Why buy a bread machine?

I have a constant emotional conflict - aesthetics or practicalities? 

The bookshop shelves, whether they're at the physical Waterstones or in the virtual world of Amazon, are full of bread and baking books that advocate the manual mixing, kneading and formatting of dough into bread. 

It's actually very useful to know how to hand mix. The hands-on approach brings you into contact with what happens when flour and water, salt and sugar, oil and yeast combine and the chemical and physicial reactions that turn ingredients into product.  

But, behind all this, there is a world of delusion and illusion. Artisan bakers on your High Street or in those trendy little Victorian passageways in towns and cities the length and breadth of the land often give the impression that all their bread is produced manually until it reaches the oven door. 

Even the term 'artisan' suggests a non-mechanised, traditional method of production. 

We have to be careful, there's a lot of hype out there: smoke and mirrors and passing trends. No doubt there are those artisan bakers who actually produce commercially-available bread from start to finish. They will probably produce a very limited number of loaves daily and charge a premium for their troubles. 

Next time you're in your preferred bakery, ask if they make it on the premises. Do they have a machine to mix their dough? Will they show it you? 

Your supermarket might look like it has a 'fresh bread' section, but it probably arrives part-baked and they simply 'finish it off'. 

Bottom line is - all we're trying to do at home is to make tasty, healthy bread that, hopefully, doesn't look like it's been in a disaster zone and might actually look artistically pleasing. 

There are three stages of bread production. 

  1. The mixing of ingredients,
  2. The formatting of dough into the shape of a loaf,
  3. The baking of that loaf into bread.
Go to any large bakery and you'll see mechanisation to the 'nth' degree. Ingredients are loaded from hoppers, mixers mix, machines shape and ovens bake. True, there are real people working there and they may be very enthusiastic about their jobs. But, unless they're 'upstairs' with the 'white coats', chances are they are there to move, sort, switch on, maintain, repair or pack.

I started my days in one such bakery. Long before it was Allied Bakeries in Bredbury, Stockport, it was Sunblest. In those days, we'd load the ingredients into the mixers and watch the magic happen. We'd actually handle the bread at most stages. I worked the night-shift with George, who lived with his mother after an acrimonious and failed marriage. Living with his mother in his late 40s must have been considerably worse. In the early hours of the morning, he would get so worked up about anything, he'd take it out on the Hovis. He's shout and rant, walk away from the line with two loaves and curse both of them. I presumed one was the ex-wife and the other bore him. 

However, in calmer moments, when he was more lucid, George would teach me the basics. I learnt how to mold loaves. He told me about the differences between flours and how yeast worked. 

None of this was of any use at the time. We turned out steamed sliced white, tinned bread and Hovis - by the thousands, day after day, night after night. 

A couple of years later, I found myself at a small bakery on Ynys Môn, the Isle of Anglesey. Here we still mixed by machine, but at least we dropped dough into tins and loaded the ovens by hand. We made baguettes and baps by manually rolling them and setting them aside for the morning shift to bake. 

The point behind all this is that there is nothing wrong with using a machine - especially if it does a better job with less effort. After all, as Brian Melbanke writes in his 'Philotimus' (1581),  "It is smal reason you should kepe a dog, and barke your selfe."

So, what have we established? 

  • It's useful to know how to mix ingredients by hand. What needs to be done in what order, and why?
  • Once you know, you can always draw on these skills.
  • A machine has infinitely more time and patience than you.
  • A machine may well do a better job.
  • You are still and always in control - you are still and always the 'artist' and the 'artisan'. 
In a previous article "Mixing and Kneading - by hand, stand mixer or by machine", I reviewed the three approaches, their merits and drawbacks. 

Here, I want to show you what can be achieved if you are lucky enough to own a bread machine. 

I've always bought Panasonic. I always will. I believe that they are, by a long way, the best machines out there.  I have two. Why? because, it means that I can heat the oven up once and use the whole oven for a decent volume of bread. 

A bread machine has two functions:

  1. It makes loaves - working through the whole process from start to finish : mix, knead, prove, knead, prove and bake. 
  2. It makes dough - it takes it to the stage where you can take over. It simply mixes, kneads and first proves. 
When I was working I used to let the machine do what it was there to do. I would load up the pan in the evening and switch on the timer. In the morning, I'd get up, empty the loaf out and let it cool while I got ready for work and made the coffee. We had fresh bread every day. It would make toast, sandwiches and what was left was either eaten with our evening meal or given to the birds the following day. 

Every loaf looked the same. It was the same shape - it might not have had the same ingredients - but there's a uniformity to a machine-baked loaf. Small, medium or large; light or dark baked - they all look like the pan in which they were baked. And, they all have the same tell-tale hole at the bottom where the paddle has been. 

During the holidays, I'd often let the machine make the dough. Then, I'd tip the dough out onto a floured board and 'create'. I'd produce baps, bagels, brioche, boule, bloomers and  baguettes. I'd make wholemeal and fruit bread, finger rolls and muffins. I'd fill the freezer and these would be our 'stand by', our treat at weekends or when we were too tired to remember to load up the machine on a weekday. 

Each programme on the machine does a different job. It waits (autolyses), it mixes, it kneads and gives your dough time to rise. It tells you when it's finished and keeps everything nice and warm. It even senses the outside temperature and humidity and adjusts accordingly. Baking in the summer is different from baking in the winter. 

Some dough programmes are short and some are longer. It depends on what the ingredients need. For example, a pizza programme will produce silky dough in a scant 45 minutes, whereas a French bread recipe may take six hours. if you decide to use final stage and bake the bread, the machine will hold the dough until the heating element reaches the right temperature and then bake it for just the right amount of time.

My bread machines are out on the worktop in the utility room - it's become something of a mini bakery, especially since Lockdown when I started BreadClub20. Never put them in a cupboard out of sight. If you do, you won't use them. They'll be like the other electrical gadgets you bought on a whim and rarely see the light of day. The waffle iron? The popcorn maker? That chopper and grinder you thought would be indispensable...but actually isn't? 

Do you need a bread machine? 

Are you a person who:

  • wants to bake healthy fresh bread rather than constantly going to the bakers or the supermarket?
  • wants to fill the house with the smell of fresh baking with the least amount of effort?
  • wants to start bread making without the fear of 'getting it all wrong'?
  • would like to venture beyond some day into making your own bread - but might be grateful for the fact that the machine will do the early work for you and do it well? 
  • is an experienced bread maker who would like a backup for those times when you're too busy to start from scratch?
Then the answer is possibly or probably.....yes!

That's how my daughter started. She bought a machine for fresh bread every morning - to feed the family. 

Now, six months later, she's free-forming foccacia and other flatbreads. She's making rolls and baguettes - all from scratch. And yet, when she needs a loaf but hasn't the time to produce one..the machine takes over. 

Now, the big question is...do I still use my machines. Sometimes - yes. It depends. 

If I simply need a basic dough then there is nothing to produce one as easily or as successfully as a bread machine. If I need to 'feel' my way through a recipe or know that the process needs handling in a specific way, then I turn to my large stainless steel bowls and my Dutch whisk (sometimes called a Danish whisk or a brodpisker)

A Dutch or Danish whisk - a brodpisker

But today isn't about making bread 'by hand', it's about whether a bread machine is worth considering as a useful addition to your kitchen. 
Let's see how it works. Let's make two of my multigrain loaves - medium size. 
The first we'll make from start to finish in the breadmaker.
The second we'll make using both the breadmaker as a dough mixer and finish off in the oven. We'll make the dough in the breadmaker and then format, second prove and bake free-hand. 
We'll use an identical mix for both loaves. 

I'm going to include the optional seeds but you can just as easily leave them out.

Into the pan, place the following:
425 gms strong white bread flour
1 teaspoon of salt crystals
15 gms unsalted butter
1½ tablespoon dried milk powder
1 tablespoon demerera sugar
Now cover this with
310 mls water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
Remember - it's all in the quality of the ingredients and also 'dry in first, wet in after'.
I'm now adding the optional ingredients - my seeds. Are these necessary? Well, for a basic loaf, no. However,  this is a multiseed / multigrain loaf and it's my way of building in the nutritional goodness that seeds provide. 
1 tablespoon brown linseed
1 tablespoon white sesame
1 tablespoon black sesame
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoon sunflower seeds
2 tablespoon pumpkin seeds

Dry ingredients in, water and seeds at the ready. 

Let's not be snobby about this....you are producing quality bread, free from additives and chemicals, free from preservatives and enhancers. At a fraction of the cost - no transport costs, no waiting in the queue, no risks and it's better than any air freshener in filling your house with the smells of fresh baking. 

So, everything is in the pan and we're ready to go?

Not quite ready? Well, you can always delay the start using the 'stand-by' function. Because you're using dried milk (enriched with Vitamin C of course - which is not only good for you but also helps to feed the yeast), you can delay the start for up to 13 hours. 

I'm choosing a Basic Bake Mode - it'll take 4 hours from start to finish. (I never use the rapid mode that produces a loaf in under two hours - it takes time for magic to happen). I'll choose a 'medium' size from the menu and a 'medium' crust. 

And off we go.....time to go to the supermarket, sort out this evening's dinner and wash the cars. 


Straight out of the machine

The shape is determined by the shape of the pan 

Now, let's repeat the process but, this time, we'll use the bread machine as a dough mixer. 



  • we're using identical ingredients. 
  • you can't delay the start using the timer on the dough mode, but then again, that's not why you're using the machine as a dough mixer. 
Into the pan, place the same ingredients:

425 gms strong white bread flour
1 teaspoon of salt crystals
15 gms unsalted butter
1½ tablespoon dried milk powder
1 tablespoon demerera sugar

Now cover this with

310 mls water

1 teaspoon instant yeast

Remember - it's all in the quality of the ingredients and also 'dry in first, wet in after'.

1 tablespoon brown linseed
1 tablespoon white sesame
1 tablespoon black sesame
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 tablespoon sunflower seeds
2 tablespoon pumpkin seeds

This time, I'm choosing a Basic Dough Mode - it'll take 2hr 20 minutes from start to finish. I don't need to choose the size or the crust for the loaf as I'm not taking the machine to that stage. 

  • At the end of the 'Dough' stage, remove the dough from the breadmachine pan and place it on a floured board. 
  • Knock it back - that is to say, push the air out of the dough until it's flat. 
  • Stretch and fold the dough a few times. Stretch the dough away from you and fold back to about ⅔ of the length. Then turn the dough through 90⁰ and repeat. Repeat this process about 5 or 6 times. 
  • Bring the dough together and make into a boule.
  • Place the boule into a lightly-oiled 2lb loaf tin and push down so it fills the bottom of the tin. 
  • Cover with parchment paper and place somewhere warm (about 22⁰C) for about an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. 
  • Preheat your oven to 200⁰C.
  • Spray the loaf lightly with water and place the tin on a lower rack in the oven for about 30 minutes until the loaf is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. 
  • Cool on a wire rack. 

Here are the two loaves again? 

Machine only

Machine and by hand

Which looks better? 

Whichever one it is, the only thing that separates them is what happened to them when the dough had already been formed by the machine. 

Let's take a look inside....

Machine only

A good open crumb - but you can see the tell-tale paddle mark.

Machine and by hand

Likewise, a good open crumb....but no paddle mark 

And, of course, the beauty of a bread machine is its versatility. It will do much more than just a basic loaf. But, don't go for the cheapest model. Buy once and buy well. 

If you want to see what hand mixing can produce, check out the Split Tin recipe at https://breadclub20.blogspot.com/2021/01/split-tin-loaf.html

Here's the inside shot of the fnished Split Tin loaf


Happy baking.....


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