Pros: Preheat cycle Double Paddles Pan, more robust than previously described
Cons: Asymmetric loaves Uneven crust browning Takes up a lot of space
We've had our Zojirushi for about a month now and use it on average of once every 3 days.
We bought it at a "big box" store that offered a 20% off coupon, which lowered the price by around $40.
This is our second bread machine, Our first one is a 10 year old 1 pound model that still works great.
The Zojirushi is extremely flexible with 9 preset programs (basic white, quick white, basic wheat, quick wheat, basic dough, quick dough, Jam, Cake and sour dough starter); 3 Crust variations (Light, Medium and Dark); and 3 home made (custom) programs that you can set yourself.
There's also a timer function if you want to load up the machine and not start her up until later. This is useful if you want to have fresh bread ready for you when you wake up in the morning or return home after work.
The 3 home made custom program settings are very handy if you like to experiment or if you find that the standard programs don't quite meet your needs. For example, if you would like more or less kneading, rising or baking time you can set up a custom program to do exactly what you want!
Each program progresses through a number of steps in the bread making process - the time in each step varies based on the program, starting temperature, etc.:
1. Preheating - this step brings the ingredients up to a standard temperature. This is important so that the yeast has a pretty standard environment so the rising time can be predicted with some reliability.
This machine has a temperature sensor so when you load the bread pan, give it at least 30 seconds to register the temperature of the pan before hitting start.
2. Kneading - Here we mix and knead the ingredients in the bread pan to make the dough. The first minute or so run more slowly to mix the ingredients - then the machine runs at speed, reversing frequently to knead the dough. kneading is important in most breads to develop the gluten that gives bread its structure.
You can watch through the window and tell if the dough is too dry or wet - if so, you may need to correct by adding water (if too dry) or a bit more flour (if too wet). Dough that's just right will form an elastic ball in the pan as it's kneaded - experience will help you judge.
If you're not happy and it takes you too long to get the dough just right you have a few options. You can stop the machine, turn off the preheat cycle and restart to begin the kneading cycle again from the start or you can remove the dough and finish in the traditional manner out of the bread machine in the oven.
If you want crunchies in your final loaf (nuts, seeds, grains, etc. e.g. caraway seeds in Rye bread), the machine will signal you to add them about 5 minutes prior to the end of the kneading cycle. We have had success adding up to about 3/4 cup of add-ins to a four pound loaf.
Unlike other bread machines, the Zojirushi does a pretty good job of leaving most of the add-ins reasonably intact. You will get better results with smaller firmer add-ins like millet than with larger softer add-ins like raisins, but even raisins produce pretty good results. Other machines that we've used have pulverized the add-ins to near invisibility.
3. Rising - The Zojirushi programming allows for 3 rise steps with 2 intermediate stir downs (called punch downs in traditional bread making). This allows a fine structure to be developed, even in wheat breads.
The Rising step is when the little yeast cells go to town creating the carbon dioxide that creates the bubbles in the bread and the other compounds that give bread it's flavors.
4. Baking - The bread is next baked using the internal heating element. The end of baking is signaled with a series of beeps.
5. Keep Warm - If you don't unload the machine immediately, the bread is kept warm in the machine for an additional 60 minutes. For the best bread, you should unload the bread and de-pan immediately. Caution - the pan is REALLY HOT! Use over mitts and wear clothes (no naked or topless baking please. we speak from experience!).
Our first loaf was a disaster. We followed their recipe on page 14 of the instruction manual to make a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread. The dough was way too dry and the recipe appeared to be too large for the machine - it calls for 5 cups of flour.
We then reverted to the smaller 1 1/2 pound recipe listed on page 15, which only uses 4 cups of flour and it worked much better.
We didn't achieve near perfect results however until we switched to weighing our flour. 1 cup of whole wheat flour is supposed to weigh 120 grams. 1 cup of 360 whole wheat flour from our neighboring whole foods weighed in at 140 grams!
Once we switched to weighing our flour, we stopped having problems. We've did continued with the four cup (480 gram) portions as we don't want to mess with success.
Overall, we like the machine with it's two mixing paddles and horizontal loaves.
Our research prior to buying this machine:
Before we bought our Zojirushi, we did a lot of research looking at reviews on Epinions and other websites. We talked to friends, looked at bread baking blogs, and basically Googled up a storm.
We found a number points mentioned that we found to spot on, buy many not.
The biggest fallacy we've found is that overall I'd say the bread pan seems more robust than described by some - I don't know if Zojirushi upgraded it, but it seems fine to us.
Uneven baking - yes, the top crust is lighter than the sides, but not horribly so. The side crust is also not overdone.
Uneven loaves - yes, our loaves are higher on one end than the other, but not by much. This seems due to the dough ball not completely spanning the length of the bread pan after the kneading cycle. The rising fills in but not symmetrically.
Our Other Opinions:
The Zojirushi touts that it can do a number of things that I can't for the life of me figure out why you would want to do in this machine.
You can make cake - why you would want cake that comes out the shape of a loaf of bread with paddle holes in the bottom is a mystery to us.
You can make meatloaf - This seems to us like the old proverb that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail! The only thing the Zojirushi would do here is bake the meatloaf, you still have to do all the mixing before you put the meatloaf in the machine to ONLY bake it - whoopee...
On the other hand, it does make great Jam! What's nice about this is that it cooks and stirs at the same time. Now that's a labor saver.
Of course you can use the Zojirushi to turn out dough that you can use for lots of other recipes, Pretzels, Pizza, Focaccia and you can whip up a batch of sourdough starter (that you maintain somewhere else) if you can wait a week for it to mature.
Overall a very handy machine!