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Wonder Bread is a staple on many grocery lists, but there’s something about the smell of fresh, homemade bread that can’t be beat — and that’s not even taking taste and texture into account.
Unfortunately, many home bakers shy away from making their own loaves because the process can seem pretty complicated and labor-intensive. But making your own bread doesn’t have be difficult.
With a bread maker in your kitchen arsenal, you have a device that easily mixes and proofs the dough and then bakes the loaf to perfection — which means that besides adding the ingredients and hitting a few buttons, you don’t have to do any work at all!
Choosing a bread maker can be tricky, though, because there are so many models on the market and so many features to consider.
Besides basic considerations such as size of the machine and the loaves that it produces, you must choose between models with only a few different bread cycles and those that allow you to make even non-bread items. You also need to decide if you want a timer option or a viewing window to make the process even easier.
Your budget can help you narrow your options, because some bread machines retail for a few hundred dollars while others cost less than a hundred. However, you can still get a little overwhelmed by all of the possible features and options.
At BestReviews, we strive to make the shopping process easy for you. We’re able to provide unbiased recommendations because we never accept free samples from manufacturers. Rather, we conduct research to help you find the model that best meets your needs. To help us learn more about bread makers, we consulted BestReviews kitchen expert Francois, baking blogger and culinary entrepreneur.
If you’re ready to buy a bread maker, please see the above product matrix for our top five bread maker picks.
If you’d like to learn more about bread makers in general, please continue reading this shopping guide.
Born and raised in Paris, the land of unapologetic butter, Francois has spent the last 20 years shaping the American culinary world behind the scenes. He was a buyer at Williams-Sonoma, built the Food Network online store, managed product assortments for Rachael Ray's site, started two meal delivery businesses and runs a successful baking blog. When he's not baking a cake or eating his way through Europe, Francois enjoys sharing cooking skills with cooks of all levels. Rules he lives by: "Use real butter" and "Nothing beats a sharp knife."
When you bake your own bread, there are five stages that you must go through:
Mixing ingredients such as yeast, water, flour, sugar, butter, and salt to form a dough
Kneading the dough to make it elastic
Allowing the dough to rise for an hour or so
Punching down the dough and allowing it to rise for a second time
Baking the dough in a pan in the oven
A bread maker completes all of these stages in a single appliance. It is a small oven that fits a single bread pan, but the machine also features an electric motor connected to a paddle so it can mix the ingredients to form and knead the dough.
Appearance may not be the most important aspect of a good bread maker, but if your kitchen is small, the size and weight of a bread maker could impact your decision. Check product dimensions to make sure it fits. You also want controls that are easy to operate and a machine that's easy to clean.
To use the bread maker, you insert the paddle in place and add the appropriate ingredients in the proper order to the pan. You then select the cycle that you’d like from the control panel, close the lid, and wait for the machine to work its magic.
You can make most types of bread in a bread maker, including white, whole wheat, multigrain, rye, and French bread. Some models feature cycles that allow you to make other items, too, such as cakes and jams.
Keep in mind that you can also use a bread machine to simply mix dough. You can then remove the dough from the machine, shape it with your hands, and bake it in a regular oven. You may wish to do this with pizza, croissant, doughnut, or pretzel dough.
Most machines offer a choice of loaf sizes so you can make the right amount of bread. "Bread programs" allow you to make different types of specialty breads, including gluten-free bread.
Making your own bread at home allows you to control the ingredients that you use, so you can customize it to fit your dietary requirements. For example, you can experiment with gluten-free breads if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
Despite its name, a bread maker can be a fairly versatile appliance. With the appropriate model, you can also use it to make homemade jams, pizza dough, pasta dough, and other items.
Store-bought breads are loaded with preservatives that enhance their shelf life, but home-baked loaves don’t contain any chemicals that you may be uncomfortable feeding your family.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso
The Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso offers a range of additional settings that will give you pizza dough, sourdough, jams, cakes, and even meatloaf. The elongated baking pan ensures even mixing by providing two paddles. (Owners point out that for best results, it's important that both paddles face the same direction when starting.) Baking temperature is guaranteed by an additional heating element in the lid; this explains why the Zojirushi lid is so much more substantial than other models. Interestingly, the manufacturer manages to retain the viewing window in spite of the bulky lid.
You can mix in your favorite add-ins, such as walnuts, raisins, dried cranberries, or sunflower seeds, to create delicious customized bread recipes.
Homemade bread becomes stale sooner than commercial loaves because it doesn’t contain any preservatives.
Making your own bread can help save money, too.
Commercial loaves can be fairly expensive, while the ingredients used in bread, such as flour, yeast, and sugar, are usually inexpensive and can be bought in bulk for even greater savings.
While you could make your own bread at home without a bread maker, having this appliance on your counter makes the process much easier.
You don’t have to spend as much hands-on time making the bread, and clean-up moves along quickly because you only have to wash one pan.
Bread makers tend to be fairly large countertop appliances. Some models are tall and narrow; others are short and wide. Depending on whether you plan to display the machine on your countertop or stow it away in a cabinet, you may find that one footprint size is a better fit for your kitchen than another.
If you plan to keep the bread maker on your countertop, keep in mind that you’ll need enough clearance beneath any cabinets over it to open the lid and remove the finished bread.
In addition to the size of the machine itself, you should also think about what size pan works best for your needs. If you have a large household, you’ll probably want a machine that makes at least two-pound loaves. If you are baking for a smaller group, a machine that makes one-pound loaves is usually sufficient.
Some machines provide multiple loaf size options. You may appreciate this feature if you wish to vary the size of your bread.
If you’re used to the long, short bread loaves that you buy at the store, you may be surprised at the shape of the loaves that bread makers produce. Many machines create long, tall loaves because they use vertical pans rather than horizontal ones.
There are some models that feature horizontal pans so you can create loaves that look more like the usual Wonder Bread loaf, though. Keep in mind that horizontal pans aren’t always as good at mixing and kneading the dough, so there may be unincorporated ingredients in the corners that you need to mix in by hand.
You can also find a bread maker that makes round or oblong loaves. But no matter what shape the loaves that a bread maker produces are, be aware that most machines leave a hole in the bottom of the loaf where the mixing paddle sits. This can lead to a few uneven slices when you cut the bread.
Due to the placement of the mixing paddle, most bread makers leave a hole at the bottom of the loaf. This certainly won’t ruin the loaf, but it may create a few “uneven” slices.
Should you buy a bread maker with a removable or fixed pan?
Most newer bread maker models feature removable pans. That makes clean-up much easier because you can take the pan to the sink and scrub it clean after use.
Bread machines with fixed pans that don’t come out can be difficult to clean because you can’t reach all of the nooks and crannies.
It’s also a good idea to look for a bread maker with a pan that has a non-stick coating. The coating prevents the dough from sticking to the pan so it kneads properly, and you can remove the bread easily at the end of baking.
Most modern bread makers feature removable pans. This configuration is much easier to clean than a bread maker with a fixed pan.
Perhaps the biggest decision that you face when purchasing a bread maker is which programs and settings you want your appliance to have. Most models offer at least a few options that allow you to control the final product, but advanced machines provide extensive controls that afford you even more versatility.
Many machines have settings for specific types of bread, such as basic white, whole wheat, French/Italian, and/or gluten-free. They may also have programs for sweet breads, cakes, and packet mixes.
You can also find bread makers that will simply mix and knead the dough for you without baking it. For breads that must be shaped by hand, pizza dough, and pasta dough, this is a helpful feature.
If you just want to use the oven in the bread maker, consider a model with a Bake Only program. You can mix up your dough separately and add it to the appliance when it’s time to bake it.
Some bread makers offer crust color settings. This feature allows you to make a light, medium, or dark loaf, depending on your preferences.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Oster 2-Pound Expressbake
If you're looking for a machine that's light and easy to tuck away when not in use, the Oster 2-Pound Expressbake, at 14 x 14 x 13 inches and 8 pounds, could be your ideal. Not surprisingly, there's a fair amount of plastic in the construction, but the machine doesn't seem particularly flimsy. In fact, it's quite a neat little unit with one of the best viewing windows we've seen.
With the mixing and kneading of the dough, all bread makers make some noise. However, low-quality machines tend to create more noise than high-quality machines. That’s because the manufacturer of a low-quality machine may use lightweight materials that easily vibrate.
Many inexpensive bread makers feature solid, opaque lids, so you aren’t able to check the progress of the bread as it goes through its cycle.
For this reason, you may wish to invest in a model with a viewing window that allows you to see the bread’s progress. It’s especially helpful during the bake part of the cycle because you can keep track of how dark the crust is.
A high-quality bread maker typically uses sturdy materials that are less prone to vibration and noise.
A delay timer allows you to add ingredients to your your bread maker in the morning, before you leave for work, and then program the machine to prepare the dough at a certain time. With this feature, you can have a fresh, warm loaf of bread waiting for you when you return home.
When you’re in a hurry, you may not have time to wait for your bread maker to finish a full cycle. But if it features a Rapid Bake setting, it will prepare a loaf more quickly.
In many cases, the Rapid Bake setting involves a shorter rise time. As a result, you may need rapid-rise yeast. Be sure to consult the owner’s manual before using the Rapid Bake setting.
When working with your bread maker, you should only use recipes designed specifically for bread machines. Recipes for hand-formed bread will not work in a bread machine.
You may not always be ready to eat your loaf of bread when the machine is finished baking it. Some models feature a Keep Warm feature that generates just enough heat after baking to keep the bread warm until it’s time to eat.
What about the warranty? A bread maker is a fairly reliable appliance, but it’s a good idea to look for one that offers some warranty. It can be worth paying extra for a model with extended warranty. That way, you’ll be covered in case the machine needs any repairs.
Certain mix-in ingredients, such as nuts and dried fruits, must be added after you’ve mixed the dough, or they’ll become pulverized. Some bread makers beep when it’s time to add the mix-ins, but you have to pour them into the machine by hand.
However, some higher-end models feature an automatic mix-in dispenser. You fill the dispenser when you add the rest of the ingredients, and the machine automatically adds the ingredients to the dough at the proper time so you don’t have to worry about doing it yourself.
Some machines don’t keep your loaf warm after baking. Keep that in mind when picking a model.
Depending on the features that are included, you can expect to pay anywhere from $60 to $300 on a bread maker.
While all models tend to offer the same basic bread cycles, pricier bread machines usually feature more advanced settings for doughs, jam, and other non-bread items. They tend to port a sturdier construction, too, so they won’t make as much noise.
If you only bake the occasional loaf of bread, though, a budget-priced bread maker is likely to offer more bang for your buck.
Product in Depth
Product in Depth
Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso
The Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker is currently on offer for $283. That's quite a lot of money, but this is more than simply a machine for making bread. Zojirushi products have an outstanding reputation and seldom, if ever, go wrong. It may not be the prettiest of designs, but everything is there for one reason: to turn out a wide variety of the very best bread products (including gluten-free) possible. The only drawback we're aware of is that only one loaf size (two pounds) is available. Complaints are remarkably few, but the praise is tremendous. Even at this higher price, most owners think the investment is "100 percent worth it."
Q. How much time does a typical cycle take in a bread maker?
A. If you are mixing, kneading, and baking the bread all in the machine, a bread cycle usually takes between three and five hours, depending on the model and the type of bread you’re making.
Q. How do you clean a bread maker?
A. In most cases, you can simply lift the pan out of the machine and wipe down the interior with a warm, soapy rag. Rinse the pan well, and then allow it to air dry before returning it to the bread maker.
Avoid rinsing the interior of the machine itself or using a harsh steel wool pad or scrub brush on the interior.
Q. How can I reduce the chance that my homemade loaves will fall?
A. Make sure you are using fresh, accurately measured ingredients and that you’re adding them to the bread maker in the order specified in the manual. It’s also important to use the correct, recipe-specific type of yeast and to avoid opening the lid of the machine while the bread is baking.
At BestReviews, we purchase every product we review with our own funds. We never accept anything from product manufacturers. Our goal is to be 100% objective in our analysis, and we do not want to run the risk of being swayed by products provided at no cost.