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When the Covid pandemic first forced people to spend more time at home in 2020, bread baking became a popular pastime, so much so that grocery stores experienced flour and yeast shortages across the country. And between the cold weather some states are currently experiencing and many opting to once again stay home due to concerns around new Covid variants, you may be spending more time in your kitchen.
If you’re interested in learning how to bake bread or want to update your selection of kitchen tools, experts said investing in a bread machine is a great first step. “Bread machines are a huge help to either busy bread bakers or those with physical issues [like] arthritis,” said PJ Hamel, a baker and blogger for King Arthur Flour. They’re also versatile appliances: Beyond baking bread, Hamel said you can use a bread machine to make pizza dough or you can treat it like a “mini-oven” and make soup, cakes and fruit crisps. We talked to experts about how to shop for bread machines, plus rounded up a handful of tools that can help you on your bread baking journey.
Highly rated bread makers to shop
Since we don’t test bread makers, we rely on expert insights to guide our recommendations. The experts we spoke to told us that while different models offer different functions, most bakers will want to look for models that at least offer customizable crust settings, timers and a quick bread setting. Below, we compiled highly rated options from Select reader favorite brands that align with this guidance and vary in capacity to accommodate different household sizes. We also included one expert-recommended pick.
Hamel recommended this bread maker because you can customize the kneading, rising and baking times in addition to choosing from 14 pre-programmed options. A pair of kneading blades and a heating element in the lid help produce evenly baked, well-formed loaves with a good rise, according to Hamel. “Zojirushi has been making bread machines for decades — they were one of the first players in the game and, in my opinion, they’re still the best, quality-wise,” she said. Paula Rhodes, owner of the food blog Salad in a Jar, said she has a variation of this machine that she also recommends, the Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme Breadmaker.
You can make 1 ½- or 2-pound loaves using the machine, which has 15 preset functions to cook bread (including gluten-free options), cakes, jam and yogurt. You can choose from three crust colors, and the bread maker’s Express cycle bakes a loaf in under two hours, according to the brand. The machine can keep bakes warm for up to 60 minutes after they’re done cooking.
This bread maker has the largest maximum capacity of all the options on our list at 3 pounds. It’s designed with 12 pre-programmed settings, such as cake, super-rapid, gluten-free and more. The machine is built with a programmable timer and three browning levels, allowing you to choose how dark you want the crust. It comes with two kneading blades, a blade removal tool and a nonstick baking pan.
Oster’s Expressbake machine is a relatively affordable option compared to some higher-end models, and it can bake a loaf in an hour with the Expressbake setting, according to the brand. The machine offers 12 bread settings and three crust settings. It has a 2-pound capacity and kneads, rises and bakes bread automatically. You can also keep track of your bakes with the 13-hour programmable timer, and the machine has a signal that tells you when to add fruit, nuts and other mix-ins to the dough.
Hamilton Beach’s bread maker offers 14 programmed settings, allowing you to make breads, cakes, jams and more. The machine has three crust settings and you can bake 1-, 1 ½- or 2-pound loaves. It’s built with an automatic keep warm setting that turns on after cooking your loaf, as well as a timer. The included bread pan is dishwasher-safe, according to the brand, and it comes with a measuring cup, spoon, kneading paddle and paddle removing tool.
This machine can accommodate loaves from 1 pound to 2 ½ pounds. It has 13 settings, including quick-bread and gluten-free. It also offers a jam function and can mix dough for pizza and pasta. Breville’s bread maker has a dispenser that automatically releases add-ins and three crust color options.
Cuisinart says this machine was designed to be compact and “countertop-friendly” for those with limited kitchen space. The bread maker automatically kneads, rises and bakes bread, and it comes with 12 pre-programmed menu options ranging from gluten-free and ultra-fast to cake and jam. Three crust shades are available, and you can make loaves between 1 and 2 pounds. The machine comes with a removable nonstick kneading paddle and bread pan.
Bread making tools to use while baking
Experts said there are a handful of tools that may come in handy whether you make bread using a machine or by hand. Here are a few you might want to keep on hand in the kitchen.
Hamel recommended purchasing a digital scale that can tare – meaning subtract the weight of your bowl – and measure in ounces and grams. She called digital scales a critical tool for bread baking: “The difference between a high-rising loaf and a brick can be a simple matter of a bit too much flour,” she said.
This stand mixer comes with a dough hook for mixing and kneading bread dough. Most bread makers automatically mix and knead dough, but if you don’t have a bread maker, KitchenAid’s Artisan Series Stand Mixer is useful to have at your disposal and will save your forearm muscles.
You can either cut dough with this tool’s blade or lay it flat and use it to scrape dough off a cutting board. It’s also helpful when making other desserts like pie, as experts previously told us, in addition to removing cookies or cinnamon rolls from a sheet pan.
The handles on this pan give you a place to firmly grip when you’re removing it from the oven, and its nonstick coating prevents dough from sticking to the sides. You can use the loaf pan to make sandwich and sweet bread.
Jakob Esko, executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, recommended this bread knife in our guide to kitchen knives, saying it’s “without a doubt the best serrated knife on the market.” Specifically, Esko said it’s notable for its blade. “Generally, bread knives' teeth are too sharp, making them suitable only for slicing bread,” he said. “This Victorinox one is so smooth, it’s the best knife for slicing food with different layers of resistance. I would not necessarily call this a bread knife as it is perfect for so many different tasks.”
What to consider when shopping for a bread maker
One of the benefits bread makers offer is their ability to mix and knead dough more efficiently than most people can by hand, said Rhodes. Many bread makers come with separate settings for kneading and baking dough so you can remove and shape cinnamon rolls or pizza dough before they’re cooked.
“A bread machine has the timing built in so you don’t have to decide if you have mixed or kneaded the dough long enough,” Rhodes added. “This is a huge plus for beginners.”
Other than looking for mixing and kneading settings, it’s important to think about how much counter space you can dedicate to a machine. Some bread makers can weigh more than 10 pounds, and if you bake bread every week, you don’t want to have to lug an appliance in and out of your cabinet.
“Figure out where it’s going to live,” Hamel advised. “And then check the dimensions as you do the research.”
Additionally, bread makers come in a variety of different sizes, dictating how much bread you’ll be able to make at one time. Think about how many people you want to feed when purchasing a machine, and whether or not you want to start making small loaves before advancing to bigger bakes. Smaller machines can’t handle more dough, but machines with a bigger capacity can often produce smaller loaves.
Finally, decide which preset functions are important to you in a bread maker. In addition to timers that you can set to ensure the bread is ready by a specific time, some machines boast settings designed to produce different types of dough, bread and even jam. Bread makers may also come with features that automate the baking process, like built-in dispensers that can add fruit or nuts at the appropriate time.
Tips for making bread
While baking, Hamel recommended keeping an eye on your dough even with the benefit of a bread machine's automatic programming. “You’ll get better bread on a consistent basis if you learn where your maker needs help, and give it what it needs,” she said. For example, if your dough is sticky, it may need more flour, or if it’s stiff, you may need to add water. And if your dough moved to one side of the bread maker after kneading, take it out and reshape it before baking to get a more even loaf.