Best bread machine overall
This bread machine kneads thoroughly, bakes evenly, and, unlike many of its competitors, turns out standard-sized loaves.
Pros: Produces standard-sized loaves that rise evenly and are a consistent color, a wide variety of settings, ability to customize your own settings, pre-programmable, 1-year warranty
Cons: Expensive, takes up a lot of counter space
The Zojirushi Virtuoso Plus is my top pick for home bakers, thanks to its stellar reliability and variety of settings. After putting nine different machines through three rounds of tests (or two, for machines without gluten-free settings), I found that this was the only one to turn out perfectly domed, uniformly browned, and consistently fluffy bread with evenly distributed mix-ins every time. To check for consistency, I made two more loaves of white bread after those initial tests, and both were slam dunks.
It was also one of the few bread machines to pass the gluten-free test with flying colors, producing bread that was similar in color, size, and texture to your standard white loaf. For her own experiment, the Bread Machine Diva blog’s Marsha Perry — who name-checked the Virtuoso Plus when I asked her for a
recommendation — made one gluten-free loaf using the “Gluten-Free” setting and another using its regular “White” setting, and said the first loaf was markedly better.
The Virtuoso Plus’ custom bread cycles feature is especially helpful for those who have moved beyond the machine’s guidebook recipes. Interestingly, Hamel of King Arthur Flour uses her Zojirushi’s “Jam” cycle to make risotto — a technique that I’m curious to try.
The Virtuoso Plus can be pre-programmed (a feature that worked perfectly and allowed me to wake up to the smell of fresh bread during testing), and the machine’s 5-minute power backup means you won’t automatically lose your bread-in-progress if the power flickers, as Hamel noted.
The Virtuoso Plus also stops kneading when you open the lid, which is useful if you want to add mix-ins to your bread. And if you need to measure those mix-ins, the machine comes with four nested measuring cups, one liquid measuring cup, and a double-ended measuring spoon — add-ons that are unnecessary, but appreciated.
This machine makes two-pound 9-by-5 loaves that are, as I mentioned, about the size and shape of sandwich bread you’d find at the grocery store. Timing-wise, the white and wheat loaves of bread took about 3.5 hours to bake, while the gluten-free loaf was done in 2.5 hours. The clock displays the time your bread will be done, rather than the hours left, which I found helpful when planning my day.
I’ve been using this model at least twice a month in the four months since my initial testing, and find that it still runs smoothly, with no discernable changes in quality of bread, reliability of programming, or noise levels.
All of this being said, the Zojirushi is on the expensive side, so if you’re just trying out bread-making before you fully commit to the hobby, I’d recommend our budget pick. It’s also probably not the best choice if you have limited counter space, as the other machines in this guide are more compact.