It's a darned good thing that sound doesn't spontaneously travel through email, because when Erin emailed me about testing out this Panasonic SD-RD250 breadmaker, she probably would have been frightened by the demonic laughter that spontaneously erupted.
I very calmly typed. "Sure, I'll give it a try." I had to restrain myself from adding "bwah ha ha" in evil font. Now, it's not just my bread snobbishness that prompted such a reaction. You see, I'd tried using breadmakers before. A while back.
My First (Unfortunate) Breadmaker Experience
Following the instructions carefully for a borrowed breadmaker, the results were not friendly. It was weird and gummy. There's a word for it, let me think. Oh, yeah! Completely inedible.
It was without a doubt the very worst loaf of bread I'd ever made. Ever. And that includes experiments with the Easy Bake Oven.
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.
And We Can't Forget the Thrift Shop Breadmaker
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. The manual pointed out how important it was to accurately measure the flour. Measure? Yes, measure. Except there were no weights given for any of the ingredients.
The first loaf wasn't a complete disaster as with the other machine, so I tried tweaking the recipe, but it never quite met my standards. With every loaf there was a giant gaping hole from the paddle—it was a pain to remove from the bread, requiring quite a bit of digging and gouging. For something that was supposed to be so easy, it was very frustrating.
So that's my breadmaker experience.
I thought it might have something to do with being at a high altitude, but the second breadmaker had instructions specifically written for high-altitude baking. No matter what I tweaked, the bread was pretty darned sad.
Testing the New Panasonic SD-RD250 Breadmaker
That's why I was really skeptical about trying this one, but I was equally curious. Would a new, and more expensive*, machine make better bread that I'd be proud of?
One of the first things I noticed: it had 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 OK, the dispenser works for any non-sticky, non-raisin add-ins like nuts or seeds.
I washed the washable parts and had a loaf in the works 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 one didn't. The instructions said it was important to leave the lid closed for the whole process. Hmmm. When the machine beeped, I lifted the lid, expecting to see another collapsed bread. Let's see...
Damn. It looked like bread! Now what could I complain about? Oh yeah, the stupid paddle. That's always fun to try to excavate from the bread, right?
I turned the bread pan over and the bread slid right out. The paddle stayed in the pan.
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 up: the rapid bake option. I figured that one had to fail for sure. Instead of a four-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. Still, if I needed a bread to slather some peanut butter on, or to make some sandwiches with, this would be just fine.
After using those bread machine recipes, I tried my own. The only adjustment I made was the amount of yeast. All of the bread machine recipes used a small amount so I adjusted mine accordingly.
And gee. It worked. I was astonished.
The paddle leaves a very small gash in the bread rather than a huge gouge. In the photo up top, the paddle went through one single slice that I made, which you could barely see on either side of the slice. Of course, you do see the round hole from the shaft of the paddle, but it's not terrible.
This machine can also bake cakes. 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. And of course, there are options for just plain kneading without baking.
Overall, this machine works great (and this is coming from a bread snob).
* Panasonic let us borrow this breadmaker for review purposes.
Should You Buy a Breadmaker?
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'll be gone for a couple hours, I can dump in the ingredients and come back to a kneaded and risen dough, so it just needs shaping, rising, and baking from there.
Stay tuned for some bread machine recipes in my bread-baking column.