Saturday, September 24, 2011

Me vs. the breadmaker

It's a darned good thing that sound doesn't spontaneously travel through email, because when Erin at Serious Eats forwarded an email from Panasonic to me, she probably would have been frightened by the demonic laughter that spontaneously erupted.

You see, the email from Panasonic was asking if we wanted to review a breadmaker, and Erin wanted to know if I wanted to give it a try.

After the guffaws ceased, I very calmly typed. "Sure, I'll give it a try." I had to restrain myself from adding on "Bwah ha ha" in an evil font. I sent the email and erupted into fits of giggles. Breadmaker-offering guy, you have no idea what you're getting yourself into...

Now, it's not just bread snobbishness that prompted my evil glee. You see, I'd tried using a breadmaker before. A while back, I thought it would be nice of me to adapt some of my recipes to breadmaker use. So I borrowed one from a friend.

Following the instructions carefully, this was the result:

I don't have a photo of the interior, but it was weird and gummy. There's a word for it ... let me think. Oh, yeah! Completely inedible. That's it.

I decided that my friend's old and very basic machine was probably too old and basic, so I made the rounds of the local thrift shops. There are ALWAYS breadmakers at thrift shops. And I brought home a newer model with more buttons and settings.

Once again, I very carefully followed the instructions. I muttered to myself because the manual pointed out how important it was to accurately measure the flour. Measure? Yes, measure. Because there were no weights given for any of the recipes.

Oddly, this machine required the ingredients to go into the breadmaker in almost the opposite order of the first one. Okay, whatever.

The first loaf wasn't as complete a disaster as the other machine, so I tried tweaking the recipe. This was as good as it got:

And here's a photo of it sliced.

The giant gaping hole is from the paddle, which was a pain to remove from the bread. It required quite a bit of digging and gouging.

And just for the fun of it, here's a shot of the top of the loaf. If you stare at it long enough, you might see mystical visions or something.

So yeah, that's my breadmaker experience. I thought it might have something to do with being at high altitude, but the second breadmaker had instructions specifically written for high-altitude baking. But no matter what I tweaked, the bread was pretty darned sad. I got it to the point where it was edible, but it wasn't any version of good.

That's why I was guffawing about the offer of a new breadmaker. I was really skeptical about it, but at the same time I was curious whether a new - and more expensive - machine would be able to make bread that I'd be happy with. And I was darned happy that I wasn't going to be shelling out any money for the experiment.

So I sat by the door and waited for it to arrive, wagging my tail. Oh, no that was the dog. Sometimes the FedEx guy brings dog treats.

In no time at all, it arrived, well-packed in multiple boxes:


The breadmaker is the Panasonic SD-RD250. Not a very sexy name, but I guess it could be the name of a Star Wars robot or something. That's good enough.

I unpacked it, read the instructions, and got another good laugh. It's got a raisin dispenser. Ha. I strongly dislike raisins. I used to say that I hated raisins, but I've recently downgraded to strongly dislike. But that's okay, the dispenser works for any non-sticky add-ins like nuts or seeds. That works for me.

I washed the washable parts and had a loaf of bread in process within 20 minutes of the box landing on the doorstep. I opted for the standard loaf.

The hard part was waiting. The previous breadmaker had a window on top. This didn't. And the instructions said that it was important to leave the lid closed for the whole process. Verrrrrry mysterious.

When the machine beeped, I lifted the lid, expecting to see another collapsed bread. Let's see... oooohhh...

Damn. It looked like bread. Now what could I complain about? Oh yeah, the stupid paddle.

I turned the bread pan over and the bread slid right out. The paddle stayed in the pan. Hmmmm...

I waited for the bread to cool and sliced it. It was a nice sandwich-style bread. Not the most brilliant bread I've ever made, but it was perfectly acceptable.

Next, I tried the rapid bake option. I figured that one had to fail for sure. Instead of a 4-hour process, the rapid bake produces a loaf of bread in 1 hour, 55 minutes. To my great surprise, it made bread again. No failure. It had less flavor than the first loaf, but that's to be expected with a shorter rise. But still, if I needed a bread to slather some peanut butter on, or to make some sandwiches, it would be fine.

Well, okay, those were bread machine recipes. I decided to use one of my own recipes. The only adjustment I made was the amount of yeast. All of the bread machine recipes used a small amount of yeast, so I adjusted my recipe accordingly.

And gee. Surprise. It worked. I was astonished.

For this shot, I cut through the center of the bread, intending to show the small slash from the paddle. Coincidentally, the paddle stopped inside this one single slice of bread. You can barely see it on either side of this slice, unless you poke at it. Of course, you do see the round hole from the shaft of the paddle, but it's not huge.

This machine can also be used to bake cakes, and I downloaded extra recipes for things like meatloaf and rice pilaf. I haven't tried those yet ... I'm still working my way through all the different kneading options to see what sort of results they produce.

And of course, there are options for just plain kneading without baking.

Overall, I'm pretty darned pleased with this machine.


That was the sound of my father-in-law falling to the floor in a dead faint. We've discussed bread machines before, and at that time I was pretty well convinced that I'd never want one. Now that I have one that works, I can see the usefulness of it.

I'm not going to throw out my trusty KitchenAid mixer and my oven, but I can see how this can be very handy for days when babysitting dough is impractical. If I'm going to be out of the house for a long time, I can come back to a baked loaf. If I'm going to be gone for a couple hours I can dump in the ingredients and come back to a dough that has been kneaded and risen, so it just needs shaping, rising, and baking.

If I could change one thing about this machine, it would be the beeping that signals that the process is done. I wouldn't mind if it was a little - or a lot - louder. Then again, if it was loud enough for me, other people would probably complain that it was shrieking at them, banshee like.

That's why I have a timer that I can take with me. I never hear the stove timer, either, if I'm not in the kitchen.

I'll probably be working on some bread machine recipes once I've run this thing through every possible setting. But so far, the only necessary adaptation (besides not trying to bake too much bread) is to cut back on the yeast. This breadmaker starts with a long ferment that gets the yeast happily multiplying, so if you use too much yeast you end up with .... well, too much yeast.

Stay tuned for more.


Linda said...

Is there a gluten free setting? Will you give that a go too?

Donna Currie said...

There's no gluten-free setting on this model, unfortunately.

Hanaâ said...

Very cool. I usually use my BM for making bread dough only and love it. Looking forward to reading any future posts on this.

SeattleDee said...

I love the zen of kneading dough and hate to give that up. Storage is another big issue; no room for the KA and a bread machine. So I'll keep a closed mind but enjoy reading your posts as you make friends with the beast.

Donna Currie said...

SeattleDee, it's just a loaner for now, so the counter space will be free again. After it's gone, I'll see if I miss it enough to replace it. After the second machine was such a disaster, I'd given up up them, but when this one worked so well, it sparked my interest again. It's been fun so far.

Adam Kuban said...

Awesome. My wife (aka "Girl Slice") was just talking about getting a bread machine. I see you did cinnamon rolls too (at least the kneading for them). I'm so happy I saw this post on your blog a few weeks back.

Are they really going to make you send it back? Seems like they should just let you keep it. Who wants a used bread machine?

Donna Currie said...

Hey Adam - I really was surprised when they said, "ship it back" but they considered it a loaner. At this point, I still have it. Long story ;-)

Adam Kuban said...

"Dear Panasonic: Make me."


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