Bread machines are a convenient addition to your kitchen
If you like the smell, taste and texture of homemade bread but don't want to spend hours preparing it, a bread machine is a worthwhile investment. This is one machine that does all the work for you: mixing, kneading, proofing and baking -- which is why it's one of the most popular appliances for the home cook. People love being able to make fresh bread without worrying about additives or other fillers that they may not want to ingest. Others like the idea of an artisan loaf without paying artisan bread prices. As an added benefit, some machines can make a range of items beyond white and wheat loaves, such as cakes, jam, baguettes, or even meatloaf or lasagna.
Even with a bread machine, making perfect bread can require some tinkering, especially at the beginning. Some bakers like to monitor the process, adding water if the dough gets too dry or smoothing the loaf before baking to help create a pleasing loaf shape. Many serious bakers buy bread machines only for kneading dough, which saves them time and effort. Once it's kneaded, they remove the dough for shaping, proofing and baking.
However, making bread doesn't have to be that complex. Plenty of bread-lovers just toss in the ingredients, walk away, and are perfectly happy with their results. Many don't even bother with individual ingredients, they just buy mixes. The general consensus seems to be that even a basic bread made in a bread machine is far superior to a supermarket loaf. Most users agree: once you overcome the learning curve, which varies from machine to machine, baking bread in a bread maker becomes second nature.
Most bread machines that cost less than $100 offer several cycles that correspond to different varieties of bread, including white, whole wheat, French or Italian; and many will have a setting for cakes as well as a quick-bake cycle. Many bread makers offer you the option of making bread loaves of different sizes. As you move up in price, bread machines begin to include specialty cycles such as jam, bake only, gluten-free, low-carb and sourdough starter. They also have convenience features that you may or may not consider essential -- for example, a yeast dispenser; audible signals for when to add yeast or other ingredients (such as fruit or nuts); a preheat function; programmable settings; and dual paddles, which experts say do a better job of kneading than single paddles.
One of the most popular bread machine features is the delay start, which allows you to add ingredients and choose the settings at night, and awake to the aroma of freshly baked bread the next morning -- or set it in the morning for fresh bread at dinnertime. Even the least-expensive machines usually have that option, so it's not something you'll need to pay extra for. A more recent feature -- a one-touch, gluten-free setting -- gets raves from those who have gluten intolerance, but miss their bread fix.
Once you have your homemade bread, you'll need a good toaster to brown it to perfection. Our report on toasters has some great recommendations. Or, check out our toaster oven report for appliances that can toast, bake, broil and roast.
How we found the best bread makers
Bread machines tend to be scorned by professional cooks, who say they simply don't make decent bread. One professional kitchen test site, in testing -- and not really recommending -- a handful of bread machines, says "Éyou're more likely to find these appliances at yard sales than on kitchen counters."
Well, we don't like food snobs and we love bread machines, and so do thousands of home cooks. As a result, we rely heavily on owner reviews, and there are hundreds, sometimes thousands, of those for the top models of bread makers. These user reviews are extremely useful because the range of experience is so vast. Experienced bakers can speak to the customizable options of the machines, while first-timers are a great resource for judging initial ease of use and performance. Because most of the bread machines in this report have been around for years, with no changes in design, users can give helpful input on long-term durability as well. This wide range of knowledge gave us a consensus of opinion by thoughtful, knowledgeable users that was extremely helpful in finalizing our selections. The results of our research are our picks for the best bread machines, plain and fancy.
The best bread machines
If you really love bread and eat it every day, you'll never regret buying a fully-featured bread machine. If you love bread, but can't tolerate gluten, you'll want to see our discussion of gluten-free bread machines elsewhere in this report.
There's no better reviewed bread machine than the Zojirushi BB-CEC20 (Est. $250). It's highly versatile, easy to use and turns out perfect bread virtually every single time. It can also make cakes, French bread, cookies, pasta and even meat loaf.
Users praise the BB-CEC20 for its many options, noting in particular its 10 total cycles. Three of those cycles are quick, and users say it's nice to have fresh, warm bread in about 2 hours or so. There are other special recipe settings as well, and a very comprehensive recipe book that teaches you how to use them is included. The three crust-color options include light, medium and dark, and the bread maker has a 13-hour programmable timer so you can come home to, or wake up to, a hot loaf of bread. Users say that the BB-CEC20 is solid and durable. Many owners have owned this Zojirushi bread maker for years, have baked hundreds of loaves, and say that they still come out perfectly.
One of this bread makers most popular features is its shape. While most bread machines make a vertical loaf that results in almost "round" slices when you cut them, the BB-CEC20 has a horizontal design that results in bread slices that are more like store bought – better for sandwiches and toast, say users. They also love that it has a sourdough starter function, since many people feel that sourdough bread is one of the healthiest types you can eat.
The Zojirushi BB-CEC20 bread machine uses dual paddles to mix dough. Expert bakers agree that bread makers with dual paddles do a better job of kneading than single-paddle machines, which can leave bits of flour and other ingredients unmixed in the corners of the bowl. Users agree, consistently noting the efficiency of the dual paddles, and most are pleased with the machine's performance. It is large and heavy, but owners also say its brushed stainless finish is attractive enough to sit out on the counter.
Smaller families or singles might instead appreciate the Zojirushi BB-HAC10 (Est. $180), which makes just 1-pound loaves. It has some good features, too, although not as many as its bigger brother. Those features include two crust-color settings, a 13-hour timer and a number of customizable settings. The BB-HAC10 requires less counter space than the larger BB-CEC20 and weighs less, but otherwise operates similarly. It only makes vertical loaves, however; while the larger Zojirushi make horizontal loaves. If making your bread from scratch is a priority and you don't need a bigger machine, this smaller Zojirushi BB-HAC10 bread maker is a solid choice.
A good bread maker doesn't have to cost a lot of dough
The great news about bread makers is that it's hard to find one, even an inexpensive one, that doesn't get pretty good reviews for performance. Of course, you won't get as many bells and whistles in sub-$150 basic bread makers as you would in those machines that cost more, but lots of reviewers say that many of those extras aren't really necessary to make great bread.
However, if bells and whistles are what you want or need, you'll want to read our discussion of the best bread machines above, where you'll find everything you ever needed to know about the top-rated Zojirushi's. And if you can't tolerate gluten, have no fear, we cover gluten-free bread machines in this report as well.
While a lot of less expensive bread machines get good reviews, none get the kind of love that the Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread Maker with Yeast Dispenser (Est. $120) does. Its biggest selling point is right there in its name -- the automatic yeast dispenser. With most bread machines you're supposed to add the liquids first, then the flour to seal, then add other dry ingredients, then add yeast. However, many bakers worry about the seal, and it is possible for the flour seal to breach and the mix to not work properly. A yeast dispenser keeps the yeast separate so this doesn't happen.
Even aside from that nice extra, users say the Panasonic SD-YD250 offers great performance and a solid array of features, including three loaf sizes and a choice of dough, cake or bread, allowing for a seemingly endless combination of baked goods. Some consider the lack of a viewing window a negative, but most experienced bakers don't really care about that as it's more of a "fun" feature, they say.
This Panasonic bread maker gets great reviews for durability, with users saying it's a sturdy, flexible machine that makes flavorful loaves, and they praise its ease of use and cleanup.
Another mid-priced machine that gets good reviews from owners is the Black & Decker B6000C (Est. $90). It's a great choice for bigger families, they say, because it makes loaves up to 3 pounds, as opposed to the 1, 1.5 and 2 pound loaves most machines make. It's also a two-paddle machine, which is almost unheard of in this price class. The Black & Decker B6000C has 10 programmable settings and an automatic temperature adjustment for light to dark crust. Some reviewers say it's a bit fiddly to get your bread just right, but plenty of owners have posted helpful pictures as a guide. The B6000C gets panned for being harder to clean than other bread makers in this report, but, once you get past the learning curve, owners say this is a worthy, but much cheaper, alternative to a Zojirushi.
Just because a bread machine is cheap, doesn't mean it's can't perform as well as a pricier bread maker. The Sunbeam 5891 2-Pound Programmable Breadmaker (Est. $60) gets rave reviews from owners for its high-end performance at a price that pays for itself fairly quickly – especially if you have a large family or just love bread. This bread maker is a simple but versatile machine that is particularly popular with those who are just starting the process of making their own bread. It's easy to use, and if the new baker decides they want to go back to supermarket or bakery bread, they're not out much, expense-wise.
Plenty of very experienced chefs buy this Sunbeam bread maker just for kneading dough, saying it does a great job and saves them time and effort. Others, even those who usually like to customize practically everything they do say this machine is still a great choice to take a loaf of bread from start to finish because it produces evenly cooked bread with a nice crust. The Sunbeam 5891 also has a great array of features for the price, including dough-only, bake-only and jam settings, as well as a signal that lets you know when to add dried fruit or nuts. The one big complaint we saw with this Sunbeam bread maker is that the recipe book is terrible. Most reviewers suggest ignoring it and getting a well-reviewed cookbook devoted to bread machine recipes.