Bread machines are a delicious, easy to use 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 worthy 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 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 thought and 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, it doesn't have to be that complex. Plenty of bread-lovers just toss in the ingredients, walk away, and are perfectly happy with the results they end up with. 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 scale the learning curve, which varies from machine to machine, baking bread becomes second nature.
Most 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 such as 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. 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 great recommendations for any type of bread, and even a breakfast-sandwich maker, to complete your from-scratch breakfast. Or, check out our toaster oven report, for an appliance that can toast, bake, broil and roast.
How we found the best bread makers
In spite of the huge popularity that bread machines enjoy with home cooks, we found a surprising dearth of professional tests and reviews. Most of the expert reviews we saw were individual bloggers with an interest in baking and bread machines. SharonAnne.com was a particularly helpful resource, as she uses her own experience and feedback from her readers in her recommendations for automatic bread machines.
As a result, we relied heavily on owner reviews. Fortunately, there are hundreds and hundreds for the top models of bread makers, and they're 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 is our picks for the best bread machines, plain and fancy.
Best Bread Machines
Zojirushi rules in the world of high-end bread machines
If you really love bread and eat it every day, you'll never regret buying a fully-featured bread machine. If you're just dipping your toes into the bread machine waters, you might prefer to start with a basic bread machine, and if you love bread, but can't tolerate gluten, you'll want to see our discussion of gluten-free bread machines.
There's no better reviewed bread machine than the Zojirushi BB-CEC20 Home Bakery Supreme 2-Pound-Loaf Breadmaker (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 them 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. The three crust-color options include light, medium and dark, and it 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 is a horizontal design and 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.
Zojirushi makes another top-rated bread machine, the Zojirushi BB-PAC20 Home Bakery Virtuoso Breadmaker (Est. $350). It has a few more bells and whistles than its smaller brother, including a clock and stay-cool handles. It also has a gluten-free bread setting. One interesting feature is a heating element in the lid, which is intended to produce a darker and more even crust. In most regards, it draws reviews that are just as good as for the BB-CEC20, and even better feedback for more consistent results with whole wheat and whole grain breads. Owners also love the automatic pause, which allows them to stop the cycle temporarily to shape the loaf.
Smaller families or singles may appreciate the Zojirushi BB-HAC10 Home Bakery 1-Pound-Loaf Programmable Mini Breadmaker (Est. $190), which makes just 1-pound loaves. It has some good features, too, although not as many as its bigger brothers. 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's 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.
Still, the bottom line is that while any of these Zojirushi bread makers could be a worthy addition to your kitchen, depending on your needs, for most families the BB-CEC20 is likely to be the perfect fit.
Elsewhere in this report
Best basic bread machines
Not everyone needs all the bells and whistles of a high-end bread machine. These low- to mid-range bread makers perform very well on a variety of basic breads.
Gluten-free bread machines
Whether you're gluten-intolerant or just trying to eat more healthfully, a gluten-free setting will keep you from being deprived of your morning toast.
We explain what you need to know before you go shopping for a bread machine, and what features you can expect from various types of bread makers.
Links to the expert and user reviews we used to select the top bread machines, along with our assessment of each reviewer's expertise, credibility and helpfulness.