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Bread maker features explained

By Yvette Fletcher

Bread makers can come with a range of features, but which are worth paying more for? We help you pick the best bread maker for your budget.

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From automatic dispensers, to gluten-free, jam, cake and pasta options, bread makers can come with a variety of different features and settings. We help you sort the useful bread maker features from the gimmicks, so you can choose the best for you. 

Once you've decided what features you need, your next stop is to choose your bread maker. To help you separate the ones that bake appetising and delicious bread from those that make loaves that look like a dog's dinner, click to see our bread maker reviews.

Bread maker features

Bread pan

Your bread maker bakes the bread in a non-stick bread pan. This contains the kneading paddle, a rotating shaft that drives the paddle, and a handle to lift the pan out of the bread maker. Use plastic, rather than metal, utensils on the non-stick surface and wash the pan by hand.

Cool wall

All the bread makers we've tested have insulated outer walls that stop the surfaces getting too hot during baking. Nonetheless, they do get warm – especially ones with a stainless steel outer body, so still take care around your bread maker.

Always use an oven glove, or tea towels, when removing the hot bread pan after the bread has baked.

Kneading paddle

The bread maker's kneading paddle mixes the ingredients in the bread pan and kneads them into dough. Some kneading paddles collapse after the kneading cycle but will still leave a hole in the bottom of your bread. 

When we test bread makers, we record how many times the bread maker paddle sticks to the bread - and we've found quite a difference. The more the paddle sticks, the bigger and more unsightly the hole will be. So check our 'kneading paddle' rating when you look at our reviews. 

Use our 'kneading paddle' rating to find one that won't stick and leave a bigger hole

Some bread makers have twin paddles, which create a more rectangular-shaped loaf. But most bread makers on the market have an almost square-shaped pan.

When you clean the pan, remove the kneading paddle. Some baked bread can accumulate beneath it, which could affect the efficiency of the bread maker. If the kneading paddle is difficult to remove, fill the bread pan with warm, soapy water to let it soak.

Viewing window

A viewing window isn’t necessary, but can be useful if you like to be able to see the bread as it bakes and keep an eye on its progress. This means you won't feel the urge to open the lid too early - this will reduce the temperature inside the bread maker, which could affect how well bread rises.

Alert when bread is ready

Some bread makers make an audible sound when the bread is ready. Again, this isn't essential, but can be useful if you know you're going to be busy around the house a lot while the bread is baking and want to be alerted when it's done.

Accessories

Bread making is very exact. A few grams here or a teaspoon there can have a big effect on how your loaf looks, feels and tastes. 

All the bread makers we've tested come with a measuring beaker and a measuring spoon - this helps you to get the recipe just right. 

However, there are certain tricks you can use to ensure your bread maker creates the perfect loaf. Once you have decided on the bread maker you want, find out the baking secrets we discovered when we spoke to artisan bakers to get their expert tips on making the most of your bread maker.

How to use a bread maker

Control panel

Bread makers have settings for the size of loaf, type of flour being used and even your preferred shade of crust colour. All can be selected via a menu on the control panel.

When we test bread makers, we look at control panels as part of our ease of use assessment. Bread makers that are tricky to use and understand are marked down. It's key that you put the right amounts of ingredients into your bread, so a machine that makes bread making confusing and complicated will not only frustrate you, but potentially ruin your bread.

Delay setting

A delay setting is a helpful feature, especially if you want to wake up to freshly baked bread.

Most bread makers come with a 13-hour delay option. This includes the time taken to complete the bread cycle, so it’s more of a countdown timer.

Set your bread maker before you go to bed and wake up to delicious freshly baked bread the next morning.

When we test bread makers, we bake three white loaves in each bread maker using the delay timer setting, to see how well it works. You can find out more about how we test bread makers - see how we test.

Automatic dispenser

If you're a fan of making bread with added ingredients, such as fruit or nuts, consider a bread maker with an automatic dispenser. The bread maker will cost more, but will mean you don't have to wait around to add ingredients manually. 

Rapid bake

A white loaf can be baked in less than an hour with some bread makers. This is useful if you’re in a hurry, but the end result is rarely as good as when you bake on a standard program. In our experience, the longer the 'rapid' bake setting, the better the results.

Bread maker baking options

White, brown, or seeded bread

Bread makers can produce white, brown, wholemeal and seeded loaves. Some bread makers also come with a setting for baking rye bread. But you’ll have a wider choice of baking programs, loaf sizes and crust finishes when baking white bread.

In our test lab, we get each bread maker to bake white and wholemeal loaves. We've found big differences between the bread a good and a bad bread maker produce. 

A Best Buy bread maker will bake any loaf to a soft and light texture, making it evenly brown and without any unsightly lumps and bumps. A bad bread maker will create loaves with sunken tops, knobbly crusts and a dense bread inside. See our bread maker Best Buys to avoid a dud.

Gluten-free

A bread maker is handy if you suffer from coeliac disease and need to go gluten-free, but still want to eat bread. Coeliac disease is a condition caused by intolerance to gluten, which is found in barley, rye and wheat flour as well as oats. 

Bread makers with a gluten-free setting allow you to make your own gluten-free bread using special bread mixes or the recipes provided.

Speciality bread

Most machines come with recipes for more inventive bread, as well as standard white, brown and wholemeal. If you're looking to impress at a dinner party, you'll be able to bake everything from ciabatta to sun-dried tomato and parmesan bread. 

You can bake from scratch with the raw ingredients or use bread mixes that need only butter and water added to them.

Other things you can make with a bread maker

Cake

Some bread makers also feature a 'bake-only' setting and come with a selection of recipes to get you started. Most machines don't mix the ingredients, so you'll have to do any stirring, beating and folding yourself, with the bread maker only taking care of the baking cycle. 

You’ll need to remove the kneading paddle and remember to line the pan with baking parchment before adding the cake mixture.

Jam

Some bread makers are good for making jam, with the fruit and sugar cooking at very high temperatures. We've found that the finished jam tastes pleasingly homemade.

Dough

If you want to make bread rolls, buns or croissants, the kneading paddle on a bread maker will do all the labour-intensive kneading for you. You’ll simply need to leave the dough to rise, then bake it in the oven.

Pasta

Many bread makers can also mix and knead pasta dough. However, you will still have to roll it out and flatten it, using a pasta machine. Then you can cook it in the usual way.

Cleaning a bread maker

Avoid dishwashers

Dishwashers can damage the non-stick surfaces of your bread maker, so always wash the baking pan and paddle by hand with a soapy cloth dipped in warm water.

For any hard-to-remove residue, soak the pan with warm soapy water first. 

Plastic utensils

You should use plastic utensils for scooping ingredients in or out of your bread maker. Metal can damage the non-stick surface of the bread pan.

Our bread maker reviews tell you everything you need to know about what features each bread maker comes with plus, and most importantly, how well each bakes bread and how easy each is to use.

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