Me! Yes—I know I know—people are always shocked when I defend bread machines but here’s the full story behind it.When I started writing about bread, many years ago, I wouldn’t even consider using anything but my hands. I remember writing something along the lines of “not for me a bread machine that would rob me of the pleasure of touching the bread.” But several years later, when I started working on “The Bread Bible,” I realized how limited my thinking had been. For one thing, when trying to create a bread such as ciabatta, with large holes, the dough needs to be so sticky it clings to your fingers. My temptation was always to add too much flour which closed up those large holes.
It was my friend Brinna Sands of King Arthur Flour, who encouraged me to try a mixer or bread machine, especially for these sticky doughs. She explained that the advantage of the bread machine over the stand mixer is that the gentle mixing action is most similar to that of the commercial spiral mixer preferred by artisan bread bakers. This is because it incorporates less oxygen into the dough, maintaining more flavor and keeping the dough more golden in color. She also shared the invaluable advice that she often uses the bread machine to raise the dough as well. For making single loaves or bread, the bread machine quickly became my first choice, but it is only recently that I have had the pleasure of using a Zojirushi bread machine. I’ve ridden in a Rolls Royce on several occasions, but my dough never has—that is until now. The Zo, as it’s so fondly nicknamed (partly because people seem to find the full name a tongue twister—it’s pronounced: zo-juh-roo-sh) is often referred to as the Rolls Royce of bread machines. And now I know why. The slow, even whirling action of the two dough blades mixes the dough so gently during the first three minutes that nothing jumps out. After the first three minutes, the speed of the blades increases for kneading, alternating from clockwise to counter clockwise with such perfect motion, scraping the corners and sides becomes all but obsolete. And after kneading, the interior heats and maintains an even 83 to 84 ºF./28 to 29ºC. ideal for raising the bread. The Zo is easily programmable, with three “homemade” settings making it possible to do an automatic degassing (stirring down of the raised bread) followed by a second rise after which I prefer to shape the bread by hand, the artisan way, letting it rise, and then baking it in a conventional oven. However, if I need some plain white bread for my meatballs, I’d sooner mix knead and bake in my new Zo on the quick setting, and have good tasting bread in 45 minutes than to run out to the supermarket and buy an inferior product in almost the same time! Here’s how I program my personal settings for my soft white bread: On Homemade setting 1, I program only a 3 minute knead. After mixing, I allow the dough to rest (autolyse) for 20 minutes. Then I switch to Homemade setting 2 which I’ve programmed for a 13 minute knead, a first rise of 1 1/2 hours, and a second rise of 1 hour. Of course you can adjust this based on which recipe you choose to bake. Simply watch the rise the first time you bake a new bread and if it seems to be ready early reduce the time or if it seems to need more time increase it. Zo that’s the story!