To David Sward --
Choosing a bread machine is basically a personal choice, and members of
this list have (probably) every brand there is out there. I personally
have a Welbilt ABM-100, commonly called an R2D2 because it looks like R2!
I've had it for nearly 3 years and have been very happy with it. The DAK
machines are almost identical in appearance to the ABM-100, and are also
called R2D2s. Many members of this list have R2D2s, and have been
satisfied with them. Not everyone agrees, however. Some folks have
complained of R2D2s "walking" off counters or undercooking the center of
the loaf. Mine has never walked anywhere; the undercooked centers can be
solved by putting aluminum foil over the top glass dome. (The R2D2s all
have a high, clear glass dome, which most other machines do not.) Some
people don't like the fact that the R2D2s make round loaves, but this
doesn't bother me in the least.
I have heard good comments about the Zojishuri (sp) and Panasonic
machines, but have no personal knowledge or experience with them. The
Zoji is probably the most expensive machine out there, as it has a number
of options that other machines don't, including a cycle for making cakes
and one for making jam.
One thing you should know is that all bread machines produce a loaf with a
hole or a tear in the bottom. That's because bread machines have a dough
paddle to mix and knead the dough. If you don't like the idea of a hole
in the bottom of your bread, you'll have to use the manual cycle, take the
finished, risen dough out of the machine, reshape it and put it in your
own bread pan and bake in your own oven.
Things to consider when purchasing a bread machine --
Size of machine. Bread machines come in 2 basic sizes, 1 pound loaf and
1-1/2 pound loaf. There are a few out there advertised as 2 pound loaf
machines, but I couldn't tell you much about them. This has to do more
with the volume the machine can handle than the actual weight of the loaf.
(A 1-1/2 pound machine can handle at least 3-1/2 cups of flour.) This is a
factor depending on the size of your family and/or how much bread you eat.
If it's just you, a smaller machine might be better. Smaller machines
also cost less.
Pan loading. R2D2 units must be loaded with the pan in the machine,
because they have a hole in the bottom that fits around a spindle, with a
washer to prevent leaking. This doesn't bother me, but some people prefer
a closed pan that can be filled outside the machine, and then placed in
the machine. Your choice.
Loaf shape. Again, R2D2 units make round loaves. If you don't like that
idea, stick with a machine that makes square or rectangular loaves.
Programmability. At minimum, I'd suggest a machine that has a cycle for
white bread and a dough or manual cycle. (Dough cycles are useful if you
want to make pizza crust, rolls, or other non-loaf yeast breads.) The
ABM-100 has a white, French, sweet and dough cycle. Others have fewer or
more cycles. Most machine cycles have set lengths of time for kneading,
rising, baking. Some machines have a fully programmable cycle, where you
can adjust the length of each cycle. A nice feature, but adds to the
price. You'll have to decide how important that is to you. Another cycle
to look for is a timer cycle, where you fill up the bread pan in advance
and set the machine to go off at a later time. This is useful if you like
the idea of waking up to the smell of fresh bread, or if you like the idea
of coming home from work to a fresh loaf. Not all machines have this feature.
Yeast dispensing. All machines tell you to add ingredients in a
particular order, some with dry ingredients first, wet on top, and others
vice versa. Some machines have a separate yeast dispenser, however, to
drop the yeast in at a particular time. The only advantage I know of for
this is if you frequently use the timer cycle, in preventing the yeast
from reacting prematurely to moisture or sugar.
Viewing window. Some machines have a window in the top so you can watch
the dough being kneaded. The R2D2s, of course, have a glass dome top.
This is useful for checking on whether the dough is too dry or too wet, so
that you can make adjustments. Though bread machines can do all the work,
it's always a good idea to check on the early stages of kneading, in order
to correct such imbalances. Unlike humans, bread machines don't have a
"feel" in order to add more flour or liquid to achieve a perfect round
dough ball. For that reason, a viewing window can be very important.
Darkness control. Not all breads are created equal; darkness control
helps adjust for differences in composition in order to prevent a crust
that is too dark or too light.
That's all I can think of at the moment. Fire away if you have other
As for specific brand recommendations, well, I think that's highly
individual. I love my Welbilt R2D2, but others love their Zojis, Sanyos,
DAKs, Hitachis, etc. Consumer Reports did an article on bread machines
last fall (December, I think, or you could check GO CONSUMER on
CompuServe), and their top rating went to a machine nobody ever heard of,
the Trillium Breadman. ??? I'm sure you'll get other opinions from other
folks on this list, too.
Katie Fritz -- Internet: firstname.lastname@example.org
CompuServe: 71257,3153--S11 Small Mammals Section Co-Leader,Pets/Animals Forum
"From what I hear Earth is a podunk little place but they make great pastrami."
-- Graetwist, "Roadways," coming soon from Cult Press