The best bread maker is, as we all know, Paul Hollywood. However for those of lesser skill, a bread maker of the worktop type is a more practical solution to getting your daily loaf, especially if you've been affected by social distancing measures. But it's not just a virus that's propelled bread makers – known as bread machines in the USA – to the fore. It's a general lack of freshness in supermarkets and some bakeries, too.
Bread, after all, should be consumed in as fresh a state as possible and, sadly, most supermarkets and bakeries do only one early morning bake and come the afternoon – if there’s any bread left on the shelves – their breads will already have entered their first level of staleness, especially baguettes, which should of course always be consumed within a couple of hours of baking, max.
However, home baking in a bread maker does come with a caveat or two. We’ve tried many bread makers, watched loads of videos and checked many images of home bread-making machine results and, to be honest, the breads that home baking machines produce do tend to look a bit anaemic and dull when compared to professional baker's products. But, and it’s big but, the actual bread inside the normally pale, lacklustre crust is actually blooming excellent – soft, spongy and lightly textured, and as fresh as fresh can be. So, although most home bread makers can make damn fine bread, just don’t expect spectacular boulangerie-style visual results unless you follow a specific recipe that involves following the machine's automatic kneading and proofing process with a final bake in a proper home oven.
When bread makers 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 proofing, no pouring in mixed seeds: the best bread makers do it all for you.
How to choose the best bread maker for you
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Obviously, the most important thing to look out for when buying a bread maker is how well the machine can actually bake bread. Luckily, we've done that part of testing for you, and ranked the machines on how reliably they pump out quality loafs.
You'll also need to decide what type of machine you want and how much you want to spend – most of the models on this list are pretty simple to operate, just add the ingredients, press a few buttons and let the machine do all the work for you.
Bread makers have health benefits as well, don't ya know: 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. What's not to like?
The best bread makers you can buy today, or even tomorrow
The stainless steel Sage The Custom Loaf looks better than the competition, costs somewhat more, and is that bit more serious – a tool for the keen baker who wants to perfect their own artisan loaves. This model comes with 13 automatic settings – from basic white, wholewheat, sourdough and crusty to gluten free, sweet and yeast free – plus nine custom settings and three crust options, from light to dark. It will also make bread and pizza dough for oven use. Not all bread makers come with a glass window to the baking chamber but this one does and it’s a very handy thing indeed. It also features a collapsible kneading paddle that doesn't leave as big a hole in the bottom of the loaf.
With Sage’s customary intuitive interface onboard, the Custom Loaf is a breeze to use – simply load in the ingredients, turn the main selection knob and press it on the setting you want. If you wish to add extra ingredients like nuts, seeds and raisins during the bake, simply pour them into the automatic dispenser and they’ll be added during the bake.
When using the standard ‘basic’ mode and a packet of bread mix, it takes about 30 minutes for the machine to warm the ingredients to room temperature at which point it starts two kneading processes followed by a lengthy three-stage proofing session and a short ‘Punch Down’ sequence to rid the dough of excess carbon dioxide before starting the baking sequence. The entire kneading, proofing and baking process takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes for a large 1.25kg loaf.
The Custom Loaf excelled in all the disciplines we presented it, producing a tranche of different loaves with a level of consistency that many of its competitors couldn’t match. If you’re prepared to fork out a little more on a machine that not only performs exceedingly well but is equipped to handle a variety of breads, the Sage Custom Loaf may be the model for you.
If there's one brand that's pushing the ancient science of machine bread making forward, it's Panasonic. This model comes with more features than most, including a two-stage, rustic sourdough function. We tried our hand at this most artisan of bread-types and some of the other 28 main programs on offer.
It's an unusually tall machine because built into the hinged lid is a dispensing compartment with two hatches, one for nuts, seeds and raisins 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 if using yeast as opposed to a pre-packaged bread mix. On average it took about four hours to complete the process from warming and kneading to proofing and baking. Our test results using two standard Waitrose bread mixes weren’t quite up there with the Sage Custom Loaf – the Panasonic’s top crust was much paler even after selecting a darker crust – but the internal structure was spot on.
The sourdough feature is well handy, too, but only if you know what you’re doing because this process requires a fermented dough starter to rise. Thankfully you get a plastic container for the starter and a specific setting that heats it up before storing in a fridge overnight ready for baking the following day. This writer managed to turn out a pretty decent sourdough but, if I were honest, it wasn’t in the same airy league as a San Francisco from Gail’s bakery.
Nevertheless, despite being more complicated to use than the Sage Custom Loaf, the Panasonic SD-YR2540 is a mighty fine baker with a few extra functions that also happens to sell for a few quid cheaper.
Although it looks a bit naff, this inexpensive blob of plastic turns out perfectly acceptable loaves of regular and gluten-free bread, and it made us a decent cake too. The Fast Bake is a compact, no-frills thing without a nut dispenser or bundled accessories and a smaller bread chamber than other machines, which 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 bread maker that actually fits in a cupboard and we have no hesitation in recommending it as a budget best buy.
No, it's not as good as the Panasonic SD-YR2540, 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 bread maker is also capable of churning out three sizes of loaf – up to 590g – 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. Not bad at all.
The Morphy Richards is massive and strikingly ugly to look at but, hey, it’s cheap and it produces loaves of better appearance than some models at three times the price. Features are thin on the ground, with no nut dispenser and only 12 preset modes – basic white, French, wholewheat, quick, sweet, dough, jam, cake, sandwich, extra bake, two fast-bake settings but no specific gluten-free option. Its maximum size loaf is 900g which is perfectly acceptable for couples and soloists.
The MR’s clunky, cheap-looking interface is quite awful, it has to be said, and a millions miles from the likes of Panasonic and Sage. It’s noisy when kneading the ingredients, too. Nevertheless, the quality of the crust on the white loaf we baked in it really surprised us – it had a shiny, uniform appearance and the bread itself tasted marvellous, too. At a smidge under £70, the Morphy Richards Multi-use Fastbake 48281 is well worth a punt.