Pros: Solid, quiet and thorough. Just an excellent machine.
Cons: No automatic ingredient feeder.
Ever since moving from New Zealand my family and I have struggled with the bread sold in supermarkets. The mass produced bread seems way to sweet for our taste, and the store baked bread is outrageously priced for what you get.
To get around these issues we have been baking our own off and on for many years now. Our first bread maker was a Breadman Pro. Eventually we worked that to death. We liked it but had a few issues with it. The pan was very lightweight and the paddle eventually lost coating and the whole mechanism eventually kept falling out. You could still use the pan by putting the ingredients in while the pan was in the maker.
Next maker was also a Breadman which had a nice feature in that it would dispense ingredients at the appropriate time in the kneading cycle. But it also had the same pan issues and putting the pan in the machine was not simple.
Enter the ZO...
We decided that we had to make a change. We did some research and the Zojirushi got good reviews. It was much more expensive, but as we were really starting to get into sour doughs and the need to a more sturdy kneading mechanism we decided to pay the extra and move up to the ZO.
Zo what is different?
The Zo is much more solid than the Breadman machines that we had previously. Everything from the pan with its two paddles (as opposed to one on the Breadman) are heavier and feel sturdy. The weight of the machine hints at heavier duty internals.
The machine is longer/ lower profile. The hinge opening is such that the pan is accessible without having to reach down into the machine. The mechanism for putting the pan in and tilting the pan to remove it means that there is no need for the wire handle that is a feature of the Breadman machines. This sounds like an insignificant difference but it makes the whole interaction with the machine much easier. I can't tell you how many times I had taken a baked loaf out of the Breadman and then forgotten the handle when trying to shake the baked bread out and having the handle get in the way and almost slice the loaf in half!! The keypad is very clear and easy to use.
With the Breadman you really need to put the ingredients in the pan out of the machine. With the Zo you really have the option. Not a big deal but worth noting.
There is a pre-heat function that allows the machine to warm the ingredients to the ideal temperature. This is not a function that we would normally use in Florida, but on cold nights up North I can see this being used.
Picking the programs is easy and the display is clear and angled toward you so you can see what is going on without having to crane forward.
The pan clicks easily into place and when you close the lid the viewing window is long and large. Now you start the cycle...
Wow, this machine is quiet, very quiet. The Breadman sounded like it was going to do the washing machine waltz across the bench at any moment. The Zo in comparison is quiet. No way this one is moving. If you want fresh bread in the morning when you wake up this is huge...with the Breadman as soon as it turned on there is no way you could sleep through it. The kneading action is very very thorough and the two paddles not only seem to do a better job of mixing the ingredients, the paddles periodically reverse direction to ensure the dough doesn't get stuck in a particular movement pattern. This did happen with the Breadman.
The pan is longer and lower and the paddles are much lower than the single paddle in the Breadman. When the bread bakes in the machine the crust is more like a normal loaf. When you remove the loaf from the pan, the paddles don't leave a huge hole in the base of the bread.
The Zo does not have a feature to automatically add extra ingredients so you listen out for the beeps to add these ingredients. Not a major issue. It is easier to add these ingredients because of the low pan etc.
This is a very good bread machine. It is much more able to handle the heavier dough loafs that we prefer and the performance and feel of the machine is very solid. This is well worth the additional money required over other bread machines.
How do we use it...
We do not often bake the bread in the machine as we prefer to shape and bake the bread in the oven. Our favorite way of baking is on a pizza stone on the lower shelves of our gas oven. Our favorite simple loaf is as follows:-
Add the ingredients in this order
1 1/3 cup warm water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp sea salt
1 Tbsp + 2 tsp Gluten
4 cups bread flour
Put a dent in the middle of the flour and add
2 1/2 tsp of yeast.
Start a standard basic dough cycle. When the beeper goes off add
1/2 cup of raw sunflower seeds.
When the dough has risen remove pan and shake dough out onto a floured bench. Knead down and shape the dough. Place on a baking tray with wax paper on it. (I use PAM to make sure the wax paper doesn't stick to the tray). Cover the bread lightly on the tray with glad or a very slightly damp cloth. After it has risen for an hour bake in a preheated 400F oven, preferrably on a pizza stone. Bake for 20 minutes.
This never fails which is why it is our favorite. One last thing of note, since going the Zo we NEVER buy bread now. There is no need, even the heaviest loaf can be made in the Zo. Sour dough pizza crusts are another favorite.