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While the idea of fresh, homemade bread every day is great, rushing out to buy a breadmaker then finding out that it doesn't have the features you need is almost guaranteed to mean that your fancy new machine is going to spend the rest of its life stuffed in a corner of the attic, somewhere between the broken Christmas decorations and that foot spa you won in a raffle. Breadmakers have come down a lot in price recently, but it's still worth making sure you get the one that's right for you and your family.

Basically, when you're looking at a breadmaker, you need to think about four things first: the manufacturer, the capacity, the power and the programmes.

It's always worth buying a machine from an established household name - although there are cheaper models around from people you've never heard of, how reliable is their after-sales care going to be if things go wrong? Also try and find our when the product was released, as the newer it is, the better and more advanced it's likely to be - although an older model that's been in the market for many years probably has the advantage of a good track record, or the manufacturer would have discontinued it by now.

When it comes to capacity, it's all down to how many people you expect to feed with your daily loaf - if you're just baking for yourself, save some money and buy a smaller model, but if you've got a large family to feed, go for one that can make at least 900g of bread. And as far as power is concerned, then generally the more powerful the unit, the better it will knead the dough, although modern machines tend to have less power output than their predecessors, simply because they are more efficient.
If you just want to make the same kind of bread day in, day out, then save a little money and just buy a simple unit with one or two preset baking programs, but if you want to get adventurous with your baking, spend the extra and buy a machine with as many presets as possible, or your culinary skills could soon outstrip the capacity of your purchase.

With those basics covered, there are now a plethora of additional features available to enhance the breadmaking process. One that's definitely worth insisting on is a Delay Timer, so you can prepare all your ingredients the night before, set the timer and wake up to warm, fresh bread in the morning. Machines that offer convection baking make good sense, too, as they use an internal fan to circulate heated air around the dough, just like a fan-assisted oven, so you can cook quicker and at a lower temperature. They also bake more evenly.
For the budding bakers out there, look for a machine that lets you take control of your breadmaking. Some higher-end machines will let you set your own times for the kneading, rising, and baking processes, so you can really experiment until you get the results you want. And when you do, the best machines even have programmable presets for you to store your own perfect settings. If that all sounds a bit too complicated, then a simple Crust setting that will let you choose dark, medium or light crusts will give you some flexibility without too much work.

Oh, and while it makes no difference to the end result, machines with a viewing window give you the satisfaction of watching the bread as it bakes, so you can feel like a proper baker while the machine does all the work!

Author R. Germain
date added Tue 04 08 2009

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