If you and your family enjoy a variety of bread and dough products on a regular basis, it is in your best interest to purchase a bread machine for your home. If you agree but aren’t sure where to start, there are a few things to know before starting your search!
Bread makers aren’t too complicated, but there are certain features that are must-haves, some that are nice to have, and others that can expand the usefulness of the appliance. We’ll discuss the different types of bread makers before going over how to choose the best bread maker for you. No matter what type of bread your carb cravings are demanding, the right bread machine makes homemade baking easy and enjoyable.
Types of Bread Machines
Vertical Bread Machines
Vertical bread machines were the first type of bread machine. The loaves they produce are a bit taller and more awkwardly shaped. The heating element is located at the bottom of the bread machine, so sometimes loaves may cook unevenly. The awkward shape of the finished loaf of bread means they aren’t great for sandwich bread, and you may need to pre-cut your slices if you’re going to be toasting them. Another flaw of this style bread machine is that the crust is usually pretty pale with a fairly dark bottom. Unfortunately, this discrepancy in colour is unavoidable in vertical bread makers.
There are some flaws to keep in mind, but there are pluses to using this type of bread maker. They are more affordable than horizontal models, are ideal for singles and couples as well as households that don’t consume too much bread since they make smaller loaves, and they take up less space on your countertop.
Horizontal Bread Makers
Horizontal bread makers are the newer style of bread machine. They tend to be more expensive than vertical bread makers, but there is a good reason for it. They can make larger loaves, and they produce loaves that are most similar to the standard bread cooked in square pans. Because the bread pan is longer, the heat circulates better to the top of the loaf for consistent colour and evenly baked bread.
However, horizontal bread makers aren’t perfect. Since they use horizontal bread pans, the dough has much more wiggle room to move around. In machines with two kneading paddles, this isn’t an issue, but models that use a single kneading paddle are more likely to produce oddly shaped loaves if the bread gets stuck in one side of the pan and doesn’t cook uniformly.
Features of the Best Bread Machines to Look Out For
Bread machines with pre-programmed settings are the way to go. Especially for beginners to the homemade bread-making process, settings for the different types of bread you’ll be baking are a godsend. These pre-programmed settings usually cover every bread type you could want, including:
- White bread
- Whole wheat bread
- Whole grain bread
- French Bread
- Gluten-free bread
- Sourdough bread (with a Sourdough starter) and sweet bread
- Salt-free bread
- Artisan bread
- Vegan bread
- and more!
These automatic programs adjust the cook settings of the baking process to account for the different ingredients and variables of all bread types. They are compatible with various loaf sizes and usually include a manual setting for a custom loaf with different mix-ins and ingredients of your personal recipe.
Additional Cook Programs
Although the main reason people buy a bread machine is for baking bread, that’s not all they can do. Most bread makers come with additional cook programs for things like making jam, mixing pizza dough or other types of dough, and even cake. These programs will adjust the baking cycle, proofing process, and mixing time for various other recipes. These functions not only save you time but save you significant money by preventing the need to purchase other gadgets and kitchen appliances for other non-bread recipes.
These additional preset functions add versatility to the bread machine and expand its usefulness in your kitchen. Not all breadmakers will offer the same variety of extra cook programs, but the more popular brands like Zojirushi, Breville, Panasonic, Oster, and Cuisinart are pretty much guaranteed to have at least a few extra programs for home bakers to utilize. All cook programs will be easily managed on an LCD screen.
Express Bake Function
An express bake or rapid bake function can be helpful if you want to make a fresh loaf of bread without the extended waiting period. Though it usually works for more basic bread like white or whole wheat, many models will make a one-pound or two-pound loaf in under 45-60 minutes from mixing to baking. Models that use convection technology will have faster express bake functions than others without the most recent technology.
The delayed start feature on bread makers is an essential tool for busy parents and professionals who want fresh bread on their own schedule. This feature allows you to add in the ingredients for your bread but delay the cook cycle so that the bread will be warm and ready when you’re ready to eat it. The ability to prep your own bread ahead of time makes mealtimes streamlined and chaos-free, which we could all use a little bit more of.
Keep Warm Function
The keep-warm function is an essential feature if you want flexibility in timing. This feature guarantees fresh bread even if you can’t gobble it up right away. The keep-warm timer varies from model to model, but you can usually expect 30-90 minutes before the timer shuts off. Usually, you’ll hear a beep when it shuts off to let you know the loaf is ready and getting colder by the minute.
Loaf Size Options
Unlike the manual method of using stand mixers and ovens, bread makers can create precise, perfectly-sized loaves of bread. The most common options are a one-pound loaf and a two-pound loaf, though some models also include half sizes. Variable sizes are convenient for households that have varying bread needs or changing family sizes. With multiple size options, you’ll be able to bake the perfect amount of bread without waste or multiple cook cycles.
Every person likes their bread a certain way. Some cut their crusts off while others love their bread with a super crusty crunchy exterior. Luckily, bread machines allow you to customize the colour of your crust from pale to dark so that you get the right amount of crunch for every member of the family. There are usually 3 options to choose from to suit every preference.
Not all bread makers have a viewing window, but they can be useful for entertaining youngsters and monitoring the baking process. It is certainly not a necessary feature, but it can be fun to watch your homemade bread baking.
The kneading paddles are one of the most important parts of a bread maker. Some models only have one, but horizontal bread machines that are worth their weight in gold will have two to ensure evenly cooked uniform-looking loaves. Vertical machines do very well with one paddle. Since the blade will be touching the ingredients and baked in the bread while it cooks, it’s important that it can be removed to be fully washed between loaves.
The best bread machines will have a built-in dispenser for mix-ins like dried fruits, chocolate, nuts, seeds, and more. An automatic dispenser adds the mixins at the right time during the baking cycle without any help from you. Not only is this more convenient for you, but it also ensures a perfect result.
Beyond a non-stick loaf pan and kneading paddle, there are a few other accessories that can come in handy when baking bread at home. A recipe book is usually included for getting you started that includes detailed instructions for home baking, from the type of flour to use in different bread types to how to use a gluten-free setting. Many bread machines will also include a measuring cup and spoon for getting the right amount of ingredients. Your bread machine should also come with a stainless steel bread hook for removing the cooked loaf from the bread maker. If your bread machine doesn’t include all the accessories you need, it is easy to find them on Amazon.
Criteria to Consider When Choosing a Bread Maker
Bread makers vary in price greatly. The most affordable options may be as low as $60 while top models such as the Zojirushi home bakery Virtuoso can exceed $300. To set your budget, you should consider how often you’ll use the bread machine, how much bread you eat, what features and settings you want, and the type of bread you want to make.
To make a bread machine more valuable, its versatility should include additional cook programs, extra preset functions for bread types, a good-sized accessory kit, and a larger bread pan to accommodate bigger loaves. The more versatile the bread machine, the more you can expect to pay, but the more useful it will be.
Most bread machines will have a warranty period of 1-3 years depending on the brand and price of the model you choose. Bread machines are generally high-quality appliances that won’t experience too much wear and tear when used properly, so a shorter warranty isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Of course, a longer warranty period will ensure your money is protected in case anything does go wrong.