Why a bread maker ?
Well, I think pretty much everyone I know likes fresh bread and that probably explains why everyone over the last few years has bought these new bread-maker devices. When Christmas came around this year, it was also one of the things on my Fathers Christmas list. He was particularly encouraged by the fact that my Brothers Father-in-law has one and occasionally we got to try some of his bread which is delicious. As I was not working at the time I was tasked with checking on prices and models to see what was best. We had heard that the Panasonic that the aforementioned father-in-law had was good but as he'd had it a while we decided to see if there was anything "new and improved" on the market.
Which bread maker ?
Obviously, the best places to start were the web and the local shops in Colchester. All I can say about the shops is that as you would expect the proprietors had not tried every machine and so could not give great advice. Also, just looking at a machine only really gives you a vague feel for size and possibly build quality. So I pretty quickly gave up on that approach.
The web as always had far more information than I could possibly sift through easily. However, directing my searching and using as many comparison sites as possible I started to narrow the field. As it turned out there were 2 competitors in the running. The first was the originally suggested panasonic and the second was not. It took some time investigating as even on the web, hardly anyone had used both models and so so there was little in the way of comparisons, only recommendations. However diligent searching eventually turned up someone who had used both and highly recommended them both. The crucial point, as one was around £45 and the other around £60 was that although the person recommended both he strongly suggested getting the panasonic. The reason being he had loved the first model he used, but had, when it broke, bought a panasonic and considered it well worth the extra few pounds. So we bought the aforementioned model from amazon for my fathers Christmas present. For those interested, here is the link for the Panasonic SD 252 available on amazon.
Well, the only verdict we can come up with here is that it's brilliant. If my father, who normally only ever cooks pizza and ready meals in the Aga or does barbecues, can make such fabulous bread then anyone can. I haven't tried making bread myself yet, but it would appear to be a simply case of selecting the right program, stuffing all the ingredients and some liquid into the machine, hitting the "go" button and then waiting for the beep. So far we have had all sorts of bread including, white, granary, brown, whole-meal and fruit loaf. All of them are great, and even better when they are fresh.
Making better bread
Luckily, my father happens to know a few people in the brewery industry. Obviously this has always been a good thing what with samples, but now it's even better. The reason is that yeast is used in both brewing and bread making and so he has been given these bits of useful advice. Firstly, he was advised to store yeast in the freezer and when using it to add about 50% more than recommended from the frozen batch. The reason for this is that some of the yeast is "killed" by being frozen, but the advantage is that the yeast then keeps for years (well, maybe not actual years, but a long long time). The second piece of advice was to use "bread improver". According to a web site I read improvers "are formulated to give maximum dough stability, optimum water absorption and excellent tolerance when processed on particular mixers and automatic equipment." Now I don't know about that, but it certainly makes the loaves bigger and "lighter" which is particularly good for the heavy whole-meal breads. So if you can try some then I would suggest you do and decide for yourselves if it's an improvement.
Well, if you think the prospect of having to measure out your various ingredients is still too much like hard work there is good news. You can buy a variety of bread mixes. These are basically appropriately mixed proportions of ingredients for different types of loaves that mean all you have to do is add liquid to the right amount in your bread machine and switch it on. No more of this presumably troublesome fiasco of having to measure 3 or 4 ingredients yourself. Though I suppose in reality it's to save the problem you have with any cooking of having bits of various ingredients left over everywhere because you can only buy significantly more than you need of some ingredients like mustard powder or seed to sprinkle.