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Published 5:03 PM EDT, Thu May 13, 2021
Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus Bread Maker
If quarantine taught us one thing, it’s that stress baking is real. And a bread maker is a great tool for novice bakers looking to turn out great loaves without a lot of fuss.
We tested eight bread makers, ranging in price from $75 to $340, baking dozens and dozens of loaves of white, wheat and gluten-free bread. We assessed those loaves for taste, texture and shape, as well as the evenness of the rise and crumb and the crispiness and color of crust. In the end, besides packing on several extra pounds as our carb intake soared, we came up with two clear winners:
The Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus Bread Maker delivered by far the airiest, tastiest and prettiest white, wheat and gluten-free loaves. And unlike every other model, it makes a familiar, horizontally shaped loaf. Also unique among the models we tested, the Zojirushi is customizable, offering experienced bakers the ability to program their own settings. At $340, is it an investment? Yes. But coming home to fresh, bakery-worthy bread after a long day of work? Priceless.
Baking novices on a budget or those who have limited counter space can’t go wrong with the Cuisinart CBK-110 Compact Automatic Bread Maker. It turned out airy and high loaves with smooth domed tops and even crumbs and crusts. The overall taste and texture of the loaves wasn’t on par with the more expensive Zojirushi Virtuoso, but it’s a relative bargain, its compact footprint makes it small-kitchen-friendly and it was the smallest and lightest bread maker we tested, making it easy to stow away when not in use.
Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus Bread Maker
10.5 inches by 18 inches by 13 inches; 24 pounds 1 loaf size (2-pound) 3 crust colors (light, medium and dark) 14 preprogrammed bread settings (white, whole wheat, European, multigrain, gluten-free, salt-free, sugar-free, vegan, rapid white, rapid whole wheat, dough, sourdough starter, cake and jam) and three user-programmable custom settings “This bread is amazing,” one of our tasters gushed as he popped — OK, shoveled — a slice of fresh, warm white bread made in this Rolls-Royce of bread makers into his mouth. Then he and our other tasters went on to swiftly inhale the rest of the loaf in competitive food-eater time.
The Zojirushi Virtuoso Plus is expensive for sure, but in this case, you get what you pay for. Each loaf we baked turned out beautifully, as if it came straight from our favorite bakery, with a crisp, golden-brown crust; soft, even crumb; perfect rise; airy, fluffy texture; and delicious taste. Other machines may have produced a nice white, a respectable wheat or a tasty gluten-free version, but only the Virtuoso was tops on all three.
While all the other models tested feature vertical pans, which make a tall, skinny loaf, the Virtuoso’s horizontal 9-inch-by-5-inch pan turns out loaves like those sold in stores and bakeries. And with room for dual paddles as well as dual heaters (one on the bottom of the machine and another in the lid), the Virtuoso mixed ingredients and kneaded dough more effectively and baked and browned more evenly than the other machines we tested. It’s also quieter in operation than the competition.
While the Zojirushi only makes 2-pound loaves (other machines we tested let you bake 1-, 1.5- or 2-pound loaves), it lends creative bakers more flexibility with three customizable “homemade” settings. Also unlike most models we looked at, it stops kneading when you open the lid, which makes it easy to add mix-ins or scrape down the sides.
The main drawback to this stainless steel machine? Its size and weight. At 10.5 inches by 18 inches by 13 inches and 24 pounds, you’ll need plenty of counter space or ample storage space to stash it. It also only has a one-year warranty (three years was the longest warranty offered among the machines we tested), but replacement paddles and pans are readily available.
Cuisinart CBK-110 Compact Automatic Bread Maker
10.25 inches by 13.25 inches by 11.25 inches; 11 pounds 3 loaf sizes (1-, 1.5- and 2-pound) 3 crust colors (light, medium and dark) 12 preprogrammed bread settings (white, French, whole wheat, ultra-fast, sweet, gluten-free, artisan dough, dough, jam, packaged mix, cake and bake) An excellent choice for those with small kitchens, the CBK-110 has a smaller footprint and is lighter than most other machines we tested, making it easy to stow away when you aren’t using it. More importantly, the bread we made with it was yummy. Our white loaf had an even, golden-brown crust, a smooth domed shape, a nice even crumb and a fluffy texture.
The wheat bread showed similar results, though we found it to be denser than those made using the Zojirushi. The gluten-free loaf, while tasty with a nice taste and crust, did collapse on us. When using bread machines, it’s important to note that some recipe tweaks will be necessary. According to the blog Bread Machine Diva, too much liquid can cause bread to collapse, as can too much or too little yeast or not enough salt or flour. Making even the slightest adjustments can be the difference between a beautifully domed top and one that’s sunken in.
During its mix and kneading cycles, the Cuisinart was louder than most models, possibly a factor if you want fresh bread for breakfast, as depending on how close your bedrooms are to your kitchen, the noise could wake the house hours before the alarms are set to go off. Its 4-foot cord (the longest we tested; most were 3.3 feet) simplifies placement for a machine that’s likely to be used and then put away, and along with the other Cuisinart model we tested, it had the best warranty at three years.
If you’re a baking newbie looking for a machine that’s affordable and compact and are willing to experiment a bit to dial in your results? What are you waiting for? Order the Cuisinart CBK-110 now.
To hunt down the best bread makers on the market, we researched models that were highly rated by users, top sellers at major retailers and well reviewed by professional critics, eventually homing in on eight models to put to the test. For each bread maker, we made three loaves — white, wheat and gluten-free — using the recipes for each provided with the machine. If a loaf turned out seriously undercooked, deflated or misshapen, we baked it again to ensure a mismeasurement of ingredients wasn’t to blame.
It’s also a good idea to check the bread during the kneading cycle (lifting the lid is fine). Dough looking overly wet? Add a bit more flour to help keep it from collapsing later on. Does it seem too dry? Pour in a teaspoon or two of water to keep it from ending up too dense.
We noted everything from ease of use to number of settings to noise levels to counter appeal and, most importantly, the bread’s ultimate texture and taste. We used the following criteria to assess each bread maker:
Baking results: For each machine, we used the provided recipes to bake white, wheat and gluten-free loaves. We then evaluated each loaf’s crust, rise of the bread’s dome, crumb, overall texture and flavor. Settings/controls: We took note of the number of available bread settings, also called courses (i.e., white, wheat, gluten-free, multigrain, etc.) as well as crust options (such as light, medium
We baked dozens of bread loaves to find the best bread machine: These 2 blew us away
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