We found two machines that are easy to use and make a variety of consistent, tasty loaves.
Published Dec. 17, 2021. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 23: Thanksgiving for a Small Group
While some might thumb their noses at the idea of a machine taking over the time-honored process of making bread by hand, bread machines can produce a variety of stellar loaves: white bread, sweet bread, dense and chewy rye, babka swirled with chocolate, and more. They are great for those who love freshly baked bread but don't have the time or energy to devote to hand-formed boules. Of the models we looked at, three stood out. The Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme Breadmaker was easy to use and consistently baked gorgeous, even-crumbed loaves of bread. Its higher-end counterpart, the Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus Breadmaker, also baked impressive loaves, though the control panel was slightly less intuitive. Our Best Buy, the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 2 Lb. Breadmaker, was a great, less expensive option that also made consistently good bread.
At its most basic, a bread machine automates the process of baking a loaf of bread. Just add the ingredients in the order called for in the recipe, pick your settings and preprogrammed cycle, and press “start.” A few hours later, a beautiful loaf of bread emerges.
The machine takes care of the mixing and kneading and also has timed rest and “punch-down” intervals that vary depending on the type of bread. In addition, you can select your desired crust shade: light, medium, or dark. The most basic loaves take about 3 hours to make, from start to finish.
All the machines we tested had the ability to make 2-pound loaves, though some also had options for other bread sizes, ranging from 1- to 2.5-pound loaves. Most store-bought bread comes in 1-pound loaves, but we found that most bread machines came in bigger sizes. All the bread machines had preprogrammed cycles, including ones for baking basic white and wheat breads, and beepers that signaled when it was time to add any mix-ins such as nuts and/or dried fruits. One machine we tested featured an automatic nut and fruit dispenser that added the mix-ins to the dough at the appropriate time.
We made a variety of breads in each machine: basic white bread from each machine’s recipe booklet, our recipe for basic wheat bread for bread machines, and our recipe for sweet bread with almonds and dried cherries for bread machines. After the first few rounds of bread making, we did some further baking in our favorite machines.
Consistent results turned out to be the key factor that separated great bread machines from OK ones. We were especially impressed by the two Zojirushi bread machines, whose loaves were consistently picture-perfect. They had airy but sturdy interior crumbs and were the perfect shape...
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