Baking your own bread by hand can be time-consuming and tricky, so if you want to bypass the mess and fuss, invest in a breadmaker. Not only will you be able to enjoy the irresistible smell of freshly baked bread in the kitchen, breadmakers produce more consistent results, so your loaf will be fluffy and golden every time.
Most breadmakers work in the same way – pop your ingredients in, set a programme, size and level of browning and let the machine mix, knead, prove and bake. The main difference between the models will be the size of the pan, the option to add additional ingredients or a dispenser that’ll do it for you, and noise levels – some can be quite loud when kneading.
In our round up we’ve included a breadmaker with a collapsible blade (which prevents a hole in the bottom of the loaf), as well a compact model that’s ideal for those short on countertop space.
To test each model, we made a basic white loaf in each and wholewheat or gluten-free where there was the option. As breadmakers are selling out in these first few weeks of lockdown, we’ve listed a range of retailers – including eBay – so look around for availability.
What’s the best breadmaker in 2020?
We’ve rated the Panasonic Breadmaker SD-ZX2522 (£240) our best breadmaker overall. While one of the more expensive models, its ability to bake a faultless loaf of bread, as well as make gluten-free bread and pasta, cake and jam means it really earns its place on the worktop.
Our best budget breadmaker is the Lakeland Compact 1lb Daily Loaf Bread Maker (£59.99). It’s small enough to tuck in a corner, efficient and is ideal for beginners.
Meanwhile, we’ve highlighted the Sage The Custom Loaf (£250) as our best breadmaker for keen cooks. Four loaf sizes instead of the usual two or three and a generous dispenser mean those authentic crusty loaves and artisan breads can be recreated at home.
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Panasonic Breadmaker SD-ZX2522
WIRED Recommends: The Panasonic Breadmaker SD-ZX2522 is a dream multipurpose baking machine
Programmes: 37 | Loaf sizes: 3 | Dispenser: Yes | Dimensions: 38.2 x 25.6 x 38.9cm
Perhaps what’s most impressive about the Panasonic Breadmaker SD-ZX2522 (£240) is its ability not just to turn out a perfect white loaf time after time, but also its dizzying array of programmes. This means it can cater for everyone in the household, from anyone who prefers flavourful rye or sourdough bread, to those who are following a specific diet. There are rapid programmes for more than just a white loaf and a good range of dough-only settings, should you prefer your bread to come in a shape other than the pan. Gluten-free is well-catered for – while most breadmakers boast a single programme for gluten-free bread, here you can also make gluten-free cake and pasta.
There’s a huge amount of guidance to getting the best results and plenty of recipes – which could be overwhelming for some who prefer a quick-start approach – but stick with it and this model really does deliver. The basic white loaf we made emerged very well risen and beautifully brown all over, while even the wholewheat had good height and was far less solid than loaves baked in other breadmakers. The secret, amongst other features, may be the machine’s yeast dispenser, which drops it in at the right time in the programme so that it doesn’t start activating too soon.
Another point of difference is the machine’s finish – a sleek glass panel and black stainless-steel exterior make it feel more luxe than the average white plastic model. However, it’s worth noting that this Panasonic breadmaker is taller than most and fairly deep, so you’ll need sufficient cupboard or surface space for it. That said, if you like waking up to the smell of fresh bread, this is the best machine for it – it was our quietest on test during both mixing and kneading, meaning that it’s less likely to disturb your sleep before your alarm.
Pros: Sourdough kit; 13-hour timer; durable non-stick pan coating
Cons: Pricey; may struggle to fit below some wall units
Lakeland Compact 1lb Daily Loaf Bread Maker
A budget breadmaker that’s effortless to use
Programmes: 11 | Loaf sizes: 1 | Dispenser: No | Dimensions: 31 x 21.5 x 25cm
Delivering on both value and ease of use, the Lakeland Compact 1lb Daily Loaf Bread Maker (£60) has a decent range of programmes, clearly named buttons (rather than not-immediately-obvious symbols) for each, and good, clear guidance so your first loaf will be as tasty as your last. And it’s all in a super-compact machine that can easily nestle in a cupboard when you’re not baking.
The programmes include ‘gluten-free’, which isn’t always standard on an affordable machine, ‘quick’, which will produce a loaf in just over two hours, and if you really can’t wait, ‘ultra-fast’, which bakes bread in 1 hour 38 minutes – meaning you can have a slice of mid-morning toast even if you’re breadless at breakfast. A cake programme adds some extra versatility and means you don’t need to switch on the oven if all you fancy is a few slices of sponge.
While the single loaf size is small – 500g – realistically, the machine is so simple to use that making a fresh one every couple of days isn’t too much of a stretch. Our basic white bread had a thick golden-brown crust and rose well. It stuck to the pan a little but the included hook meant we could extract it and the paddle without tearing the bottom of the loaf. Another feature that makes it a smart buy is its one-hour keep warm – so if you can’t remove the finished bread straight away, it won’t become soggy from condensation.
The only real downsides are that the Lakeland’s simple white exterior isn’t the most stylish and it’s quite noisy while kneading. No dispenser for extras means it emits a loud beep to let you know when to pop those in and the same beep when it’s finished with no option to turn them off.
Also consider: We haven’t tested the Tower 650W Gluten Free Digital Bread Maker (£89) yet but its larger predecessor was excellent. And it’s currently in stock from Tower direct – another great sub-£100 option.
Pros: Easy to store; great for beginners; affordable
Cons: Small loaves; noisy
Morphy Richards Fastbake 48281
The speediest loaf possible
Programmes: 12 | Loaf sizes: 2 | Dispenser: No | Dimensions: H30 x W28.5 x 40.5cm
You know a breadmaker is devoted to speed when there’s not just one fast programme, but three, which make up a quarter of its total programmes. Whether you choose Quick (taking just over half the time a basic white loaf would), Fastbake I (for a 1.5lb loaf) or Fastbake II (for a 2lb loaf), waiting around just isn’t in the DNA of the Morphy Richards Fastbake (£80).
Sadly, there isn’t a gluten-free option – it’s one of the rare breadmakers these days that doesn’t boast a dedicated programme. However, you’ll still find plenty of choice with programmes for jam, cake, dough for pizza and bread rolls, and Extrabake, which can be used to increase baking time or help to set marmalade. There’s also a 13-hour delay start.
While there’s no dispenser, the machine will emit a loud beep when you can add extras, such as fruit or nuts, plus its named buttons make programming it easier than some – even if they aren’t in the order you need to press them to set the bread going. One other niggle is that recipe quantities have been supplied to make 1lb loaves but there’s no button for this size – there’s only a choice between 1.5lb and 2lb, which can get confusing.
All this aside, the Fastbake produced a respectable basic white loaf without being too noisy – golden, well-risen and beautifully airy inside, although one corner harboured some unmixed flour. It was simple to remove from the pan, although the paddle had a tendency to stick in place. The wholewheat loaf was distinctly heavier and rose less but had a good consistency.
Pros: Sub-£100; named buttons; easy to store
Cons: No gluten-free programme; no dispenser; plain white exterior
Sage The Custom Loaf BBM800BSSUK
For loaves without holes
Programmes: 12 + 9 custom | Loaf sizes: 4 | Dispenser: Yes | Dimensions: 33.8 x 41.7 x 24.4cm
The biggest complaint about loaves made in breadmakers is rarely about size or shape, but instead, the hole left behind by the mixing paddle. It’s something that Sage has solved in its The Custom Loaf breadmaker (£250). Equipped with a collapsible blade that folds down after kneading but before baking, all you’ll see is an indentation, plus it makes extracting the loaf from the pan and paddle far easier.
For this price, you may be expecting a long list of programmes, and be surprised that there’s only 12. However, The Custom Loaf is, as its name suggests, all about creating your own. To which end, there’s 9 customisable settings where you can store your preferences, altering the temperature and time for all the phases of the bread, so you can make a favourite recipe easily or reduce the rising time on a humid day for example – best for experienced bakers who may find the standard programmes on a breadmaker limiting.
For the rest of us, its programme selection should tick most boxes. It’ll make jam (using a non-collapsible paddle), plus gluten-free, a quick loaf in less than two hours (only for the smaller sizes), pizza or pasta dough and an extra-crusty loaf. Our basic white came out crisp on top and light and fluffy inside, while the wholewheat was well-risen.
We also liked that The Custom Loaf is very flexible on sizes – there are four to choose from, ranging from a handy everyday 500g to a family-sized 1.25kg that can feed a crowd. And as you’d hope, it comes with plenty of recipes to expand your baking horizons, from savoury leek and potato bread to walnut and coffee bread that’s delicious with a cappuccino.
Pros: Custom programmes; jam blade; back-up power for cuts
Cons: Expensive; large worktop footprint
Kenwood BM450 Bread Machine
Check on your loaf’s progress with an internal light
Programmes: 15 + 5 custom | Loaf sizes: 3 | Dispenser: Yes | Dimensions: 38.5 x 23.5 x 31.5cm
Ovens have lights so you can see what you’re baking better, so why shouldn’t a bread maker? A button to turn on the light inside is just one of the nice-to-have features of the Kenwood BM450 Bread Machine (£125) alongside touch controls rather than chunky buttons, custom programmes and fan-assisted baking for more even results. Other clever features include a slightly longer delay timer than many – 15 hours compared to an average 13 – so you can set and forget with ease. There’s also a rapid bake – a one-button programme that reduces bread making to a mere 58 minutes yet still produces a 1kg loaf, making it ideal for families.
Admittedly, all this functionality means the control panel is a mess of buttons, none of which are named, so your first few uses require keeping the instructions to hand. A digital display makes it easier to keep track of the options you’ve selected, though.
The programmes offer a good selection of options – not too many to overwhelm, yet enough to experiment with – and include gluten-free, cake, jam, Artisan dough and pizza dough. There’s a dispenser for extras although given the heat circulation, it’s better for fruit, nuts and larger seeds rather than cheese or chocolate, which can melt before being released. On the plus side, the dispenser is removable and washable if it does become gunky.
We found this to be one of the quieter breadmakers while mixing and kneading, which delivered good results even though it was trickier to set than some. Our 1kg basic white bread rose right up to the lid of the machine, and while there was a little unmixed flour around the base, the rest of it was golden and fluffy. The loaf came out of the pan easily, too.
Pros: Sleek control panel; large capacity; recipe book
Cons: Buttons have symbols not names; could be too tall to fit below units