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Buying Guide: The Best Bread Machines For You

The authors of The New Cooks' Catalogue certainly know what to look for when choosing cooking equipment. These leading culinary experts have been evaluating cooking equipment for over 25 years. The following information is what they consider important when selecting a bread machine.

All Bread Machines »

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What to Look For

  • Don't be tempted by machines that boast fast kneading and baking cycles. The longer the cycle, the better the bread is likely to be.
  • A pan with a traditional horizontal shape yields loaves with a superior texture. Plus they're easier to slice.
  • A timer that can be set to start the machine's cycle while you work or as you sleep is convenient.

More information

For cooks who lack the skill, time or enthusiasm to bake bread using traditional methods, a bread machine can provide fresh aromatic loaves that rival many available in a supermarket.

History

Invented in Japan, the bread machine came to the United States in 1987, where it was initially viewed as a novelty that would never fly. To the astonishment of the appliance industry and food professionals, however, American consumers embraced bread machines.

Never mind that most of the loaves they produced were not quite as good as the store-bought kind. They enabled time-pressed cooks to bake the most basic, yet most time-consuming and difficult-to-make, food by simply measuring ingredients, adding them to the machine, and pressing a button. For those who do not have ready access to a good bakery, a bread machine will provide loaves made without chemical additives and with nutritional boosters like wheat germ and nonfat dry milk.

Features & Performance

There are wide discrepancies in performance among the various models. The best ones turn out a credible loaf that can compete with many from the supermarket, if not the artisan's bakery. While bread machines come with a laundry list of special features--everything from beeps indicating it’s time to add raisins and nuts, to crust-color settings, to jam and cake cycles--your most important consideration should be the quality of the finished product, and that’s hard to tell from reading the box.

For the most part, we’ve found that those with pans in a traditional horizontal shape bake loaves with a better texture, not to mention that they’re easier to slice. You may be tempted to choose one that’s speedy--some machines now have programs that make a loaf in one hour from start to finish--but the longer the cycle, the better the bread is likely to be. All have timers (which can be set to work while you sleep) and dough cycles, so the machine can do the mixing, kneading, and first rise before you shape the dough and bake it in a conventional oven.

Many excellent time-pressed bakers take advantage of the dough cycle of their bread machine. It can knead dough more thoroughly and efficiently than a stand mixer or a by hand. If a good recipe is followed and the bread is baked in a traditional pan and oven, few would be able to tell that the lion’s share of the work was done by a bread machine.

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