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Bread Machines

Published March 2015

How we tested

When bread machines debuted in the late 1980s, their appeal was obvious: Consumers who wanted fresh bread but didn’t have time to make it could simply add the ingredients in order (liquids first, followed by dry ingredients, and then yeast), push a button, and come back a few hours later to the finished product. But there were considerable drawbacks, too—namely their space-hogging footprints and sky-high prices (some approached $400)—that eventually caused bread machines to fall out of favor. Add to that the increased availability of good-quality bread in bakeries and even supermarkets, and it’s no wonder that you’re more likely to find these appliances at yard sales than on kitchen counters.

Recently, however, manufacturers have answered back with a new generation of smaller, somewhat cheaper bread machines. Many are even taking advantage of the growing gluten-free movement by including gluten-free settings (these breads typically require longer kneading times). Persuaded that the category deserved a second look, we rounded up five models across a range of sizes and price points (from $99 to $279.95). We baked white, whole-wheat, cinnamon-raisin, and gluten-free sandwich loaves in each, using both our own recipes and those included with each machine.

But the news wasn’t good. While a few machines produced loaves with a uniform crumb, all the breads emerged overbrowned and stiff on the sides, with pallid, squishy tops. The bottom of each loaf was punctured by at least one large hole where the mixing paddle(s) remained during baking (the only way to avoid this is to remove the paddles after the mixing cycle), and the gluten-free loaves were universal failures—“squat,” “doughy,” and “mushy,” testers reported—whether we used our recipes or those provided by the manufacturer. The nonstick coating on the paddle of one model rubbed off into the dough, creating inedible black spots. Some models suffered mechanical flaws, too: The large body of one machine shook noisily on its unsteady feet as it mixed, while the smaller of the two models made by the same manufacturer started smoking when its mixing paddle sprayed flour on the heating element when we tried to make a full-size loaf (it only fits its own scaled-down recipes).

Given those defects, we can’t fully recommend any of the models. However, if you want the convenience of a bread machine despite the flaws in the loaves—and have the cash and counter space to spare—one microwave-size model was the best of the bunch. Its dual mixing paddles (other machines had only one) produced a consistently uniform crumb in every loaf we made. Alternatively, one compact model turned out passable loaves but is fussy to operate.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*