Many of us know and love the smell of a warm loaf of bread baking in the oven. Freshly baked bread is quite different from the sliced loaves of packaged bread we buy from the grocery store.
Making bread by hand is entirely possible and actually a wonderful experience, but many of us have time constraints that make baking handmade bread on a regular basis impractical. This is where bread machines come in: with less than five minutes of work, we can have freshly baked bread whenever we want it.
But, is a bread machine really worth it? In all honesty, it depends. Each of us has our own unique circumstances, preferences, and desires. For many, a bread machine is a wonderful investment, but some will find that buying a bread machine is unnecessary.
With this in mind, I’m going to do my best to address this question from a multitude of angles. My hope is that this will help you to answer the question of whether a bread machine is a worthwhile investment for you.
Uses for a Bread Machine
First of all, let’s talk about what a bread machine can be used for. As you probably know, the most common use is for making breads. Bread machines can be used for both yeast and quick breads.
They work well for everything from dense whole-grain loaves to fluffy white varieties. You can also use a bread machine just for the mixing and kneading cycle without actually baking the bread in the machine.
This is useful when baking cinnamon rolls, croissants, pizza dough, and all of the other breads which need to be shaped by hand.
What may come as a surprise to some is many high-end bread machines have settings specifically designed for making jam, pudding, and cake. This is a bit less common in the more budget-friendly bread machines, although a few of them do have similar features.
It can be fun to look up bread machine recipes online and experiment with all of the potential uses.
This is probably the biggest reason that most of us decide to buy a bread machine. Baking bread by hand is very time-consuming and using a bread machine frees up our time significantly.
As I mentioned earlier, most bread machine recipes require only about five minutes of hands-on time—just what it takes to measure the ingredients and place them in the pan.
Once that part is done, you generally don’t have anything else to do, unless you are making a bread that has fruits, nuts, or seeds, in which case a beeping will alert you when to add those additional ingredients.
The other time-related benefit of a bread machine is that many can be programmed to finish at a certain time. This means you can throw in your ingredients before leaving for work in the morning and set the timer to have the bread ready just in time for dinner.
Pair that with a hearty soup made in the slow cooker, and you can prep your entire dinner in the morning and come home to everything cooked and ready to eat.
In truth, not everyone will save money by investing in a bread machine, but many of us will. When looking at the cost-effectiveness of bread machines, I generally don’t compare using the bread machine to making bread by hand, but rather to buying comparable bread from the grocery store or bakery.
If you have the time to make bread by hand whenever you would like it and don’t have anything hindering you from doing so, then investing in a bread machine doesn’t make sense from an economic standpoint.
If you find yourself buying bread at the grocery store because you don’t have the time to make it at home, however, then a bread machine will likely pay for itself within a few months.
Before I go on, let me make one caveat here—if you buy the cheapest bread at the grocery store, those loaves that cost around a dollar, then baking bread at home really isn’t much of a savings.
Most of us bakers, though, are a bit more of connoisseurs when it comes to bread. We like delicious breads with natural, wholesome ingredients, and at the grocery store these come at a premium price. That’s where you’ll really see the savings with a bread machine.
The raw ingredients are generally extremely economical, especially if you buy in bulk, so you’ll find that a bread machine allows you to have the artisan breads of your choice at a very small cost.
Keeping the kitchen cool in warmer months
This is a big advantage in the summer. Have you ever avoided baking bread because you just couldn’t bear the thought of heating up the house by running the oven? If so, a bread machine will likely be a great investment.
Most bread machines produce very little heat, much less than a regular oven; so, you’ll be able to bake bread without worries all throughout the year.
Unfortunately, bread machine loaves are not always as visually appealing as bread that has been formed and shaped by hand.
The primary downfall is that they often have an indentation in the bottom where the blade was. It’s not a huge deal, and the degree to which this happens varies a bit between different machines, but it is worth noting.
Another problem is that loaves baked in the bread machine are sometimes a bit lopsided on top; you may find that one side is just a bit higher. This isn’t as common an issue, but it does happen.
Of course, hand-formed breads sometimes have this problem as well, but in my experience, it does happen somewhat more frequently with bread machines.
It may seem strange to have cost listed as a disadvantage when the cost-effectiveness was just discussed as an advantage, but I wanted to include this as a potential downside because a bread machine can be a bit of an investment upfront, especially if you choose one of the higher-end models.
If you are on a very strict budget at the moment, you’ll want to consider either buying a budget-friendly bread machine, or perhaps just waiting until a better time to make the purchase.
Not all of us have limitless space in our kitchen cabinets, so we truly need to consider the space-requirements of each potential kitchen gadget or appliance.
Unfortunately, bread machines do tend to take up a bit of space, so if you live in a small apartment or have a particularly tiny kitchen, you’ll probably want to take this into careful consideration.
Alternatives to Buying a Bread Machine
When determining whether a bread machine is worth it for you, I think it helps to consider the alternatives. There are three alternatives worth thinking about:
1. Buy all of your bread at the grocery store or bakery
This isn’t the cheapest option, nor is it the most appealing for most of us bakers, but it is what many people do, so it is definitely worth mentioning here.
2. Make all of your bread by hand
Some people truly enjoy the bread-making process in its entirety. For some, kneading dough is a stress-reliever or an enjoyable bit of exercise. If you have the time, making bread entirely by hand can be a wonderful experience.
Even if you do buy a bread machine, you’ll probably still occasionally enjoy making a loaf or two by hand.
3. Use a stand mixer or food processor to do the kneading
Using a food processor or stand mixer for kneading can cut down on the hands-on time required for breadmaking. You’ll still need to be home to shape and bake the loaf, but you won’t need to spend quite as much time in the kitchen, so this can be a good compromise if you decide not to invest in a bread machine.
Bread machines can be fantastic time-savers, and many of us rely on them several times a week. They can be a bit of an investment though, so it is important to weigh the advantages and potential disadvantages carefully before purchasing.
Hopefully, with this information, you’ll be able to make the right decision for your own unique circumstances and requirements.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.