baking is my favorite, but, you will have to admit, it is a messy activity; you cannot escape the mess unless you’re a TV chef who is bound by contract to never spill anything because the audience has to see you as a superman. But as a normal human being, who really enjoys baking in a loose t-shirt and boxer shorts, I am bound to crack an egg too aggressively and make a mess, wipe my sweaty face with flour stained hands, or leave a buttery trail on my counter. But in-spite of the inevitable chaos that comes with baking, I bake because of the experience of it. I love kneading dough and shaping a massive ball, I love pulling apart the dough and shaping it into small rolls or bagel bites, and I love the sumptuous smell of fresh, homemade bread.
Let’s keep it real for a second…
While taking some time out of your day to play with ingredients and try out new bread recipes is fun, baking can be a tedious and time consuming process. I’ve often found myself having to start a recipe all over again because the dough was too wet, or because I added 3 tablespoons of salt instead of 2. In addition to misreading a recipe and starting afresh, there’s also the uninspiring cleanup that follows a particularly frustrating day in the kitchen. There have been times when the thought of whisking eggs, or carefully monitoring the oven temperature, seemed too daunting, and in those moments, I was grateful for my bread machine.
The story of the bread maker started in Japan in 1986, and gained notoriety in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States almost a decade after its inception.
Bread makers owe their popularity to how simple their features are and how convenient it is for, both novice and experienced, bakers to reduce their prep time in the kitchen. They come with a number of easy-to-use settings that allow bakers to make a variety of breads and dough. With a bread maker, you don’t have to worry about whisking another egg or kneading another ball of dough because the machine takes away the entire hands-on process.
A bread machine is a necessary addition to your already growing list of kitchen appliances. It’s simplicity is its primary, attractive feature: you only need to place in all your ingredients into the bread pan, choose the type of bread you want (French, Whole Wheat, Gluten-Free, or Multi-grain), choose your preferred loaf size, push the start button, and viola, the machine handles everything else and all you have to do is kick back with a glass of wine and a good book. Some bread makers come equipped with 11 different settings and a viewing window that lets you watch the bread rise while you wait. Some provide you with enough versatility to make jams, cakes and different types of pizza. There are the more sophisticated bread makers which come equipped with crust settings; you can choose between very light, light, medium, dark and very dark crust on your bread. They also have the added advantage of letting you create different loaf sizes, which cuts out the stress of fixing misshapen dough balls, or ending up with a loaf that is too big or small. Bread makers, with their delay timers, might also appeal to busy and hard-working bakers who don’t have the time to sort through ingredients and kitchen tools. The Panasonic SD Bread maker, for example, comes with a 13-hour delay timer and is convenient if you want to come to a ready made bread in the oven.
While bread makers come with an insurmountable of positive features and benefits, they also have their fair share of unfavorable reviews and ratings. It’s almost impossible to imagine a kitchen appliance being anything short of convenient, but bread makers do come with a number of cons. On one hand, they boast about cutting down the amount of time you spend in the kitchen measuring and mixing ingredients, but on the other hand, some aren’t flexible with their programs and may still require you to pay attention to set timers and final beeps.
Bread makers can also be cumbersome in size and weight. Some brands have come out with smaller and thinner versions, but the average bread machine can weigh between 8-9 KG and can take up a lot of space on your kitchen counter.
Some also lack versatility with their features and programs – for example, The Lakeland Compact bread maker, although smaller in size, only comes with two settings and can only make a 1 pound loaf.
Bread machines can over knead dough; a problem you will rarely face if you use your own hands. It’s nearly impossible to create a perfect loaf of bread because of the built-in paddle inside the machine. The primary function of the paddle is to mix and the knead the dough and often times, the paddle gets stuck at one end of the bread and when it is removed, it leaves an obnoxious hole in the middle of the loaf. A hole in the middle of your bread loaf can’t really work if you want to make sandwiches for you or your guests.
Bread makers are not versatile enough to allow you make multiple loaves of bread at a time. You are limited to one loaf per timer, which can be a frustrating disadvantage if you want more than one loaf within a specific time period.
Another disadvantage you may face with the bread machines is that some of them tend to adhere strictly to their preset programs. You can’t get away with just dumping your ingredients into the bread pan and leaving it to work on its own, with some of them, you have to program the machine correctly so you don’t end up with bread that is too hard or too tacky. You also have to double check that you’ve set the delay timer to the correct time because mixing up ‘AM’ with ‘PM’ on your time could leave you with an over baked loaf or no loaf at all.
Although bread machines are convenient to use, the clean-up process that takes place after the bread making is completed, is far from convenient. If you use a knife or a spatula to remove any left over bread pieces, you will end up causing more damage than good to the loaf tin. They are not dishwasher friendly, so extra care must be taken while you clean it with a sponge or a soft dish cloth. Be extremely gentle while you clean, paying close attention to the Teflon coated loaf tin which should not get damaged during the clean-up. Cleaning a bread machine can be especially laborious if you’ve used it to make jam, chocolate or cake. They can also be temperature sensitive so you have to ensure the temperature program is set to its appropriate season to avoid overheating on the exterior of the machine.
They are not the most cost-effective kitchen appliances. A sophisticated bread machine that comes with a series of programming options, temperature settings and fruit dispensers can cost you two hundred dollars ($200). A compact bread maker, which is supposed to be smaller and cheaper, can cost between fifty to seventy dollars ($50-$70), depending on the brand. When you add up the cost of a good bread machine, and the fact that you can only make a loaf at a time, you might come to the conclusion that hand making your bread is the cheaper option. They can also hike up your electricity bill because they use up a large amount of electricity, especially the more sophisticated machines.
If you intend to use your bread machine regularly, you might want to consider its imminent short lifespan. You can make about 1200 loaves of bread before your bread maker packs up, and this may seem like a high number if you don’t intend on baking bread everyday, but the loaf tin inside the bread maker has a much shorter life span. The loaf tin is sensitive so using it to make specialty loaves, with seeds and grains, can lead to it getting scratched up and diminishing its life span in the process. Keep in mind that replacing a loaf tin will cost as much as purchasing a new one.
When it comes to choosing an appliance for your kitchen, it’s always important to weigh your options and consider some advantages and disadvantages before making a big purchase.
On one hand, the bread machines are convenient, easy to use, and hassle free for the most part. On the other hand, they are expensive, susceptible to damage, and have a short life span. In spite of their disadvantages, bread machines can be beneficial for beginners who want to try their hand at bread making or for expert bakers who don’t mind kicking their feet up and letting a machine do the work. They are definitely a useful addition to your kitchen counter top.