Many realtors will tell you that when you’re trying to sell your house, the best thing you can do is bake something yummy just before potential buyers visit.
That’s because the delicious smell of pies, cakes or bread just out of the oven makes a home seem even more welcoming and comfortable.
That’s one of the reasons to have a bread maker in your kitchen. No, not to help you sell your house – simply so you can enjoy the unmistakable, delicious aroma of freshly baked bread whenever you’d like. Of course, there’s an even better reason to own a bread machine: the incredible taste of warm, homemade bread can’t be compared with that of a loaf you’ve bought at the store.
The real beauty of the best bread makers is that you can create almost any type of bread you want. That is, if you buy the right machine. We can help with that.
Cheap vs. Expensive Bread Makers
Many kitchen appliances perform the same basic functions, whether you purchase a cheap model or the most expensive one available. For example, it doesn’t matter if you put milk or vintage white wine, a dozen cooked eggs, or a tin of caviar into your refrigerator – they’ll all be kept cold until you take them out.
Bread makers are somewhat different. You shouldn’t expect an inexpensive bread machine to be able to make artisan, gluten-free, and raisin bread; those models are most likely to simply make a delicious loaf of white or wheat with a few other options. High-end bread makers will offer many more choices, although you’ll still have to check before you purchase a breadmaker to be sure it can produce the type(s) of bread you’ll want to bake.
Pricey machines will also be most likely to offer some of the advanced features that we’ll be discussing next, like pre-programmed settings, automatic ingredient dispensers, or quick bake. The bottom line, though, is that more money doesn’t just buy higher quality in a bread maker; it also buys features that you might find indispensable.
The Many Variables to Consider
Bread Maker Size
Let’s put aside the varieties of bread and special features for a moment and talk more about the physical unit. Smaller (and usually less expensive) bread makers will produce tall, square-shaped loaves, while the ones that bake more traditional “horizontal” loaves will take up more space on your kitchen counter and usually come with a higher price tag.
The size of a bread machine also relates directly to the size of the loaf it can make; the benchmarks range from one pound to 2½ pounds. Consider your regular needs before choosing since a one-pound loaf will be perfect for a small family dinner (with some likely left over for lunch), but you’ll need at least one 2-2½ pounder for a dinner party. Some models let you choose between different sizes for each bake, a handy option.
One Paddle or Two
You’ll also see that some machines have one paddle for kneading, while others have two paddles. As you’d probably guess, the dual paddles are more expensive and do a better job of kneading horizontal loaves, while a single paddle is usually fine for a vertical loaf. There are also models with removable or collapsible paddles, which you’ll need if you don’t want the telltale “bread machine hole” baked into the underside of a loaf.
Varieties of Loaves Available
OK, now it’s time to talk about the bread itself.
We’ve already mentioned that you’ll need to look at each model to see the varieties of loaves it can bake; they’re handled by pre-programmed settings on the machine, and unless you’re purchasing an expensive unit, you may not find all of your favorites available. Be sure the breadmaker has a “rye” or “gluten-free” setting, for instance, if those are on your must-have list. Most units let you choose whether you want a light, medium or dark crust on your bread, so that shouldn’t be an issue.
Complicated Fruit Bread
Low-end bread makers aren’t usually the best choice for those who want to make bread with dried fruits or nuts inside because the ingredients will be chopped into little pieces in the early stages of the process. They need to be added partway through baking, so you’ll need a machine that either signals you to add the ingredients manually or, even better, a model with an automatic dispenser that will add the nuts or fruit at the right time.
Want to Make More Than Bread?
Many breadmakers have the ability to make more than bread. Knead-only settings allow you to make great pasta and pizza dough, machines with bake-only settings are perfect for fruitcake or gingerbread, and some also let you bake regular cakes or make jams and jellies. Again, look carefully at a unit’s settings; some top-level models have well over a dozen options, while lower-priced ones may only have a few.
Extra Features – Quick Bake, Timers and Windows
One feature often found on bread makers is a godsend for some people and useless for others. It’s the “quick bake” setting that lets you bake a loaf of bread in an hour or even less, and many with hectic lives absolutely love it. Be aware, though, that the quality of the bread produced will be noticeably lower than if the loaf had its normal three or four hours to bake.
Finally, there are more “ordinary” features like timers and viewing windows that let you watch the bread rise. A timer is essential if you want to be able to set the bread maker at night and wake up to a fresh loaf; a viewing window is cool but not essential. The Your House Garden team’s view: We don’t watch the bakers at our local bakery, and we don’t need to watch our bread maker work – either way, we just want a great loaf of bread.
Here’s our list of the top 5 bread makers.
1. Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Virtuoso Breadmaker
You won’t find many people who disagree with our belief that Zojirushi makes the very best home bread machines. Our big question was which one to recommend, and we’ve decided on the high-quality Virtuoso, which doesn’t have the biggest selection of settings on our list but can produce most of the varieties anyone would want – and, more importantly, makes the very best bread.
This “Zo” produces a two-pound, traditional horizontal loaf. There are two removable kneading paddles, a removable baking pan, and the feature that the review team really liked, a separate cooking element on the lid that helps produce a nearly perfect bread crust. Speaking of the lid, there’s an extra large viewing window if you like to watch.[youtube id=”4kPkMkZXOTk” width=”750″ height=”340″ position=”left”]
There are ten presets and you can also create customized baking programs, so almost any type of bread can be baked in the Virtuoso. White and wheat, sourdough and artisan loaves are no problem by combining the presets and custom programs, and you can also prepare dough for foods like pizza, pretzels and bagels to be finished in your regular oven. There are settings for gluten-free bread, cakes and jams, too.
This bread maker has a 13-hour advance timer, and while there’s no automatic ingredient dispenser it will beep to tell you when it’s time to add your nuts or fruit. The BB-PAC20 has three crust settings, a quick-bake feature that turns out better-than-expected loaves because they take two hours to bake instead of the one hour on other units, and its intuitive controls make it easy to use. If you want a smaller model, check out the Zojirushi BB-HAC10 one-pound Mini Bread Maker.
The Zojirushi Virtuoso bakes a large loaf of fantastic bread. It’s slightly more expensive than the #2 option on our Your House Garden rankings, but it’s worth paying a higher price to turn out bread like this at home whenever you want it.
Facts and figures on the Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Virtuoso Breadmaker:
2. Breville BBM800XL Custom Loaf Bread Maker
If we didn’t have a Zo we’d choose a Breville. This manufacturer also makes terrific bread machines, and the horizontal BBM800XL has several distinguishing features that might make it superior to the Virtuoso in some peoples’ eyes. You can choose the size of the loaf you want to bake: one, 1½, two and 2½ pounds, although a one-pound loaf doesn’t come out perfectly shaped due to the large bread pan.
The single kneading paddle collapses before the baking stage in order to minimize the size of the hole at the bottom of the loaf. And there’s an automatic ingredient dispenser, too.
There are 13 presets on this Breville including white, wheat, sweet, gluten-free, yeast-free and sweet bread, plus the ability to knead dough for any other type of food like pasta or pizza. There are several programmable settings, a jam/jelly function, three crust settings and a timer.
On the negative side, the BBM800XL is a bit smaller and lighter than the Virtuoso, so while it might fit a bit better on the counter it also tends to drift around as it kneads; it’s also on the noisy side. More importantly, while the bread it bakes is delicious, the cook and crust isn’t quite as perfect as on the Zo, probably because there’s no element on the lid.
You’ll get delicious bread with lots of different choices with the Breville Custom Loaf, and the Your House Garden review team loves the option to choose loaf size and the automatic dispenser. While it’s not as perfect as the Zojirushi, it’s really, really good.
Details on the Breville BBM800XL Custom Loaf Bread Maker:
3. Breadman BK 1050S Professional Bread Maker
We won’t go off on a rant about companies that put misleading words like “Professional” in their product name – we’ll simply say that if you want a good home machine for a very reasonable price compared to the Zo or Breville, this Breadman unit offers a lot of versatility.
It’s not as well-built as our highest-rated models, but treat it carefully and it will bake very good bread.
You can bake one, 1½ or two pound loaves with three crust color choices, the 14 presets include French, gluten-free, sweet bread and artisan (as well as jam and dough), there’s a 15-hour timer and a one-hour keep warm function, an automatic ingredient dispenser and a viewing window, so you can see that Breadman doesn’t skimp on options or functions.
This model has a collapsible paddle, too. There is no quick-bake function.
The Breadman BK 1050S doesn’t bake incredible bread. But it turns out delicious loaves at a very reasonable price, and will make almost any variety you could want.
More info on the Breadman BK 1050S Professional Bread Maker:
4. Cuisinart CBK-200 Convection Bread Maker
If you’re like the members of our review team, you expect to see Cuisinart products priced at the top of the market. Surprisingly, the CBK-200 is priced around the same level as the Breadman, with more options. Also surprisingly, the loaves that come out of the unit aren’t always of uniform quality; you really have to work with this machine for a while to figure out exactly which settings work for you and which don’t. Once you’ve done that, you will have tasty bread instead of very dark crusts.
The CBK-200 has 16 programmed baking choices and does its best work on gluten-free bread, although the artisan cycle also stands out. You can choose horizontal loaves of one, 1½ or two pounds, there are three crust choices (start with light, you’ll thank us later), a timer and a power-failure backup (a very nice option).
There’s one non-collapsible but removable paddle, and a tone notifies you when it’s time to add ingredients (even if you have none to add). Oh – “convection” in the product name refers to the way air is moved around during baking cycles; this doesn’t double as a reliable convection oven.
It takes some time to find the right combination of settings to produce a quality loaf of bread, but that’s what you’ll get from the Cuisinart CBK-200 once you’ve put in the work. The price is right, and there’s a generous three-year warranty.
Digging deeper on the Cuisinart CBK-200 Convection Bread Maker:
5. Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread Maker With Yeast Dispenser
A vertical instead of horizontal loaf, fewer presets and an old design that’s been around for more than ten years. So why is the Panasonic SD-YD250 on Your House Garden’s list of the top 5 best bread makers? It’s because of one feature we haven’t found on most models: an automatic yeast dispenser. The great thing about that is that the machine adds the yeast at the optimal point of the cycle, making for fluffier bread. It’s more work, and the compartment isn’t big enough for the yeast needed for some recipes, but “true” bakers will appreciate the feature.
You can make most types of standard bread like white, wheat and French, as well as several types of dough; there are three selectable sizes and three crust settings, and this small machine fits easily on a counter.
There are better (and cheaper) bread machines above the Panasonic SD-YD250 in our review team’s rankings, but the ability to add yeast during baking for the fluffiest bread you’ll get from a bread maker makes this model unique and worth a look.
Specifications for the Panasonic SD-YD250 Automatic Bread Maker With Yeast Dispenser: