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All bread machines are not the same!
on 25 May 2011
You might think that once you had a box on your kitchen counter which can stir ingredients around and then get hot for a while, the results would be largely dependent upon the quality of the ingredients and the ratios they are added in, and that any old machine would do. How wrong you would be (and was I)!
We owned a bread maker a few years ago (can't remember the make now) and while it was a bit of a fun novelty and it certainly made the house smell good, the results were nothing to get excited about really, and despite endless tweaking of measurements to try and improve the slightly dense dry bricks that we kept getting out of it, we ended up just thinking that this was what machine-made bread was like and that you couldn't really beat a good fresh bought loaf. Then after only a few months the bucket lost its non-stickiness and after digging 3 or 4 loaves out in pieces with a wooden spoon, we gave up and threw it away.
However, after seeing Panasonic machines mentioned in a variety of places (Which? magazine and The Gadget Show for a start), I did some further research, and after reading the reviews of the previous models (256/257), I decided to give a machine another go and bought this new model.
It arrived a day after ordering, thanks Amazon, and as this was rather faster than expected, I was sat looking at my new machine with no yeast or flour in the house. So, after a quick trip to the shops, I bunged in the ingredients for a simple white loaf and switched it on. A little over 5 hours since the machine arrived, I am now tucking in to the results as I write this review.
I am simply stunned at the size and quality and uniform texture and above all TASTE of the loaf I have produced on the first go with this machine. It is just superb. I used Allinson strong flour and yeast and it is quite probably the best straightforward simple white bread that I have ever eaten. I am in serious danger of eating the whole loaf. Who would have thought that just flour, yeast, butter, sugar, salt and water could taste this good? The crust is thin and crispy without being chewy, and the inside is beautifully light and fluffy and moist (without being at all sticky), and uniform. It has risen beautifully, with a lovely rounded top.
I was a bit mystified as to how big loaves would be, because in everything I could find to read prior to buying, it only said it can produce "M, L and XL" sizes. Not much use. So to help other prospective buyers, these sizes use this much flour:
The machine is very easy to set up and use. You put the yeast in first, other dry ingredients on top, and the liquid last. This protects the yeast from the liquid should you be setting it up to go overnight (which I certainly will be tonight!). The ingredient dispenser on this model seems very simple but functional. The display is clear and easy to understand. The flex is short-ish at about 90cm so you need to be fairly near a socket. Be warned though, this is a big beast, you will need a fair amount of worktop space for it, and under wall cupboards is no good as it is very tall too.
After putting it all in and then fastening the pan in the machine with a simple twist, you choose the recipe, the size, the colour of crust (light/medium/dark) and press start. That's it. 4 hours later, a perfect loaf comes out. Then you have to spend an agonising 20 minutes or so waiting for it to cool enough to allow you to slice it without tearing it to pieces. The bread slid out of the pan very easily, but as frequently happens with many different makes, the paddle was stuck in the loaf. I used a wooden chopstick inserted in the hole where the spindle goes to prise it out without scratching it. The paddle is very slim so it comes out easily and does not leave a huge hole behind. The paddle and the pan cleaned up very well - it says you must not submerge the pan in water, presumably to protect the bearings in the bottom. Don't use anything remotely abrasive to clean it - a sponge is great.
So, if you are new to breadmakers, or you have owned others and been perhaps underwhelmed at the results, do not assume all machines are broadly the same - they clearly are not, and this one is just stunning. To go back to my opening remarks, obviously you should use quality ingredients, and they do need to be carefully measured and weighed. But the machine takes what you shove in it, and then works magic. Armed with this and the huge range of interesting flours now readily available in supermarkets, you really will make delicious bread that people just cannot stop eating. I can't wait to try some brown/wholemeal/fruit etc. recipes next.
Quite an expensive machine, and worth every penny. It really does make superb, delicious bread. That's a promise.
UPDATE: after a few days we have now made wholemeal, granary, and pesto and pine nut which made use of the ingredient dispenser. We have also made several overnight using the very simple timer, giving us fresh bread for breakfast and making the house smell wonderful when we wake up. Every loaf has been first class. This machine is superb.
FURTHER UPDATE, 17 months on: Unlike some other unlucky people, our machine is still going strong. It is used almost every day, I make at least 5 loaves a week I would say. The dispenser is still working fine. The bucket is still in tip top condition (despite me dropping it once, argh!!), loaves still just fall out. Interestingly, although it happened intermittently for the first 2-3 weeks, since then the paddle has NEVER stuck in the loaf. The only sign of wear is on the paddle, where the coating is getting a bit worn. I expect I may have to replace this in a few months. Half the loaves I make are granary which does mean more wear as the grains are stirred around. Still as thrilled with it as the day it arrived. We eat a lot of bread now!
ANOTHER UPDATE: We have had this over 2.5 years now, and it is still going strong, making all the bread we eat. It still runs most days, 5 loaves a week on average. We are total converts. For the first time in a very long time, we bought some sliced bread recently while on holiday, bread we used to buy regularly, and we couldn't believe how sweet and sickly it was, both brown and white. It was revolting, we couldn't eat it. As stated before, I did finally have to replace the blade a while ago as the coating was wearing off, not surprising given the amount of use. The rest of the bucket is still pristine, loaves still fall out. I know some people have been unlucky on the reliability front, but ours has been and continues to be brilliant.
YET ANOTHER: It's now August 2014, can't believe we have had this over 3 years now, where does the time go? Still in almost daily use, still going strong, bucket still pristine, still love it.
AND ANOTHER: November 2015. Still used just about daily. Still running fine. Still producing fabulous bread. Bucket still like new. Just bought some sliced bread while on holiday that we used to eat all the time and yet again could not believe how sweet and sickly it is. Yuk.