Bread baking for less dough
Bread making has been a British tradition since the Middle Ages, but its reputation has been sullied by mass production, dubious additives and Mother's Pride.
Rest assured there'll be no more of those kind of shoddy, dough-based results when you have a bread maker, though. When they work well, it really is as simple as chucking in a load of ingredients and then going away to do something more productive. There's no kneading, no stirring, no pouring in of mixed seeds: the best breadmakers do it for you.
They can have health benefits, as well: a number of our selections here have gluten-free modes. And weirdly, you can usually use them to make jam, giving you an entire breakfast from one device.
With fresh, healthy loaves on demand and the waft of a boulangerie in the T3 test room, we tried out six of the best baking 'bots to discovered the ultimate all-in-one miniature bakery.
Stop loafing about, it's time to meet your (bread) makers…
If there's one brand that's pushing the ancient science of machine bread making forward, it's Panasonic. This latest model comes with more features than ever, including a two-stage, 'rustic sourdough' function.
We tried our hand at this most artisan of bread-types and some of the other 33 programs on offer.
It's an unusually tall machine because built into the hinged lid are not one, but two dispensing compartments, one for nuts and seeds and another for yeast. The latter innovation ensures the active ingredient is timed for maximum effect. That means there's no room for a window, through which to peer at your dough, but it seems a sacrifice worth making for the increased reliability.
This continuity also owes something to the sensors that monitor the temperature both inside and outside of the machine. In a cold kitchen, the initial rising stage is extended to get your ingredients up to speed before the baking stage begins and ensure it finishes bang on time with the same results as in a hot kitchen.
The other unique feature is the rustic sourdough cycle. That's the especially tasty artisan loaf that requires a fermented dough starter to rise. With the SD-ZB2512, you get two plastic containers in which to mix your yogurt and yeast starters and a setting that heats them (without stirring) in the tubes before storing in a fridge overnight ready for baking the following day.
With no kitchen skills whatsoever, we managed to turn out a plump and satisfying sourdough.It feels like real baking, albeit with a machine to take care of the boring bit.
Alternatively, if you're buying a bread maker for the convenience and that still sounds like harder work than you can deal with, the Basic Rapid Bake setting is for you. Simply load up the ingredients, press 'go' and your loaf will be ready in 1hour and 55 minutes
In short, we suggest you buy this breadmaker. There are, however, other options…
T3 rating 5 stars
£150 | John Lewis
This handsome bread maker feels exceptionally well made with its metal and glass construction and detachable lid. There's a window to check your bread's progress and an automatic dispenser to dump nuts, seeds or dried fruit into the mix at the appropriate time.
Gluten-free bread is notoriously tricky to bake, but our first effort was a complete success using the Kenwood's GF-mode. There are 20 modes to choose from in all, including cakes, pizza dough and jam.
As is often the case with bread makers, the detachable paddle nearly always ends up stuck in your loaf, leaving a hole when you fish it out, unless you remember to remove it after the kneading stage.
In all other respects, this is a brilliant breadmaker that we've noticed is often generously discounted. Last time we checked it was an absolute steal at 90 quid, via the link below…
T3 rating5 stars
£140 | Amazon
Cuisinart's brushed steel bread maker looks like a premium machine and it includes refinements such as a nut dispenser, and convection air circulation for better baking.
The 12 preset programmes include a gluten-free mode and there's a 13-hour delay function for scheduling a timely bake.
The CBK-250 doesn't come with any accessories, but you do get an excellent recipe book, from which we made a very presentable gluten-free cake and a decent loaf. Being impatient, we baked the bread on 'ultra-fast mode' in one hour 24 minutes and still managed a satisfying result.
The only downside here is the noise of the fan. Even in 'keep warm' mode, it was the noisiest machine in our test.
T3 rating4 stars
£130 | Amazon
Russell Hobbs 18036 Fast Bake
It looks like absolute arse, but this inexpensive blob of plastic turns out perfectly acceptable loaves of regular and gluten-free bread, and made us a perfect cake too.
It's a compact, no-frills thing without a nut dispenser or bundled accessories, but the pan is the same volume as the other machines, which just means your loaf rises right up to the especially large viewing peephole.
There are only 12 preset modes, but they include a gluten-free cycle, which worked very well for us, and a record-breaking 55-minute rapid bake mode, which was perhaps a bit rushed, giving doughy results.
The manual is a mere pamphlet, but it's surprisingly well written and full of tips and great recipes. Sure, it's ugly, but this Russell Hobbs is the only breadmaker that actually fits in a cupboard and we have no hesitation in recommending it as a budget best buy - it's currently just 45 quid on Amazon!
T3 rating 4 stars
£60 | Amazon
Lakeland Breadmaker Plus
Many breadmakers just have the function to create regular loaves; this baby goes the extra step though, letting you shape your dough into mini baguettes. Presets let you easily whip up breads, cakes and dough and this can all be done on a timer – so you just set it off at night and you'll wake up to that lovely aroma of baked bread in the morning.
Another frankly ingenious addition is the removable scale, which easily slides into the top of the machine and means it'll always be on hand when you need to weigh out the ingredients. A solid, premium breadmaker, and not a bad looker as such devices go.
T3 rating 4 stars
£130 | Lakeland
Sage by Heston Blumenthal Custom Loaf
As usual, this Heston-approved breadmaker both looks better than the competition, costs somewhat more, and is that bit more 'serious' - as befits a product from the UK's slaphead food scientist in chief.
Rather than being a time-saving toy, we can glean that this machine is a tool for the keen baker who wants to perfect their own artisan loaves.
So there's a manual override of the automatic preset baking cycles, and instead of a recipe book, you're given blank spaces in the instruction manual to fill in your own 'custom recipe charts'.We found said manual heavy going, but if you read it cover to cover, you'll come away with some understanding of the art of bread making, which isn't something you can say about the Russell Hobbs.
Unfortunately, our attempts at actual breadmaking with it were a disaster. Given the price, it's hard to recommend a machine with so few features – there's no separate yeast dispenser and no bundled accessories for example. We'll leave this bit of kit to the professionals.
T3 rating3 stars
£250 | John Lewis
Morphy Richards 48326
Despite being massive, this machine has one of the smallest baking pans, so your loaf is limited to 900g. Features are also thin on the ground, with no nut dispenser and only 13 preset modes.
Morphy Richards describes the design as ergonomic, but that up-facing display is tiny and the massive lid just makes it feel top heavy. Frankly, it's an absurd amount of plastic for such a device, while the noisy kneading paddle suggests an underpowered motor that'll ensure this thing winds up in a landfill site before long.
It took a few frustrating minutes to work out how to change the settings due to some glitchy electrics, and the loaf it eventually turned out was mediocre.
Okay, this breadmaker works, but it's a disappointment and definitely feels like a false economy compared to Russell Hobbs' similarly budget alternative.
T3 rating2 stars
£70 | Amazon
Please note, the following breadmakers are all ones we tested in 2015 or before, but which are still available and worthy of your dough-pounding consideration…
No, it's not as good as thePanasonic SD-ZB2512, but this is cheaper, and another really tech-fuelled machine that delivers high quality loafage.
A tray ensures the yeast is not entered into the cooking process before it's suitably ready -another dispenser adds fruit and seeds -and Panasonic's gently maturing breadmaker is also capable of churning out three sizes of loaf, as well as jam.
Again, there's a 100% gluten-free setting and the Speciality Mode helps you experiment with a variety of interesting grains. Lovely.
£139 | Amazon
Andrew James Bread Maker
This budget table-top baker comes with an automatic raisin and nut dispenser which is handy for fruitcake nuts.
However, its bread making skills are a bit hit and miss.
One of our earlier loaves failed to rise properly and the white loaf, especially, came out looking so anaemic we almost called an ambulance. In the end we elected to ignore the included recipe book and looked online where we found instructions that produced much better results.
Clearly at 55 quid the Andrew James is not going to give Paul Hollywood results. However, it is available in three colours, easy to use and very quiet, and we like the fact you can choose between light, medium or dark crust. Just ignore that recipe booklet…
£55 | Amazon
Kenwood Bread Maker BM260
This older model, as is often the case with kitchen tech, remains worth a look.
The beauty of all bread makers is that you can set them to go to work in the dead of night so that when you wake up in the morning your nostrils are bombarded with the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread. However, if your bedroom is within earshot of your kitchen, you'd probably prefer to not set this otherwise very fine bread baker on timer as the whirring motor makes one hell of a racket.
The Kenwood knocks out loves up to a kilogram in weight in about 3.5 hours or about 90 minutes in Eco mode. And strangely enough, said Eco setting produces a more balanced loaf than the Premium cycle, replete with just the right thickness of crust.