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Cheap Bread Makers Buying Guide

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.

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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.

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