The 10 Best Breadmakers
The Big, Bad, Bread
Frankly speaking, most of the bread you'd buy in any grocery store in America is terrible. It's full of ingredients that you can't pronounce, it's produced en masse by gigantic machines with as little human interaction as possible, and it's made to last for weeks on end when bread should really only be good for a few days. All that effort goes into the bread, and all of it does significant harm to the flavor, the texture, and the spiritual experience of it.
I was lucky to grow up in what might be the only part of the country that makes good bread consistently. This, of course, is the small corridor that makes up the metropolitan area in and around New York City. There are a lot of theories as to what makes the breads produced in this region so special. Some say it's a technical knowledge brought over by the Italian immigrants in the 1800s. Others think it has something to do with the water.
To be fair to the rest of the country, though, I have–on rare occasions–tasted bread far away from New York that would have been very much at home in that great city, bread made thousands of miles away from that supposedly precious water source. So I know it's more than just the H2O.
What it is, then, is care. Mass-produced bread is made carelessly. Grocery store bread is, more often than not, produced carelessly. I don't mean that they don't pay attention to what they're doing; I mean that there's no love to it, no heart behind it.
The bread makers on this list all but guarantee that your bread will have heart. How do they do it? Well, they start by removing the biggest block against love: fear. It's so easy to make bread in these machines that there's nothing to stand in the way of the excitement you'll feel making your first loaf.
All you have to do is put the ingredients in and select a setting that corresponds to your mix. Your bread maker will mix the ingredients in a timely manner, knead the dough, and bake the bread all in a single chamber. You get to sit back and relax, soaking up the wonderful aroma of freshly-baked bread, of bread baked with love, that will fill your home.
The Test Of A Machine
I know what you're thinking: If the problem with mass-produced bread is the fact that it's made by a machine, how will using a machine to bake bread in my home be any different? Well, setting aside all the differences in ingredients and freshness, the machines in industrial bakeries and their operators don't know for whom they bake their bread. You know specifically for whom your bread is intended, and a machine is, at its essence, an outgrowth of humanity. It can be imbued with our intentions, with our emotions, if we know how to regard it.
Robert Pirsig writes in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, "The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn't any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it's right. If it disturbs you it's wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed." If you intend to make good bread for yourself and the people you love, your machine will pass this test with flying colors.
The first step, however, isn't making the bread. It's selecting the machine. While a lot of the bread makers on our list maintain a baseline of performance and a good deal of similar functions, a few of them have standout features that might be perfect for certain personalities and lifestyles.
For example, if you're always on the go, and you need a bread maker that can get even complicated jobs done from start to finish without any supervision or intervention, you should look for models that feature automatic yeast addition and other supplemental ingredient trays. You might also do well with a maker that has a rapid bake function. These tend to be a little more taxing on your electricity, but they pump out loaves usually in under an hour.
Another thing to look out for is overall capacity. If it's just you and, perhaps, a significant other, a smaller bread maker could fit the bill. A larger family, though, should try for the bigger models, as this bread takes a lot more time to make than it does to eat, especially given how tasty it is.
The Accidental Bread Maker
It's tough to track the exact history of bread because, like a majority of food stuffs that require multiple steps and an unexpected combination of ingredients, very early bread was likely the result of an accident. Archeological evidence suggests that early man combined foraged grain with water to make it easier to eat. This resulted in a kind of gruel.
If left to sit, this gruel would accumulate natural yeasts from the air and begin to leaven. In a hot enough environment, perhaps in the sun-baked sands of ancient Egypt, the mixture would have hardened enough to spark the curiosity of whoever happened upon it.
From those early days, we have to travel quite a ways along the bread's storied timeline to get to the first electric, in-home bread maker. The Raku Raku Pan Da came out in 1986 in Japan, released by the Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, which later became Panasonic.
Like a lot of the kitchen innovations to come out of Japan in the 1980s, the electric bread maker gained near instant popularity around the world, and its features and capabilities have been refined ever since.