It’s a lot like buying a computer or a wireless mobile phone. You need to think about what you want to do, and how you want to do it.
Some people have owned many bread machines, others are thinking about buying one for the first time. The question is the same every time? Which one will be best for me and the best for the money. It’s hard to know just looking at them lined up on a shelf at the store. They mostly look the same and the only differentiation seems to be the price or what’s on sale. Here’s how to sort out your options and make the best choice.
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Assess Your Needs
To begin with, what kind of bread do you like to make? That’s a tough question if this is your first machine, but think about your needs. Do like white bread and just want the taste and texture of home baked? Do you think you’ll want to make dessert breads with fruit and nuts? Do you or anyone you know have Celiac disease and would prefer a gluten free bread? If so, there are bread machines that are fairly basic, some have automatic fruit and nut dispensers, and many have a Gluten Free cycle as one of their settings. Keep those factors in mind as you evaluate machines and make sure it has the features you’ll need.
How Often Do You Bake?
Another set of questions has to do with bread baking frequency. Are you a one loaf a week baker, or do you bake 2 or 3 loaves a week? Some people bake a loaf everyday and sometimes twice a day. The more you bake, the more durable you’ll want your machine to be. Look at customer reviews and assess the dependability and durability of various machines. The sturdier bread machines tend to be more expensive, but if you are going to bake everyday it will pay for itself fairly quickly.
Is Loaf Shape Important to You?
Most bread machines produce a tall, vertical loaf. Many people are fine with this configuration but some are disappointed that it does not have the same shape as bread they might buy at the grocery store or a bakery. If you prefer a traditional bread shape Zojirushi manufactures bread machines with an elongated bread pan that produces a horizontal loaf. Of course you could always cut a vertical loaf down the middle and produce two, small horizontal loaves but that’s up to you.
Kneading Paddles and the Holes they Leave in the Bottom of a Loaf
It’s a fact of bread machine baking. Most machines leave a hole in the bottom of a loaf as a result of the kneading paddle in the bottom of the bread pan. Many people simply accept this, but some don’t like it. If you’re bothered by the kneading paddle holes there are machines that offer collapsible kneading paddles that automatically fold up after the kneading cycle to leave a smaller hole. You could always remove the paddle after the kneading cycle or simply get over it. If holes in the bottom of the bread are a big issue look for machines like some models made by Breadman which feature the folding paddle.
Teflon or not Teflon?
Most bread pans have a non-stick coating made out of Teflon. Very few manufacturers clearly identify this type of coating. Some call the Teflon coating by it’s industry name: “Diamond Flourine.” If Teflon is a significant issue you may be out of luck. This seems to be the non-stick coating of choice for most bread machines.
Bread machines typically range in price from $100 to $300 USD. What drives the price up is typically the number of bread cycle options, features and the general quality of construction. Options that raise the price include numerous bread cycle settings, viewing windows in the lid, automatic hoppers for fruits and nuts or yeast that add those ingredients at a specific time, two kneading paddles or collapsible kneading paddles, and cosmetic features such as color/stainless steel/and size. Don’t assume that more expensive is automatically better. It’s a standard rule of engineering that the more complex the technology, the more likely something will fail. If you want all of those features, go for it. If you don’t need them don’t pay the extra money.
The Bottom Line
Most bread machines regardless of price and features do a very good job of baking homemade loaves of bread. If this is your first machine you might want to start simply and inexpensively. If you’re looking for an upgrade evaluate what you have done and want to do very carefully. Either way you’ll most likely find success and enjoy your new bread machine.