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- Buying Guide: The Best Bread Machines For You
Buying Guide: The Best Bread Machines For YouBuying Guide: The Best Bread Machines For You
Choose the Best Bread Machine for Fresh Bread Anytime
Bread Machine Buying Guide
We love the smell and taste of a crusty, fresh-from-the-oven loaf of homemade bread, but we rarely have the time to make it. That's why we love our bread machines--we get all the joys of bread making without the wait (and kneading). Learning how to choose a bread machine is fun and easy, once you understand the programs, sizes and features. We've compiled some hints and tips in this bread machine buying guide that should help you in your search.
How Does a Bread Machine Work?
Put simply, a bread machine is a mixer, proofer and oven in one convenient small appliance. You simply measure your ingredients and add them all into the baking pan, and the machine does the kneading, rising and baking for you with no further effort on your part. There are only three parts to a bread machine--the machine, the baking pan and a paddle. The paddle (or paddles) sits in the bottom of the baking pan. The removable baking pan locks into the machine and is automatically connected to a motor which spins the paddle. Heating elements inside the machine handle the rising and baking.
Why Use a Bread Machine?
Top-rated bread machines have become so popular because they are the ultimate in convenience. You can make a fresh, hot loaf of bread with only 10 minutes or less of effort on your part. When the bread's done, there's almost no mess to clean up. Bread machines are also very consistent. Hand kneading, variable rising temperatures and oven hot spots can all affect the flavor and texture of your homemade breads. Top-rated bread machines provide a reliable result every time. You don't sacrifice creativity, either--the best bread machines allow for as much variety as hand-kneaded doughs. Most machines come with a "dough" setting that stops the process when the dough has reached its final rise, at which point you can remove it and use it for bread and pizza baking projects: form it as pizza dough, rolls or hand-shaped artisan loaves and continue the baking in your oven.
How to Choose a Bread Machine
Learning how to choose a bread machine and then doing the bread machine comparison shopping takes a bit of thought. There are dozens of bread machines on the market, and each offers unique benefits. The best way to choose one is to understand the various features and find a bread maker that offers the combination you want. The three most important aspects to consider before purchasing:
Bread machines are generally available in three main sizes: those that produce loaves weighing 1 pound, 1.5 pounds and 2 pounds. We recommend the larger sizes, as most bread makers will let you scale recipes down. As you learn how to choose a bread machine, keep in mind that one with adjustable size settings might be your best option.
Bread machine uses vary, and the more versatility your machine offers, the more you're likely to use it. Machines with "Dough" or "Knead Only" settings let you remove the proofed dough for hand-shaping artisan breads or for making pizza and pasta. "Bake Only" settings let you pour in a batter to bake treats like banana or zucchini breads that you'd normally bake in a loaf pan. Programmable models include automatic settings for popular styles of bread, and they automatically adjust kneading, proofing and baking settings for various types of bread. Some also have cake settings, or settings specifically for gluten-free, sweet or whole-wheat breads. When considering a machine's functions, think about how often you're likely to use the various settings, since many bread makers are priced according to their versatility.
Bread makers come in two general styles: Upright or horizontal. Regardless of which direction the loaf is formed, you will encounter the one downside to bread machines: the hole that the kneading paddle leaves in the loaf. In vertical (upright) machines, the hole will be in the heel of the loaf. In horizontal machines, it will be on the underside. Horizontal loaves are somewhat easier to slice, and many people think they look nicer because they have a similar shape to sandwich bread. We find that orientation is really a matter of personal aesthetics, since the bread tastes great once lavished with butter and that the hole is easy to work around.
Once you've narrowed down the size, versatility settings and orientation you prefer, you can start to consider some of the less crucial convenience features offered by various bread makers. These include:
- Digital Timers: Machines with timers can be programmed to bake bread up to 13 hours in advance. This is a fairly common feature, and lets you set yourself up to come home to fresh bread after a day of work.
- Rapid-Bake: Another handy convenience feature, a rapid-bake setting lets you speed up the process to less than an hour. Bread made on these settings is not quite as fine, but it is fast and fresh!
- Pre-programmed Recipes: This time-saving feature lets you program in a recipe, and your machine will remember the settings.
- Convection: Just like a convection oven, a bread maker's convection setting gives you a consistent loaf color and a crispier crust. Models with a convection setting tend to a little pricier, but we think the results are well worth it.
- Ingredient Dispenser: This is a handy feature. Rather than waiting for a buzzer to tell you when it's time to add herbs, cheese, nuts or other extra ingredients, some bread makers offer a compartment that will automatically add the ingredients at the right time.
When bread machine comparison shopping, you should also pay attention to the machine itself. Look for a sturdy base--bread makers bounce around quite a bit, and you want one with non-slip rubber feet to prevent it from sliding off the counter. The construction should be strong, with solid hinges on the lid. A few other key things to look for are:
- Microprocessors: The best bread machines have microprocessors to ensure even cooking. Unlike heating elements, microprocessors can make temperature adjustments while the bread is baking for more consistent results.
- Baking Pan: Look for a removable nonstick baking pan with sturdy handles for the best results.
- Kneading Paddles: Bread machines come with either one or two kneading blades or paddles. Many bakers believe two paddles produce better results, and the price difference is small enough to warrant going for dual paddles if you can.
- Digital Displays: Most top-rated bread makers have LCD digital displays. Look for one that's clear and easy to read.
- Viewing Windows: These are unnecessary, but fun. This feature is purely a personal choice.
- Top-Loading: Most bread makers load from the top. As it is the most convenient style, we wouldn't recommend any other type.
- Power Interruption Protection: This feature is useful if you live in an area with frequent power outages. It lets the machine remember where it was in the process and restarts there when the power returns.
As with any other major purchase, learning how to choose a bread machine takes a little bit of time and a good deal of research. With the knowledge of which features are important to you, it's easy to buy a bread machine that meets your needs. No matter which features you choose, you'll thank yourself for it as soon as the first slice of piping hot, delicious bread slathered with butter finds its way into your heart.
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