Ordered the best bread machine from Zojirushi

I am a fairly experienced baker who can modify recipes to use what is on hand and still end up with a tasty product - MOST of the time! Received my Zojirushi two days ago, fully intending to make bread immediately upon receipt. After all, I owned a DAK bread maker for years and had consistently good results, even with the gluten-free recipes that I have begun using in the last two years.

When I ordered the Zojirushi bread machine, I also ordered "125 Best Gluten-Free Bread Machine Recipes" by Donna Washburn, Heather Butt, Mark Shapiro and Colin Erricsson. Both arrived quickly and in good shape. But when I unpacked the bread machine and began reading the manual, I slowly began to realize that I'd entered a whole new realm of bread making. We aren't in Kansas any more, Toto... this was w-a-a-a-y more complicated than the days of making bread even by hand (which I hadn't done for years since the DAK was so extremely simple to use). 

The instructions for the machine are very specific about the temperature and freshness of ingredients, as well as how they are put into the machine. With the DAK, I never worried about the temperature of any ingredients except that I tested the water on my hand to see if it was warm enough (but not too hot) to activate the yeast. Measuring was less than perfect, everything was dumped in together, I pushed a few buttons, and a few hours later, I had fresh bread. I was a little more careful with measuring for the gluten-free recipes, but still basically threw everything in the pot and walked away.

Feeling a smidge intimidated by the manual, I decided to read some of the recipes from the 125 Best book. Talk about going from the frying pan to the fire! These authors recommend warming the eggs to room temperature (seriously??), programming each cycle in the process separately, opening the machine after kneading to remove the paddles... sheesh, why would I buy a breadmaker if I wanted to stand over it and do all that?

But I began to doubt myself and wonder if I should have just bought a cheaper model that didn't expect so much out of me. It took me two days to work up the courage to try the darn thing. To go easy on myself, I bought a Bob's Red Mill Mix (Hearty Grain Gluten-Free), figuring that there was less measuring and worrying about the right temperature, since I store most gluten-free ingredients in the freezer as recommended. Well, I followed the Bob's directions exactly (no egg warming needed), and also followed the manual as to the order of placing the ingredients into the pan. I chose the Quick cycle, pushed Start, and held my breath.

The Zo began the preheat cycle, which "stabilizes" the ingredients to optimum temperature. After about 5 minutes, the motor kicked on quietly and began mixing. WOW - my DAK always sounded like a weed eater had gotten loose in the kitchen. The bread machine was barely audible from twenty feet away! When it started beeping to let me know that I could add nuts, fruit, etc., I was pleasantly surprised. This was not a loud obnoxious beep as others have stated in their reviews. Maybe Zojirushi has changed this feature due to prior complaints? Not sure, but it's not a problem with the machine I received.

When the moment of truth arrived, I opened the lid and tested the loaf temperature with an instant read thermometer. It read 200 degrees. According to the 125 Best book, I should have left the bread in the machine on the Keep Warm cycle until it reached 220 degrees, since that is allegedly required for gluten-free breads to be fully baked. However, since I'd already turned off the machine before opening (per instruction manual), that option was foreclosed. Oh well, too late.

When I removed the baking pan and turned it upside down, the bread came out with a few shakes. The top was a little misshapen, but I've bought bread at the store that was far worse as to shape. This stuff smelled so great that we cut off two pieces immediately. Guess what? THEY WERE PERFECT!

So, contrary to the instructions in the 125 Best book, I did not warm the eggs, did not program each cycle to run separately, did not remove the paddles, and did not smooth the top of the bread. I did reach in once during the first minute of mixing to scrape some flour off one side of the pan with a silicon spatula, because the 125 Best Book insists upon that for each recipe. Next time, I won't do it and we will just see what happens.

Clean up was easy until I tried to clean the posts to which the paddles are attached. This was tricky, since no scrubbing is allowed, and the posts have a few crevices that need close attention to get all the crusties out. But other than that, this whole thing was way less complicated than it had been made out to be. I am VERY happy! When I have tried some of the recipes from scratch, I will add some updates to let you know if they work as well as the Bob's Red Mill Mix.

UPDATE July 11, 2011: I've been using the Zojirushi bread machine regularly, making bread from scratch and from mixes (mostly Bob's). I've completely ignored all the dire warnings about warming the ingredients to room temp, since the ZO has a preheat/warming cycle built in. I've also ignored all the warnings about super-exact measurements, super fresh yeast and flours, etc. (I do store my flours in the freezer and my yeast in the fridge, however). I also refuse to use egg whites, and have substituted one whole egg for the two egg whites in most of the gluten-free recipes. This does require me to use the lightest crust setting to avoid crusts that are too dark.

Despite all this rebelliousness, every single loaf has turned out GREAT! Unlike some of the other reviewers, I really don't care about the holes in the bottom of the loaf from the paddles. I really don't care about having a perfectly shaped top, either. The bread tastes great and works much better for sandwiches than most of the gluten-free bread in the store. Plus, it doesn't have any weird chemical ingredients, either.

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