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Worth Every Penny!
on February 3, 2012
Our trusty, 18-year-old Zo was still going strong when the non-stick coating began to peel. When no replacement parts could be found, we faced the inevitable and began to look for a worthy successor. After much research, other brands seemed to have serious issues we hadn't had with our old workhorse, despite its age (it was a hard act to follow!). Plunking down mega-bucks for the Virtuoso took much soul-searching, especially after so many negative reviews of its predecessor, but we checked Amazon's price daily and took the plunge when it went on sale, since it could be returned if it was a dud.
Surprisingly, this machine actually has exceeded our expectations; even 100% whole wheat bread, which in the ancestor Zo could be iffy, is perfect. In both 2 lb. and 1.5 lb. loaves, the crust is just right - not tough or hard; the top is golden and even; every loaf/cake, complex or simple, has been almost freakishly flawless (true, you are paying for those double paddles and top heater, but do they ever make a difference!). In true Zo form, it's simple to use, very quiet and stable, and finished goodies slip right out with minimal holes and cleanup. Paddles remain in the pan, not the bread, and separate easily after briefly soaking the cooled pan in warm water. A "Shape" stage can be used to remove the dough to specially form it or remove the paddles before baking (the splines will remain, but the resulting holes will be much smaller without the paddles), and raising the lid will stop the machine temporarily without interfering with the program. Like older models, the initial "Rest" period warms ingredients as needed before mixing so no need to bring them to room temp first, but a cool new feature is the ability to bypass this stage if you don't need it, which shortens the overall time considerably. The "Add" signal also beeps for a longer period so you have less chance of missing it, which is easy to do if you're not nearby since it isn't very loud. Although the DVD manual provided is unintentionally comical and prim, and mind-numbingly redundant, it does have some useful info not included in the written manual.
One consideration before buying would be your available space: since it bakes a horizontal loaf, this is a hefty machine with a footprint 18"w, 11"d, and with the lid raised, 20"h, plus space needed behind and at sides for vents. An extension cord will probably be needed unless parked directly in front of an outlet.
Although we've only begun to tap its many talents, after over a month of frequent use (2 - 3 times/wk. for whole-grain breads w/nuts/fruit/seeds, banana bread, cakes, and pizza dough so far, and hopefully noodles soon), we're delighted with our new Zo and recommend it without reservation; we also appreciate Amazon's free shipping and right-on-time arrival before Christmas.
Just an added note if you're new to bread makers (and to set straight some previous detractors' comments) - for best results with any machine, take the time to measure ingredients by weight rather than volume and add them in the order recommended in your machine's manual, since order can vary by manufacturer and doesn't necessarily match that listed in cookbook recipes. And if you need more reasons to think Zo, check out the King Arthur Flour website blog where they used one to cook almost every dish last Thanksgiving (except the turkey)!