Product Type: Morphy Richards bread makers
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Cooking's An Art, Breadmaking's A Science...
Morphy Richards 48280 Fast Bake
Member Name: snowbunni
Morphy Richards 48280 Fast Bake
Advantages: Bargain Price, Easy To Use, Excellent Results
Disadvantages: Extra Ingredients Need To Be Added Manually
With no shortage of bread machines on the market, and dozens of models produced by an array of manufacturers, it may come as a surprise to discover that most of these generally offer very similar features, although prices can vary quite widely. When I found myself in the market for one recently, I felt over-whelmed by options, and befuddled by subtle distinctions. After a little directionless research, I consulted Which?
WHY WHICH? Well, Which? (the consumer Magazine and website) has recently subjected a number of popular bread maker brands and models to a comprehensive sequence of tests, grading each on the basis of various criteria including performance, ease of use, and the quality and texture of the bread produced. The final results were conclusive, with the Morphy Richards Fastbake coming up trumps. Better still, retailing at less than £40, this model costs almost half as much as its nearest competitor in the performance stakes. Impressed by the hard data, I took Which? at its word and ordered myself a 'Fastbake' on Amazon. I hadn't really wanted to spend much, just in case the machine turned out be yet another costly, under-utilised whim, and at £34.95 this seemed like a real bargain.
THE LOOK: I'm not really fond of cluttering up my kitchen benches with bulky appliances, so when the machine arrived, I was a little disappointed to find that it was rather bigger than I had expected. It's approximately 10" wide and 15" deep. It stands at just over 12", but this extends to a full height of 21" with the lid opened, so it's probably worth ensuring you have suitable bench space with sufficient clearance overhead. In terms of its appearance, however, the Fastbake is a fairly sleek looking thing, slightly off-white and grey in colour, with nicely rounded edges. All in all, it's a reasonably pleasant and attractive appliance, and not so big that it completely dominates or overwhelms its surroundings. Finally, the machine feels solid, but not so heavy that it can't be readily moved or transported.
THE INSTRUCTIONS: The Fastbake came with a rather modest 24-page instruction booklet, printed in black and white. There is cautionary announcement on the cover advising that 'It is essential to measure ingredient quantities carefully, even slight changes may effect loaf quality'. The positioning of this advice seemed a little odd at first, but later, with my very first loaf collapsing before my eyes, it struck me as particularly apt. There's always a temptation to bypass pages of tiresome and clumsily worded instructions, and to then blame a machine when things go wrong. In this case the instructions were really very clear and simple, but I ignored most of them anyway. In the aftermath of my initial disaster, I read through them carefully, and haven't had another loaf collapse on me since.
Firstly, there is some general advice about the appliance. There are several automatic programs on the machine, which are then outlined in detail. This is followed by simple, step-by-step instructions for using the breadmaker, advice about flours and other ingredients, and tips on glazing and other techniques. There is a reasonably brief section containing recipes, which includes recipes for breads, dough, jams and cakes. Finally, there is a useful troubleshooting guide, which facilitates the post-mortem should things go wrong… examples given include 'Bread has large holes' and 'Bread under baked with soggy centre'.
HOW IT WORKS: Operating the Fastbake is simplicity itself. You simply remove the loaf pan from the machine, and add the (carefully measured) ingredients according to your recipe. A measuring cup and spoons are supplied. In the instructions, recipe ingredients are conveniently listed in the order in which they need to be added, something that seems to be standard with most bread machines. You then select the appropriate program, which is represented by a number on the 'Menu' button, the size of the loaf, and how dark or light you would like the loaf to be. There is a small digital screen that then displays all the relevant information, including the baking time remaining. You simply press the appropriate buttons, and the breadmaker does the rest. If making specialty breads with added ingredients such as raisins, walnuts, or olives, ten beeps will sound mid-way through the kneading cycle, alerting you to add these. Incidentally, this is also the point at which you remove the dough for making pizzas, or for re-shaping and baking on in the oven. The machine beeps about half a dozen times once the bread is baked, after which a 'keep warm' feature operates for a further hour.
The loaf tin itself is 7" by 6" and 7" deep, which results in loaves of a slightly unusual shape when baking the larger sized, 2lb loaf. As the bread generally rises above the top of the tin, the resultant loaves are quite tall, and produce very large slices. The dimensions of the smaller 1lb and 1 ½ lb loaves are a more traditional, and easier to slice. Of course, as mentioned earlier, it is always possible to remove the dough after the kneading and rising cycles and create your own desired shape, before completing the baking in your own oven. Baking the bread in this way also facilitates glazing, sprinkling with seeds and so forth.
THE FEATURES: The 'Fastbake' feature effectively reduces the overall baking time by two thirds. Only basic white loaves can be cooked using this feature, but these will take just 57 mins to cook, as opposed to over 3 hours with the standard setting. The results are very good, though the bread seems a little 'shorter' when cooked with this setting. A delay-timing feature enables you to assemble the ingredients up to 13 hours in advance, so that the bread can be baked in your absence. Unfortunately, unlike some breadmakers, this model requires extra ingredients (such as fruit and nuts) to be added manually, so it is not possible to pre-set the machine to make raisin bread, or other specialty breads, overnight. Finally, there is a clear, nicely sized window on the lid of the bread-maker, which allows you to peek at the dough as it kneads and cooks without lifting the lid & potentially jeopardising the whole enterprise.
THE SCIENCE: As asserted (with some force) in the breadmaker's instruction booklet, measuring your ingredients carefully is absolutely essential if you want to achieve satisfactory results. As with all bread making, the way in which the yeast is handled is of particular importance. It must be well-stored, added at the last moment, not allowed to come into any contact with the damp ingredients prior to mixing, and most importantly, measured carefully. If anything, I would advise using a little less than the recipes suggest. I have also found that the type of flour used can have a significant impact upon the final results. I've tried at least a dozen types of flour, including various wholemeal, brown and white types, and several brands. In my experience, the more expensive flours don't necessarily produce the most successful results. The Sainsbury's range of flours, on the other hand, which are very cheap by comparison, have produced some very impressive (and reliable) results. The Sainsbury's 'Strong Brown Flour' is especially good in this respect.
THE RESULTS: I've now baked an array of breads in my Fastbake, and yet probably haven't even scratched the surface when it comes to its possibilities. Overall, the results have been excellent. The white and brown breads have had a light and even texture, and a very nice crust. The wholemeal breads, predictably enough, are rather heavier, but the texture is still very good. I have also made some delicious walnut bread, as well as a 'cheese and onion' bread, which turned out particularly well. The pizza dough is light and rises well, and makes exceptionally good dough-balls. In fact, there seems to be very little this clever machine can't do, and I can honestly say I haven't been disappointed with any of the results so far, bar my first, rushed attempt.
FINALLY: There's nothing worse than having to haul oneself down to the shops on a miserably cold morning just to get a loaf of bread or a pint of milk. I'm a great fan of anything that will save me time and hassle, which is why I have my milk delivered, and a bread machine, especially one with a 'Fastbake' feature, offers similar advantages. Of course, you still have to keep a good supply of flour and yeast on hand, and it's surprising how much flour the bread machine seems to get through.
I heard Ravi Shankar talking on the radio recently, bemoaning the fact that in our hurried, modern society, most people no longer even know how to bake their own bread… Well, I've baked bread from scratch before, but other than the sense of satisfaction I've gleamed from a pleasing, final result, it's always been something of an ordeal. This machine makes baking bread a pleasure, without any of the chore. Ravi would no doubt argue that I'm cheating, but never mind. It works for me.
My Fastbake cost £34.99 on Amazon, plus £6.00 P&P (First Class standard delivery).
Summary: Well designed, reliable and affordably priced.
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