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Freshly baked bread is the comfort food we need right now — and it’s largely within our reach. While a bread maker that sits on your counter top can’t solve flour and yeast shortages (although boxed cake mix can work in a pinch), it can help you save time and effort baking bread. “Bread machines are a huge help to either busy bread bakers or those with physical issues [like] arthritis,” says PJ Hamel, a baker and blogger for King Arthur Flour. They’re also versatile appliances. You can use a bread machine to bake bread, of course, but also to make pizza dough or, as Hamel suggests, you can treat it like a “mini-oven” and make soup or bake cakes and fruit crisps. If you’re interested in finding a bread maker for your kitchen, now might be the time to give it a try. To help guide your shopping, we consulted experts about how to shop for the best bread machine and some of the tools that can help you on your bread baking journey.
How to shop for a bread maker
Bread makers are useful for much more than baking bread. “A bread machine can mix and knead bread dough better than most people can do it by hand,” explains Paula Rhodes, of the food blog Salad in a Jar. Most bread makers will come with a separate setting for mixing and kneading dough so you can remove and shape cinnamon roll or pizza dough before the baking stage.
“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 adds. “This is a huge plus for beginners.”
You’ll get better bread on a consistent basis if you learn where your machine needs help, and give it what it needs.
PJ Hamel, Baker and Blogger, King Arthur Flour
Counter space is key
Bread makers can easily weigh more than 10 pounds. If you bake bread every week, you don’t want to have to lug an appliance in and out of drawers. Consider how much counter real estate you’re willing to sacrifice.
- Some models, like the Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus, are long and squat.
- Others, like the T-Fal Actibread, are tall and skinny.
“Figure out where it’s going to live,” Hamel advises. “And then check the dimensions as you do the research.”
Bread maker capacity
The capacity of a bread maker should be instrumental in your shopping, especially informed by how many people are in your household. Bread machines are typically able to hold between one and three pounds of dough.
Smaller machines like the Zojirushi Mini Bread Maker, which can hold one pound of dough, will make enough bread for two people and take up less room on the counter. Here, I want to note that if you discover you enjoy baking bread, you’ll wish you had a larger machine. Smaller machines can’t handle more dough, but machines with a bigger capacity like the Oster Bread Maker Expressbake — which can hold up to two pounds of dough —can produce smaller loaves.
Pre-set bread maker capabilities
Bread makers will come with a wide variety of pre-programmed settings designed to produce a specific type of dough (bread, pizza), bread (gluten-free, sweet breads) or jam. You can also look out for how far in advance you can set a timer on a bread machine in order to have fresh-baked bread when you wake in the morning or get set to eat dinner.
If you want to add ingredients and be done with the process entirely, some bread machines offer features that automate the baking process. The Breville Custom Loaf Bread Maker will add nuts or fruit at just the right moment via a built-in dispenser, for example.
Even with the benefit of a bread machine's programming, Hamel recommends keeping an eye on your dough early on in the process.
- Sticky dough? It needs flour.
- Stiff dough? Add water.
- Dough has moved to one side of the bread pan after kneading? Take it out and reshape it before baking to get a more even loaf.
“You’ll get better bread on a consistent basis if you learn where your maker needs help, and give it what it needs,” Hamel says.
Best bread makers to shop
There is a wide variety of bread machines out right now at various price points. To find the best one for you, we compiled some of the best-rated options alongside recommendations from the experts we consulted.
Best all-around bread maker: Zojirushi
If you’re serious about bread making, you’ll eventually find your way to the Zojirushi. Hamel recommends this bread maker (Rhodes has a variant, the Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme Breadmaker) because you can customize the kneading, rising and baking times, in addition to the 14 pre-programmed options. A pair of kneading blades and a heating element in the lid helps produce evenly baked, well-formed loaves with a good rise. “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,” says Hamel.
Best basic bread maker: Oster
This is a good place to start if you’re going to be making simple sandwich breads like wheat and white. It’s affordable and can bake a loaf in an hour with the Expressbake setting. Keep in mind there is no gluten-free setting on this model.
Best easy-to-use bread maker: Hamilton Beach
This bread maker from Hamilton Beach has 14 settings (including French and gluten-free) and can make loaves weighing from one to two pounds. The express bake setting can make fresh baked bread in under two hours.
Best automatic bread maker: Breville
This bread machine is built for experimenting with an automatic ingredient dispenser, 13 bake settings, as well as three different crust options (light, medium and dark) and the ability to make loaves that vary in size from one to two-and-a-half pounds.
Best compact bread maker: Cuisinart
This compact bread machine won’t take up a ton of room. The bread pan and kneading paddle are removable, which makes cleaning a lot easier. A window in the lid, lit from underneath, lets you peek at your bread’s progress.
Best versatile bread maker: T-Fal
If you’re an avid gluten-free baker, you’ll want to consider the T-Fal ActiBread because it has three distinct settings for gluten-free baked goods: salty (bread), sweet (dessert breads) and cake. It has an intuitive menu and can be programmed up to 15 hours in advance.
Best bread making tools
If you’re just starting to bake bread, you can still produce something toast-worthy before you invest in a bread machine. Here are some kitchen tools that will come in handy, whether you bake bread with the help of an appliance or by hand.
Hamel recommends a digital scale that can tare (subtract the weight of your bowl) and measure in ounces and grams, calling it a critical tool for bread making because “the difference between a high-rising loaf and a brick can be a simple matter of a bit too much flour.”
The KitchenAid Stand Mixer comes with a dough hook for mixing and kneading bread dough. If you’re making a lot of dough or bread regularly, this can help save your forearm muscles.
Cut dough with the stainless blade or lay the blade flat and scrape dough off a cutting board and peel cookies and cinnamon rolls off a cookie sheet.
A nonstick coating helps prevent dough from sticking and a pair of handles makes it easier to get this 9.25-inch by 5.25-inch pan in and out of the oven. It’s the perfect size for making banana bread, pound cake and sandwich loaves.
A quality serrated knife will help slice bread without squishing it. While pastry chef Megan Garrelts uses this knife to chop chocolate for cookies, it can also chop nuts or dried fruit for bread loaves and help you slice up your sourdough.
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