Pros: No more hand kneading and having to wash the counter
Cons: Can't rely on it to make a nice looking loaf every time
The Toastmaster TBR15 Bread Maker is the second bread machine I've owned. I was very satisfied with my first machine, a West Bend, but when its loaf pan wore out, getting a new one was cheaper than replacing the pan and West Bend was not making full size machines at that time.
I should mention that before I owned a bread machine, I made bread by hand. This experience makes it easy for me to tell whether the dough has the right mix of ingredients, something that might be a problem for someone who was baking bread for the first time.
My old machine had a vertical loaf pan, the only thing about it I did not like. In selecting the Toastmaster, the horizontal loaf pan was a big plus.
Using the machine is easy. Take the pan out of the machine. Put the liquid ingredients, salt, sugar or other sweetener (I use honey), and butter in the pan first. Put the flour on top of that along with oatmeal, bran, wheat germ, or other flour like additives, pushing some into the corners, and then top it with the yeast. Make sure the salt and yeast never come into direct contact. Put the pan in the machine and make sure it clicks into place. Then push the clearly marked button for the type of loaf you are making. You can also select regular, light, or dark crust, but this makes no difference in the cooking time and does not seem to change the crust at all. I only use the machine to make yeast bread.
After the machine starts mixing things up, open the lid to see how it's going. If it looks like there's extra flour that's not mixing in, add some water. Do this carefully, by tablespoons, so you won't overdo it. If it looks too wet, put in a little more flour. If things are sticking to the walls of the pan, carefully use a spatula when it slows down to scrape them into the main dough. Your goal is to end up with a smooth, shiny ball of dough.
The machine is fairly quiet, making a sound like a small washing machine while it is mixing and nothing at all during the rising and baking cycles. It beeps when it is time to put in nuts or seeds and when it is done. If you can't take the bread out right away, it keeps it warm. This is important, as the bread would get stuck in the pan if it cooled off. The pan has a Teflon coating, so it's easy to get the loaf out.
While I like the Toastmaster, it is much pickier than my former machine. The instructions stress the necessity of making sure all ingredients are at room temperature; the old machine didn't care. Since I store my flour and yeast in the refrigerator and don't want to waste time waiting for them to warm up, this is a problem. Too many times I have carefully followed a recipe and ended up with bread that has a sunken top. The instructions say this might also be caused by using too much yeast or sugar. There are too many choices in the instructions for what might cause this problem, so it is hard to isolate what really went wrong to avoid repeating it.
Since I want consistent results and nice looking loaves, I usually use the machine's dough setting and then shape the bread by hand before placing it in a regular loaf pan for rising and baking. This also avoids having a hole in the bottom of the loaf from the machine's kneader. The total time for making the bread remains about the same, three hours, and the human effort is not that great. One downside of doing this is that there is no beep when it's time to put in nuts or seeds as there is when you run the full cycle, so you have to guess when to do this. The other downside is that you're heating up your whole, large oven (and your kitchen) for one little loaf of bread. The bread machine is more energy efficient.
Keep in mind that you can use any bread recipe from any cookbook to make bread in machines as long as it has about three cups of flour. There is no magic to the recipes that come with the machine.
Note that my TBR 15 does not look like the one in the picture shown here. It is square with a domed top with the controls on the top front edge like what is shown for the TBR20. The difference between the models is only in the maximum size loaf it will make, 15 standing for 1 1/2 pounds and 2 standing for 2 pounds. I wanted to buy the 2 pound machine, but the store was out of stock, this one was on sale, and I wanted to make bread right away.
I use my Toastmaster bread machine about once a week and almost never buy bread at the store, so it seems it's working pretty well for me. But I wish I could count on the set it and forget it system, as that is one of the main benefits of bread machines.
In February, 2008, while cleaning the loaf pan, I noticed that the kneader bar had become almost impossible to turn by hand. Formerly, it moved easily. Since this bar must move to make the bread and sometimes goes at high speed, I became concerned that the machine's motor would burn out if I continued using it. I tried loosening the bar with a pair of pliers and greasing it inside and out with Pam, but nothing helped. I put some water in the pan and tested it inside the bread machine. The bar moved around, but the movement sounded labored even though water is much easier to agitate than bread dough. By some amazing twist of fate, I found a different model Toastmaster machine brand new at a yard sale for $4. It works fine (and has a 2-pound loaf pan), so I'm retiring the TBR 15.