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Cheap Bread Makers Buying Guide

Bread Maker Reviews
Bread Machine Settings

We found four cheap bread makers that rise to the occasion. The crown belongs to the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881 (starting at $50) and the West Bend Hi-Rise 41300 (starting at $79), both for their consistent results and user-friendly operation.

The Oster Expressbake CKSTBRTW20 (starting at $59) and Breadman TR520 (starting at $59) earn second-place medals in this cook-off for strong performance that's offset by a few reports of operational snafus (the former) and carping about design quirks (the latter). One that sinks in users' estimation is the Breadman BK1050S (starting at $88) due to a flawed paddle that reportedly leaves traces of nonstick lining embedded in the dough.

Bread makers run the price gamut from about $50 to well over $200, with the cheap end of the market topping out at $100. Price distinctions aside, all bread machines function pretty much the same way: Human adds ingredients and pushes a few buttons; machine mixes and kneads dough, lets it rise, and bakes it. Users of high-end bread machines such as the Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso (starting at $275) assert that the extra money buys a finished product with superior crust and texture, the ability to customize steps throughout the process, and better build quality. Based on the reviews we read, however, frugal consumers are hearty defenders of their entry-level models, often contending that inexpensive bread makers can easily hold their own in any bread-making match-up. Moreover, folks who follow a gluten-free diet revel in the opportunity to turn out satisfying loaves of bread without forking over too much "dough."

From the consumer's perspective, expectations about cheap bread makers mirror what's required of any kitchen appliance. That is, consumers want a model that's user-friendly, easy to clean, and durable. Additional non-negotiable demands include an end product (that would be the bread) that's flavorful, well shaped, and presents with the proper texture both inside and out. Users also indicate an appreciation for multiple settings for different types of bread (e.g., French, multigrain, quick) as well as one for just plain dough, an invaluable function for items that need hand shaping and oven baking; some also include a jam setting and a few can cook up sauces and bake casseroles. A digital control panel and a delay-start option are standard on the better models, as is the choice of three crust shades. Many also come with an express cycle that shaves at least an hour from what is normally a three-hour-plus process. And all offer some choice of loaf size, which typically ranges from one to two or two-and-a-half pounds.

Two frugal tips: A bread machine is one of those appliances that seem like a good idea at the time, but we read reviews by remorseful purchasers who admit to not using it all that much. If your heart is set on a bread maker but you're not sure how sustained your commitment will be, start with an inexpensive model or, as forum posters at The Fresh Loaf suggest, stalk local tag sales and thrift shops until you find a high-end model for practically nothing. And if you're eyeing a cheap bread maker merely to avoid the mixing and kneading and plan to shape the loaf yourself and bake it in the oven, well then, never mind. A user's guide on eBay suggests opting for a stand mixer instead.

Bread Maker Reviews

Regardless what a bread machine costs, if it doesn't deliver a product worth eating, it's not worth anything at all. Bread maker reviews for our top picks roundly assert that these models are quite satisfactory, so much so that many consumers have deleted commercially baked bread from their weekly shopping lists. Reviewers say they enjoy the process and the finished product and consider these bread machines to be user friendly and reliable. Still, we came across a few reviews for each of our preferred choices that report problems -- e.g., dough doesn't rise, loaves are tough or misshapen, nonstick coating peels, components give out after minimal use -- but the vast majority of consumers crow about the value and the good eating these small appliances provide.

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Breads.

Bread maker reviews for our top picks often include words such as "delicious," "yummy," "flavorful," and "heavenly" when describing the baked goodies and accompanying aromas. Many consumers indicate they use their bread machines at least once a week, mostly for loaves but also for pizza dough, rolls, quick breads, and the like. Most often they seem to rely on the manual/recipe book as a guide and stress the importance of following the instructions to a T; other reviews, however, allow that some experimentation with the rising agent (active dry yeast vs. bread machine yeast), the proportions, and the crust settings may be necessary. For more ideas and trouble-shooting tips on your way to bread nirvana, turn to the Internet. King Arthur Flour, for example, offers dozens of bread machine recipes, helpful hints, and FAQs; many manufacturers post helpful information, as well.

The West Bend Hi-Rise 41300 (starting at $79) is a favored appliance in many households, according to bread maker reviews at sites such as Target. Scores of consumers praise the light and airy loaves -- including a whole wheat specimen -- and one post at Bed Bath & Beyond tells of grinding wheat at home for the ultimate in perfection. Another clear winner with consumers is the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881 (starting at $50), a model that reviews at Walmart insist produces excellent results, be it a loaf of white, buttermilk oatmeal (user tip: toast the oatmeal first), one of the gluten-free varieties, or a simple pizza dough.

The tall and wide shape of the loaves produced by the Oster Expressbake CKSTBRTW20 (starting at $59) gives some consumers pause, according to reviews, but the taste and texture of the bread easily compensates. One veteran bread machine user declares at Amazon that the Oster Expressbake beats out other models and is the proximate cause of newly-added poundage, while another reports turning out nearly three dozen loaves over the course of two months. The consensus among reviews of the Breadman TR520 (starting at $59) is likewise positive. Again at Amazon consumers write that the loaves are consistent and tasty, with gluten-free and quick breads hitting the near-perfect mark.

Another bread machine we researched, the Cuisinart CBK-100 (starting at $100), merits consideration if a price point at the very top of the Cheapism range isn't a deterrent. This model finds favor with reviewers at Overstock and Zappos where bread maker reviews say it mixes the ingredients thoroughly and yields beautifully shaped loaves, excellent pizza dough, and appropriately soft challah (egg bread). One consumer writes of making bread daily for a hungry family of five and another reports that unsuccessful attempts at using yeast are now relegated to history.

Experience with the Breadman BK1050S (starting at $88) is mixed. Some bread maker reviews describe regular and gluten-free loaves as moist with a crispy crust, but others gripe about poorly mixed dough and hard and misshapen loaves. The greatest source of displeasure, though, and the reason this model falls flat, concerns what seems to be a design flaw. Comments posted at Amazon and Target rail about a mixing/kneading paddle that scrapes the bottom of the pan and incorporates bits of nonstick coating into the dough.

Ease of Use.

The best bread makers are user friendly, especially compared to the do-it-by-hand alternative. Just add the ingredients in the order specified, choose the appropriate setting, and walk away until the bread is done. (User tip: It's a good idea to check in while the dough is mixing -- scraping down the sides is sometimes necessary.) Some models let you pause the cycle to add fruit or nuts and some users prefer to remove the dough after the last rising for shaping and a spin in the oven.

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Best bread makers like the West Bend Hi-Rise 41300 is "idiot-proof," as one review notes at Bed Bath & Beyond. Although we came across an occasional comment about confusing or misleading instructions in owners' manuals, the general consensus seems to be that these small appliances are effort-saving marvels.

One irritant that frequently popped up in reviews of the Breadman TR520 is the control panel's white-on-yellow labeling, which users note is difficult to read; one consumer resolved the problem by overwriting the letters with a Sharpie. The small black-on-grey menu bar on the Breadman BK1050s poses a similar challenge for those with diminished eyesight, according to a post at Target. On the other hand, the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881 boasts a large back-lit display that users say is easy to see at a glance.

Clean up is a relatively quick affair with these bread machines. All the models we researched come with nonstick loaf pans, although we read several reports about struggling to remove the baked loaves and residue left on the sides. The pan and paddle on the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881 and Cuisinart CBK-100 are dishwasher safe.

One problem common among even the best bread makers, at least in this price range, is the paddle that remains in the loaf through the baking cycle. Numerous reviews decry the need to dig out the paddle and the unsightly gash that mars an otherwise flawless slice of bread. (User tip: Grease the paddle with a spot of oil before starting.) An innovative collapsible paddle on the Breadman BK1050S was designed to forestall this predicament, but reviews report a number of functional failures; e.g., the paddle doesn't mix the dough properly, it collapses during mixing and/or kneading, it doesn't retract when it should, and it scrapes the bottom of the pan. The Cuisinart CBK-100 short-circuits the paddle dilemma with an alert to remove it from the dough before the last rise; some reviewers, however, insist this is easier said than done. (User reminder: Bread dough is sticky.)

Bread Makers Size.

Both small and large households can make use of a bread machine. Worthy contenders offer at least two options for loaf size, with three (1, 1.5, and 2 pounds) being most typical. Among the best bread makers we researched, only the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881 limits the choice to just two sizes (1.5 and 2 pounds) while the West Bend Hi-Rise adds a fourth, a 2.5 pounder, to the mix.

One thing these small appliances are not is small. Whether square or rectangular -- or, in bread maker parlance, vertical or horizontal -- the best bread makers take up lots of space on the counter. For example, the West Bend 41300 extends almost 16 inches from front to back, 10.3 inches across, and 12 inches up; the Oster Expressbake CKSTBRTW20 measures about 12 inches long and 12 inches wide and stands nearly 14 inches tall. Families big on sandwiches might be most satisfied with a horizontal bread maker such as the West Bend 41300, which happens to boast a sandwich cycle that some consumers on Amazon say yields a softer and thinner crust.

Bread Makers Durability.

Not surprisingly, most reviews of the best bread makers are posted for units that are relatively new. A noticeable number happen to contain paeans to the best bread makers of yore, attesting to a life span that sometimes surpassed 10 years. For the current crop, we found few reports of an early demise. A handful of reviewers, however, insist that the new machines seem flimsy compared to their predecessors.

Bread Machine Settings

The features that show up in bread machine settings at the budget end of the market are fairly standard: multiple options for bread type and crust shade, different loaf-size possibilities, and a start-to-finish cycle that takes well over three hours (the presence of an express cycle on some models speeds things up considerably). This is not a product category graced with frills on budget models.

Settings and Functions.

Inexpensive bread machines are more than one-trick ponies. They can produce a range of bread types using scores of recipes and can also turn out dough for pizza, soft pretzels, rolls, pita, bagels, and other bread products that call for hand shaping. Most (not the Breadman TR520, however) also yield up jams; the Oster Expressbake CKSTBRTW20 prepares pasta dough; and the top-of-the-cheap-range Cuisinart CBK-100 manages sauces, as well.

Bread machine settings include electronically-controlled functions that vary by model. Features such as basic, French, multigrain, sweet, quick, and express (more on this one below) are typical; less common are packaged mix and low-carb. Only a few entry-level models boast a specific gluten-free setting -- the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881 and Cuisinart CBK-100 among them -- although owner's manuals invariably provide recipes for gluten-free baking. Features on upmarket models are more likely to include custom settings that afford more control over the entire process. The budget West Bend Hi-Rise 41300, however, comes close. Its "homemade" setting lets users set preferences for kneading, rising, baking, and keeping the bread warm.

For the models we researched, the number of bread machine settings range from a low of eight on the Breadman TR520 to a high of 14 on the Breadman BK1050S. All these bread makers offer a choice of light, medium, or dark crust, although as some reviewers point out, tweaking the ingredients in the original recipe also affects the appearance and heaviness of the crust. Note that the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881, Breadman TR520, and Cuisinart CBK-100 feature an add-in alert for ingredients such as fruits or nuts; the Breadman BK1050S handles this step automatically.

Timing.

Bread making is a lengthy affair whether you go about it the old fashioned way or get an assist from a modern machine. From start to finish, figure on more than three hours. Some feature a short-cut with a rapid, or express, cycle. The Oster Expressbake CKSTBRTW20 offers three fast settings: express for a 1.5-pound loaf and express for a two-pound loaf, which both run just 58 minutes; and quick for a two-pound loaf, which takes about an hour and three-quarters. The Cuisinart CBK-100, Breadman TR520, West Bend Hi-Rise 41300, and Hamilton Beach 29881 also come with express cycles. But be forewarned -- haste has its price. Oster notes in the manual that breads made on the express cycle are denser and finish with a darker crust.

Delay-start is another welcome bread machine setting. All the models we researched let users add the ingredients and set the machine to turn on hours later. The Breadman 1050S boasts the longest time delay at 15 hours; the Breadman TR520, Oster Expressbake CKSTBRTW20, and Cuisinart CBK-100 include a 13-hour delay; and the West Bend Hi-Rise 41300 and Hamilton Beach HomeBaker offer a 12-hour delay.

Paddles.

Most entry-level bread makers use one paddle to mix and knead the dough. Although two paddles are arguably better than one, the addition of a second is usually reserved for horizontal models like the West Bend Hi-Rise and high-end models like the Zojirushi Virtuoso. Experts at Bread Machine Digest recommend a two-paddle appliance if you plan to make a lot of dense, wholegrain breads. A few bread machines, such as the Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881, come with an extra paddle that proves handy in case the first is sitting in the dishwasher.



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In this review:
  1. Best Cheap Bread Makers
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