I have had a bread machine for as long as I can remember, I think I am on my second one in 20 years. I love to make bread and think a bread machine is one of the greatest appliances for the kitchen. You can usually get a foolproof product from one. While you have to measure the ingredients correctly and have the temp of the water according to manufacturers or recipe instructions. I have become proficient in that, I can judge the temp of the water just by feel alone. I don't use my machine as often as I used to. I like to make bread now with my Kitchenaid, another great appliance that no home should be without, but I find that there are times I am pressed for time and want the bread for the supper meal. That is when I use the machine. The picture above is kind of how mine looks but a bit older. The picture below is a machine that I would love to have.
Here is one of my favorite recipes for my bread machine from King Flour
for large (1 1/2 to 2-pound) machine
for small (1-pound) machine
A bread making machine or bread maker is a home appliance for baking bread. It consists of a bread pan (or "tin"), at the bottom of which are one or more built-in paddles, mounted in the center of a small special-purpose oven. This small oven is usually controlled by a simple built-in computer using settings input via a control panel. Most bread machines have different cycles for different kinds of dough—including white bread, whole grain, European-style (sometimes labelled "French"), and dough-only (for pizza dough and shaped loaves baked in a conventional oven). Many also have a timer to allow the bread machine to activate without operator attendance, and some high-end models allow the user to program a custom cycle.
The first breadmaker was released in Japan in 1986 by the Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (now Panasonic). The Funai Electric company claim to have produced the World's first automatic bread-making machine, sold as the Raku Raku Pan Da in Japan in 1987 and sold in the USA as the Dak Auto Bakery model FAB-100-1.
A decade later they had become popular in the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. While not viable for commercial use due to the fixed loaf shape and the limited duty cycle, bread machines are very suitable for home use, producing their best results when dealing with kneaded doughs.
Use and features
To create a loaf of bread, ingredients are measured into the bread pan in a specified order (usually liquids first, with solid ingredients layered on top) and the pan is then placed in the breadmaker. The order of ingredients is important because the instant yeast used in breadmakers is activated by contact with water, so the yeast and the water must be kept apart until the program starts.
The machine takes a few hours to make a loaf of bread, first by turning the ingredients into dough using the paddle that is then removed (most have removable paddle), proofing the loaf using ideal temperature control, then baking the loaf. Once the bread has been baked, the pan is extracted from the breadmaker, leaving a small indentation or hole from the rod the paddle attaches to. The shape of the finished loaf is often considered unusual, with many early bread machines producing a vertically oriented, square or cylindrical loaf very different from commercial breads; however, more recent units generally have a more traditional-appearing horizontal pan. Some bread machines are in the standard rectangle shape two lb loaf using two paddles. One of the Zojirushi models even has an in the lid heating element to brown the crust.
Bread machine recipes are often somewhat smaller than standard bread recipes, and are sometimes standardized based on the capacity of the machine's pan; most common in the United States market are 1.5 lb/700g units, and the majority of recipes are written for that capacity; however, 2 lb/900g units are not uncommon either. Packaged bread mixes are available, specifically designed for breadmakers, containing premeasured ingredients including flour and yeast, as well as flavorings and occasionally dough conditioners. Only water usually needs to be added. Bread machines generally do not deal well with non-wheat flours, so any recipe that requires a substantial addition of a grain such as rye or corn that lacks gluten will prove difficult at best in a bread machine, as will any dough with unusually large amounts of liquid (such as ciabatta).
Generally, homemade bread goes stale faster than bread from a commercial baker because the former does not include preservatives. However, it is possible (though a bit more difficult) to use a natural leaven or a pre-ferment in breadmaker dough recipes if the starter is sufficiently fast to rise. Sourdough contains a symbiotic culture of yeast and lactobacteria; the yeast provides some flavor as well as carbon dioxide to provide lift, while lactic acid produced by sourdough's lactobacteria greatly preserves bread, as well as affecting its flavor, while pre-ferments provide some of the same benefits as a sourdough culture with the greater predictability of domesticated baker's yeast.
Breadmakers are often 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, pasta dough, udon 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.
Traditionally, breadmakers take between three and four hours to bake a loaf. However recently "fast bake" modes have become common additions, many of which are able to produce a loaf in under an hour. The bread is generally not of as good quality as that produced by a longer program, but for many users this is a useful feature.
Here is a link to a great article on how to purchase and what features to look for when considering purchasing a bread machine.
Sources: WIKI and King Flour