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.