Cheapism: Best budget bread machines

Dec. 5, 2012 at 8:19 AM ET

This Hamilton Beach bread machine features 12 cycles ranging from gluten-free bread to jam.

By Kara Reinhardt,

For a holiday meal with all the trimmings, fresh-baked bread and rolls beat store-bought every time. Yet who can find time for all that mixing and kneading and baking amid all the shopping and wrapping and decking the halls? Therein lies the appeal of a bread maker: Just feed it a few ingredients and press start. Unfortunately this is one of those fancy gadgets that can easily cost a couple of hundred dollars and wind up forgotten in the back of a cabinet. But depending on what kind of bread you typically buy, the machine may pay for itself with regular use. A loaf of homemade bread doesn’t cost much more than the flour, salt, and yeast that go into it, plus a pinch of time and a dash of electricity. And that’s not to mention taste or nutrition.

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for bread machines under $60.

  • The Hamilton Beach HomeBaker 29881 (starting at $50) appeals to beginners with easy operation and reliable results, according to online reviews. It makes 1.5- or 2-pound loaves and has 12 settings, including cycles for gluten-free bread and jam. It also features an alert to tell you when to add extra ingredients such as fruit and nuts, if a recipe calls for them. (Where to buy)
  • The West Bend Hi-Rise 41300 (starting at $59) makes loaves of four different sizes ranging from 1 to 2.5 pounds. Among the 11 settings is one that’s typically found on higher-end models. It lets users customize each step of the process, from kneading to baking. Reviewers commend this machine’s ability to produce light loaves even from dense ingredients, perhaps thanks to a design with dual kneading/mixing blades instead of a single paddle. (Where to buy)
  • The Oster Expressbake CKSTBRTW20 (starting at $59) offers nine settings and three sizes to select: 1, 1.5, and 2 pounds. Consumers who have posted reviews online appreciate that it can make a loaf in less than an hour. (Where to buy)
  • The Breadman TR520 (starting at $59) consistently bakes bread with a pleasing texture and flavor, according to reviews. Users can choose among eight functions and three sizes from 1 to 2 pounds. A bell signals when it’s time to add in nuts or fruit. (Where to buy)

The different settings on these machines include various kinds of bread -- basic white, whole wheat, French, sweet. (A baker and author writing in The Guardian recommends tweaking the recipes that come with the machine before consulting external sources.) Other settings yield dough for making things like pizza and rolls, and express cycles turn out loaves in less time. Users can adjust a separate crust control to light, medium, or dark.

The models listed above produce rectangular loaves similar in shape to those you’d find at the grocery store, with one exception. The Hamilton Beach HomeBaker makes taller, squarer bread. All the baking pans are nonstick for easy cleanup.

One additional perk of all four bread makers: Users can program these machines to delay the start of the bread-making process, so a fresh loaf finishes in time for dinner or first thing in the morning, ready for toast.

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