Okay, I’ll admit I’m a gadget-loving guy. I am easily seduced by devices that have buttons, programming, switches, dials, and LED displays. And if they’re kitchen devices, I’m even more vulnerable to their siren song. Walk through a store display of Instant Pots, pressure cookers, stand mixers, panini presses, pasta makes, air fryers, or convection ovens, and my knees grow weak. I start to hyperventilate in the appliance aisle of a box store, touching the displayed appliances in an unseemly manner, and Susan has to drag me out, hopefully before I pull out my credit card and make it to the cash register laden with boxes…
But bread machines speak even more to me than air fryers or even panini presses. They combine two of my passions: making bread and technology. I have spent literally dozens, if not hundreds, of hours online this past year reading spec sheets, and reviews, watching videos and reading user comments on sites like Amazon or bread forums about an uncountable number of bread machines in preparation to buying a new device this year. I wrote pages of notes listing features and prices to compare brands and models before deciding on one. I posted questions, compared recipes, and scrupulously checked low-star ratings for veracity (I always suspect many of being planted by the competition…).
I also visited every local store that sells bread machines and looked at what they had to offer because I always want to buy locally wherever I can. Unfortunately, the few I found nearby were all budget machines with fewer features than I wanted. I had to find one online.
Let me back up a post or ten. Although I prefer to bake bread by hand, I also use a bread machine for convenience and speed, usually making a loaf to complement a chili, stew, or soup that will last us for dinner over several days. I prepare the bread ingredients and push the start button, then I can concentrate on preparing the rest of the food. The loaves I make in the machine are generally suitable for such dishes, although if it isn’t a spiced or flavoured bread, I can also have a slice or two in the morning with peanut butter and my own homemade jam (I have yet to make my own ginger marmalade — my favourite topping — but I plan to do so this winter).
I’ve previously written about making loaves in my current breadmaker: an aged Black & Decker workhorse that has served me well for the past decade or more. But of late it has been making some unusual sounds while kneading and a few times has seemed to get stuck in a program, taking longer to complete a segment than I recall it having done in that program in the past. And being an older machine that, while it was top of its line when new with 11 program settings including jam, dough, and gluten-free, it lacks some of the advanced features offered with newer machines, including more programs for non-bread and non-knead items. And it is in those areas that I want to explore most these days.
The B&D uses a horizontal baking pan with two paddles for kneading and mixing and can make loaves in 1.5, 2, and 3 lb. sizes. I have made the former two, but not the latter, and suspect a full 3-lb. lof would rise over the pan quite easily (I have had smaller loaves do it). But since there are only the two of us and neither is a big eater, large loaf sizes are simply too much to consume before the bread either dries out or goes moldy. I wanted a bread maker that could more easily do a smaller (1 lb) loaf. Plus I wanted one that could mix dough without a heated rising cycle (often labelled pasta or unleavened dough setting), a program offered on many new machines.
The machine I eventually chose was the KitchenArm 29-in-one bread machine (pictured above); slightly smaller and lighter than my B&D, with a vertical baking pan (one paddle), bought through Amazon. The rest of this post is about that machine and its manuals.
First, I want to highlight the customer service I received from the company. I had posted a couple of questions on Amazon about the appliance and was quickly answered by Tony, their CS rep. We engaged in an interesting series of emails about recipes and features. That was remarkable, given that I wasn’t even a customer. It helped me decide to buy that machine, over a competing product with some equally attractive features (a little about that, below). He also directed me to the company’s recipes on its website so I could compare them with my own. Five stars for customer relations.
This model has, as the name suggests, 28 automatic, programmed menus. However, what you get is not quite what you see. The two pictures above show program lists that are both different from that on my own machine. On my machine there are 19 menu choices for bread; Basic White, Express White, Sweet, French, Gluten-free, Whole Wheat, Dark Rye, Spanish, Salt-Free, Multigrain, Sugar-Free, Pumpkin, Banana, Brioche, Cheese, Ciabatta, Sourdough, Keto, and Quick Bread. There are nine non-bread programs: Dough, Sourdough Starter, Cake, Pasta, Jam, Yogurt, Ferment, Knead, and Bake.
The 29th setting is a fully-customizable, cycle-level programming mode that allows the user to create and store their own programs (up to four in the machine’s memory). These can be accessed through the 29th program at any time after they have been set up. More on that setting, later (note it has a preheat setting, too). Okay, so it’s a bit more complicated than programming your VCR (for those oldies in my audience whose VCRs constantly flashed 12:00), but it can be done with some patience. It would have been a lot easier if every program could be duplicated by a single press and then steps modified in the homemade setting.
My next loaf will attempt to follow the instructions to create a customized program for potato bread as explained in the recipe book and user guide. But I’ll probably be experimenting with potato flakes rather than mashed potatoes. I’ll post my recipe once I’m successful.
Why anyone needs a program specifically for pumpkin bread is beyond me (zucchini and potato bread recipes are also listed under that setting). And how is Spanish bread different from French bread? The only indication seems to be in the recipe: Spanish bread has one egg in the ingredients. And there is no recipe for basic Irish soda bread (although there are other quick bread recipes)! Some machines have a setting for prepared (store-bought packaged) bread, cake, and muffin mixes; I can find nothing to indicate these can be used in this appliance, or if so using which menu.
Nowhere is there a simple description of what each menu is for and what sort of results you should expect. There are some brief notes following a few recipes called “bread story” or “cake story” that vaguely give you some idea about some programs, but not all of them. As a writer and editor, I could make a few recommendations to make the manuals a tad more user-friendly and informative. But to be fair, they are as good if not better than any other bread machine manuals I’ve read.
What happened to the menu programs for beer, honey, potato, low-fat, low-carb, oatmeal, and the other programs shown in the top pictures? I was particularly disappointed that cornbread was no longer a program item because I am very fond of it (particularly jalapeño cornbread). That there is no recipe in the book for it, but there is one online; oddly, it uses the multigrain setting with yeast, yet most cornbreads I’ve ever made have all been made with baking powder, not yeast. Obviously, I have to experiment to create a cornbread recipe of my own. And create one using potato flakes instead of mashed…
None of this, however, is insurmountable. Baking is always a chemistry experiment for me and I enjoy creating my own recipes and trying different things. And the recipes have some good tips and information, although it seems necessary to have every recipe include instructions on how to measure ingredients and end with a warning not to touch the hot pan with bare hands. I suppose enough idiots abound who might think hot baking trays can be handled with bare hands. But do they actually read and heed those warnings? I suspect the space is wasted, but perhaps in the uber-litigious USA, it might be necessary to warn people that hot means hot every time.
The manuals are generally well-written and otherwise comprehensive. There is a separate, 45-page user guide that explains how to operate and clean the machine, and a 59-page recipe book with 77 recipes. Both are illustrated with drawings and colour photos. Recipes are given for all three loaf sizes, with measurements in both weight (grams) and volume. many of the yeast bread recipes show different amounts of flour when bread or all-purpose flour is used. Overall, the production quality of the booklets is excellent.
The company’s website also has recipes, but I found many a tad different from the book. For example, the basic white bread recipe using bread flour calls for 433g in the recipe book but the online recipe calls for 449g. The express (quick) white bread calls for 416g of bread flour in the book; but 432g online. French bread calls for 484g of AP flour in the book; but 473g online with 300g of water vs 290g. My sole loaf to date followed the recipe book’s quantities and it worked well. (Perhaps the online measurements are meant for US flour rather than our standardized and higher-protein Canadian flour? But I digress…).
Let’s talk about the machine itself. First, the pan is vertical and the machine has a single heater element positioned at the bottom. How can the single element guarantee the upper reaches of the pan are properly baked? A few competing devices have two elements and I suspect that’s a better design for vertical pans. The upper end of the loaf appears somewhat less brown than the bottom portion but does not appear un-cooked (the Maillard reaction and caramelization that brown the crust are more noticeable where the dough is baked closer to the heating element). The crust is definitely crispier at the bottom end and the top is very soft in comparison.
I made the recommended 1.5 lb loaf, measuring the ingredients exactly, and it rose nearly to the top of the pan. I would hesitate to try anything larger for fear it could spill over into the machine or push up the lid. The kneading cycle begins slowly with short, intermittent pulses before ramping up to continuous activity. Every step of the current program is indicated on the display so you can always tell at what stage the bread is. I wish that the website had a chart that outlined the steps and times for each menu program to make it easier to figure out how to customize one.
The vertical pan ensures the loaf is evenly sized for its length, with only the very end piece at the top that might be a bit off-sized. A horizontal pan bakes a more traditional loaf shape, but it can easily overflow the top and create a high “muffin top” so the loaf slice is too high for the typical sandwich or toaster.
Just FYI, my first bread machine (bought around the end of the last Ice Age, as I recall), was also a vertical pan machine, but the pan was round while the Kitchenarm is square. For sandwiches and toast with uniform sizes, the Kitchenarm pan is much better.
Another consideration: vertical pans have a single paddle, while a horizontal pan often has two, which I believe can knead the dough (and stir the jam) somewhat better than a single. On the other hand, a single paddle makes only one hole in the bread when removed, which is better than the two. The appliance comes with a small wire to help remove a paddle from the bread but I generally use a bamboo chopstick for that purpose. This paddle stayed in the pan in my first loaf, which meant it tore a rather large hole at the end of the loaf; I can only hope the paddle comes out with the loaf next time so I can remove it with less damage.
Consumer comments on Amazon don’t suggest any problem with either incomplete baking or mixing using just one paddle, and I didn’t find any fault in this loaf. And it’s not a new technology, so, presumably, the design has proven itself in many other models.
The loaf was tasty when still warm, and had a good texture (the crumb was nicely dense and suitably chewy), a tad saltier than I usually make, but not overly so. Many machine loaves I’ve made in the past have a distinctly yeasty flavour and aroma, but this one was more subdued which I liked. I suspect the recipe contributed to that.
The user interface for choosing menu items, crust type, loaf size, and so on, is easy to read and uncluttered. Buttons are large and well-labelled. The large backlit display makes it much easier to read than my B&D appliance. And having the menu options printed on the top is convenient. One nice feature is the ability to pause a program for up to three minutes, or simply stop a program entirely. And you can set the delay to start baking up to 15 hours ahead. Anyone familiar with bread machines will have no problem using this one. For novices, the user manual is quite good in explaining everything.
It has a polished metal shell (the body of my B&D is plastic), which looks better in the kitchen with other appliances of similar design. It’s a bit smaller and lighter than my older B&D appliance so it fits well in the cabinet.
So far, I’m very pleased with my purchase and will continue to document my experience with it, devising my own recipes, experimenting, and making some non-bread items (mango chutney and ginger marmalade soon…). And I expect to be in touch with Tony again with my endless questions about recipes and techniques. I’ll keep my readers informed.
PS. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Bread Science: The Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread by Emily Buehler (Two Blue Books, 2021 ). It clearly and intelligently explains the chemistry, physics, and biology that make bread happen so bakers can learn to tweak their recipes more effectively. For anyone who wants to know more about what happens when you put all those ingredients together, this is the book. And, of course, it’s full of science, which is always good reading.