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A bread machine (more usually known in Australian and British English as a bread maker or breadmaker) is a home appliance for baking bread. It consists of a bread pan with a paddle mounted in the centre, in a small special-purpose oven, with a control panel. Different breadmakers are differentiated by the options available both in their preprogrammed recipes, as well as the ability to alter the programming.
The first breadmaker was released in Japan in 1986. A decade later they had become popular in the United Kingdom and the United States. The DAK Auto Bakery was one of, if not the first bread machine, imported to the United States by Drew Kaplan. The DAK Auto Bakery was fondly known as the R2-D2 bread machine as some thought it looked like the Star Wars robot. 
To create a representative loaf of bread, flour, water, salt, sugar, yeast, fat or fat substitute and milk powder (or fresh milk) are measured onto the bread pan and the pan is then placed in the breadmaker. The salt and sugar are necessary for fermentation by the yeast. A wide range of fats may be used, although, surprisingly to many, certain fruit purees, such as apple or prune, can substitute for oils.
Since there are several steps in which the dough is manipulated by the paddle, if it is desired to add ingredients such as nuts or chopped dried fruits, they must be added after the longest kneading process, or will be pulverized. Some machines sound an audible alert when these additions may be safely added, while other machines have a receptacle from which the ingredients are automatically added at the appropriate time.
The machine takes a few hours to make a loaf of bread, first by turning the ingredients into dough using the paddle, going though several fermentation-based steps of rising and "punching down", then baking the loaf. Once the bread has been baked and given time to cool, the pan is extracted from the breadmaker and the bread freed from the pan. Depending on the lining and cleanliness of the bread pan, and the specific recipe, some breads resist freedom, and, if proper technique is not used, may tear themselves to pieces rather than suffer the outrages of less protected life.
Many machines have a "delayed start" feature, so, for example, the machine can be loaded at night, and set to start processing four hours before breakfast. When using these features, the yeast must be kept from contact with moisture. If the machine is at room temperature, it may be unsafe to use this techniques with perishable ingredients such as eggs. Prechilling the bread pan and ingredients is an informal way to render safe such ingredients.
While the earliest breadmakers were very restricted in the form of the loaf they produced, sometimes no more than an extruded cylinder, they still do not give the flexibility of hand preparation. When the paddle, now at the bottom of the loaf, is removed, it leaves a hole in the bottom of the bread. The size of this hole varies with the breadmaker, but can result in ragged slices in the middle of the loaf.
Packets of bread mix are available, specifically designed for breadmakers, consisting of the ingredients pre-measured. Only water needs to be added.
Generally, homemade bread goes stale faster than bread from a commercial baker because it doesn't include additives. However, it is possible to use a sourdough starter in breadmaker dough recipes. Sourdough contains a symbiotic brew of yeast and lactobacteria cultures. Lactic acid produced by sourdough's lactobacteria greatly preserves bread, as well as enhancing its flavor.
Breadmakers are equipped with a timer to control when the breadmaking begins. This allows them, for example, to be loaded in the evening but only begin baking early in the morning, to produce a freshly-baked loaf for breakfast. They can also be set only to make dough, for instance to be used to make pizza. Some can also be set to make other things besides bread, such as jam or mochi, a kind of Japanese rice cake. One of the most recent innovations is the facility to add nuts and fruit during the kneading process automatically from a tray.
Breadmakers are used in laboratory studies of the breakdown of phytates in breadmaking, since they remove the variability of human bakers. 
However, a home bread machine does not allow time for the enzyme phytase to break the phytic acid bonding with certain minerals that are essential for human nutrition. Traditional sourdough, biga or sponge bread making produces a mix that spends 8 to 12 hours or more in the form of a dough, before baking. This time is required for the phytase enzymes to release the mineral constituents in the flour. (All grains are similar, so this applies to rye, wheat or corn bread, etc.)
Therefore the hidden cost of quick and convenient, fresh, home-machine-made bread is diminished human nutrition, as the mineral phytate molecules are too large to pass across the stomach lining and into the bloodstream. In particular, the bioavailability of iron is reduced. The molecules are also unaffected by digestive juices and colonic bacteria, so are lost in the excreta. This is a common problem with all high-speed bread making processes, such as the Chorleywood Bread Process.Complete fermentation of phytates, a longer process than is used in commercial breadmaking, increases the bioavailability of iron in cereal grains. 
Some of the newer bread machines are programmable and feature a French Bread or Sourdough setting which allows longer rising time. The Zojirushi bread machine available in the United States offers a "homemade" cycle which allows the bread machine user to program flexible bread bread preparation cycles. The Zojirushi also allows the bread maker to set the machine timer up to 13 hours before the bread making process starts. Some Zojirushi bread machines feature a sourdough cycle which allows the baker to prepare a sourdough starter for later baking in the machine or in the oven.  The Sunbeam breadmaker or machine offers a French Bread cycle that prepares bread in just under four hours.The Cuisinart bread maker offers an Artisan cycle which takes approximately 5 1/2 hours from start to finish to bake a loaf of bread.
Most of the newer US bread machines, or breadmakers, offer a low carbohydrate or a gluten free bread cycle. Other features found on some bread machines include a meatloaf cycle, cake or quick bread cycle and a jam cycle.
Most bread machines have a manual or dough only cycle. Yeast dough is mixed and kneaded so it can be manually shaped and baked. King Arthur Flour, a US flour company, recommends using the bread machine to mix and knead dough.
In some respects, bread machine dough is better than hand-kneaded. Very slack doughs, those with a lot of liquid, are virtually unkneadable by hand; you always have to add more flour. In the bread machine, however, slack doughs knead very nicely, and the resulting loaf is full of coarse holes and light as a feather.
Bread Machine Pans
Some of the newer bread machines offer a horizontal bread baking pan while older bread machines most often used a vertical bread machine pan.
Depending on the type of machine, either a single or dual blade is used to knead the bread dough.
- Black & Decker
- Hamilton Beach
- Magic Chef (Red Star)
- Morphy Richards
- Oster (owned by Sunbeam)
- Salton (Trades as Russell Hobbs in UK)
- Sunbeam Products
- West Bend
- DAK Auto Bakery Booklet. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- Reference to DAK R2D2 Bread Machine. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- Reference to DAK R2D2 Bread Machine. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- DAK Information. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- Kadan, R.S., Phillippy, B.Q. (2005), "Effects of yeast and bran on phytate degradation and minerals in rice bread", Annual Meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists
- Mats Brune, Lena Rossander-Hultén, Leif Hallberg, Ann Gleerup and Ann-Sofie Sandberg (1992), "Iron Absorption from Bread in Humans: Inhibiting Effects of Cereal Fiber, Phytate and Inositol Phosphates with Different Numbers of Phosphate Groups", J. Nutrition 122 (3): 442
- Zojirushi BBCEC20 Breadmaker Manual. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- Sunbeam Breadmaker Manual. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- Cuisinart Bread Machine Manual. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.
- Bread Machine Basics. Retrieved on 2010-09-30.