Need to know
- Breadmakers knead, prove and bake the dough for you. They take about the same time to make a loaf of bread from scratch as you would
- Although making your own loaf can ensure you’re enjoying nutritious fresh bread, it’s not necessarily cheaper than buying it from a supermarket or bakery
- Our experts have reviewed 13 breadmakers from Panasonic, Sunbeam, Breville, Kmart and Kogan, priced from $69 to $489, to help you decide which is best for you
There are few things more hunger-inducing than the aroma of freshly baked bread. Warm, comforting and downright delicious, slathered thickly with butter, drizzled with olive oil or slicked with jam, bread made from scratch is one of life's simple pleasures.
Once a daily task in our grandparents' kitchens, these days few of us have time to start the day by baking bread. Still, if you love the idea of a freshly baked loaf in the morning, but can't quite muster the inclination to do the entire job yourself, you may want to consider an automated breadmaker.
Bread made from scratch is one of life's simple pleasures
But before you get carried away with the idea of a freshly baked loaf effortlessly turning up in your kitchen every day, think about if this appliance is really worth owning – especially as some breadmaker models we tested aren't worth the dough.
So let's take a look at how they work – and the pros and cons.
How breadmakers work
You can either weigh out the ingredients yourself, or you can buy a pre-made mix.
The timings for each stage of breadmaking vary between appliances, but basically it mixes the ingredients for about an hour, kneads for 20 to 30 minutes, proves for one to two hours, then bakes for about 40 to 50 minutes.
If your recipe includes fruits and nuts, most breadmakers will add these in at the correct stage of the process for you. But be warned – it won't be quick. So if you need bread in time for lunch and you haven't planned ahead, you may want to run out for a loaf instead.
One of the advantages of a breadmaker is that you have complete control over what ingredients go into your loaf.
Pro: Make it healthy and how you like it
One of the best things about making your own bread is that you can bake what you like to eat. But is it really healthier?
"Baking anything from scratch has the potential to be a little healthier than store-bought, as you have control over what ingredients you are adding to it, such as the type of flour – wholewheat, organic types, spelt – seeds and nuts," says CHOICE home economist Fiona Mair.
If you follow a gluten-free diet, baking your own bread is a great way to try out some gut-friendly flours. You can also be sure there are no added nasties, such as additives and preservatives. But when it comes to controlling ingredients, a breadmaker offers little advantage over an oven – raising the question of whether you need an extra appliance at all.
Pro: It calls for less physical effort
An oven can bake your bread, but what it can't do for you is knead your dough. Removing the onerous task of kneading is perhaps the biggest appeal of a breadmaker.
That said, if you already have a benchtop mixer with a dough hook, you can simply use this for the hard work, saving you money and space. Still, for people who may not have the physical ability (or time) to knead dough for 20 to 30 minutes, a breadmaker can certainly make the task more manageable.
Pro: You can make things beyond standard bread
Apart from baking standard white or wholemeal bread, breadmakers can also make other types of loaf, such as sourdough, wholemeal, seeded and even non-yeasted breads such as damper. They can bake cakes, too, and are perfect for whipping up a loaf of healthy banana bread for adult snacks or school lunchboxes.
There are also some exciting applications for your breadmaker you probably haven't considered, such as pasta dough, pizza dough and focaccia. For these, the breadmaker will do the kneading and proving before you remove the dough to shape and bake in the oven.
But probably the most unexpected recipe that can be made in a breadmaker is… jam!
Fiona says a very good understanding of consistency and temperature when the jam sets is important for success, however, so maybe not one to try if you're a jam-making novice.
Cons: It's another large appliance
Most of us don't have a butler's pantry in which to store our collection of kitchen appliances, so before buying a breadmaker, consider how much you'll use it and how much space you have.
It may seem like an appealing purchase, but if you're not keeping it on the counter to make bread regularly, you'd do just as well using your oven and doing the grunt work yourself.
Cons: Loaves that can be tricky to slice
Fiona says the biggest difference between making bread in an oven and a breadmaker is the shape of the loaves. "Breadmaker tins can be deep and narrow so you end up with a high loaf," she says. "This makes slicing difficult.
"If you're baking your bread in an oven, you can buy different-shaped loaf tins or place the dough in a dutch oven or on a tray to bake directly in the oven."
Cons: It's not much quicker
Making bread using a breadmaker can take up to three to five hours. This is roughly equivalent to the time it would take for you to make a loaf yourself by baking it in the oven (depending on the room temperature and how fast the dough takes to prove).
A breadmaker will free up the time you would usually spend kneading the dough… But, from start to finish, you're not making big gains
So, as far as time saving goes, a breadmaker will free up the time you would usually spend kneading the dough (perhaps 15 minutes). But, from start to finish, you're not making big gains.
A breadmaker may free up some time in terms of the attention you have to pay to it compared with cooking bread in an oven. Some models will 'beep' or alert you at certain times, such as when you need to add ingredients. The process is automatic, so you don't have to keep checking on your loaf as you would if it were baking in an oven, leaving you to get on with something else.
A breadmaker won't necessarily guarantee you get the perfect loaf every time, but it can make the process a little easier.
Cons: Not always cheaper than a supermarket or bakery
Baking a multigrain loaf from scratch using a breadmaker or oven will cost about $3 in ingredients alone, which doesn't include electricity. Fiona estimates about another 12 cents for energy, taking your homemade loaf to $3.12.
Considering you can pick up a loaf of bread for as little as $2 from some supermarkets and bakeries (although artisan loaves and good-quality bread can cost much more), and that a breadmaker can cost between $60 and $300 upfront, using your breadmaker to bake just one loaf a week may not be worth the investment.
"I don't think it's worth the money if you are only using it to make one loaf a week when you have a perfectly good oven," says Fiona. "However, if you are baking much more than that or wanting to use it for making doughs, jams and cakes regularly, then it might just be worth it."
Cons: You can't make adjustments
Although most breadmakers have a little viewing window for you to watch your dough become a golden, crusty pillow, there's not much opportunity to make changes if things aren't going to plan.
"Making bread in your oven allows you to feel the dough," says Fiona. "If it's too sticky, dry or hasn't proved well, you can make adjustments before it's baked.
"But in a breadmaker, you have to check at the precise time before it goes to the next stage. If you miss that opportunity, you won't be able to correct it." This can mean a failed loaf and a waste of ingredients and time. Ouch!
Before you buy
If you think there's a breadmaker-sized hole in your kitchen arsenal, we recommend checking our expert CHOICE breadmaker reviews before you buy, as there are models with various features at a huge range of prices.
We have tested a range of breadmakers for all budgets from brands including Panasonic, Sunbeam, Breville and Kmart, looking at things such as how well they make various types of loaves from scratch compared with a premix, and how easy they are to use. You can also find some useful tips in our breadmaker buying guide.
A breadmaker doesn't necessarily guarantee you will get the perfect loaf every timeFiona Mair, CHOICE home economist
If you do buy a breadmaker, keep in mind that, even if using a machine, baking bread can be a tricky process.
"A breadmaker doesn't necessarily guarantee you will get the perfect loaf every time," says Fiona. "You could be disappointed, but don't give up."
She recommends using a pre-made flour mix designed specially for breadmakers and following the instructions on the packet closely. Once you're a bit more familiar with the process, she says, you can begin to experiment with ingredients and flavours.