How fancy a machine?

April 06, 1994|By Pat Dailey

Considering that bread machines didn't even exist in this country 10 years ago, a vast and confusing array of models is available today.

It's hard to pin down the number of brands, but 40 is the figure industry representatives often give. Last December, Consumer Reports rated 17 models. Innovative Cooking Enterprises, an Alaska company that develops recipes for bread machines, lists 39 in a brochure. As sales increase, it's a sure bet the number of makers will too.

So which one to buy? The Consumer Reports rating concluded that all the models they tested "made very good bread." The differences come in the extra functions and features, size, ease of use and cleaning, warranties and product support.

Shoppers need to ask several questions before buying:

* What's your budget? Prices range from $150 to $350 for different models. Price also varies for the same brand and model, depending on where it is purchased.

* How much bread do you eat? Machines' capacities range from 1 pound to 2 pounds. A large family probably will want a larger unit.

* If you like sturdy, whole-wheat loaves or those made with specialty flours and lots of grains, select a model that can handle a heavy dough. Whole-wheat settings are necessary for such breads.

* Can ingredients be added to the baking pan while it's out of the unit? It's more convenient to add ingredients before the pan is placed in the machine.

* Consider which options you really need: Some machines offer the option of time-delay baking and of stopping the machine after mixing and rising so the dough can be shaped by hand and baked in a conventional oven. Some machines have settings for adding raisins, nuts and other such ingredients. Some machines offer cake and jam settings. Others can be programmed for your own recipes.

* Does the company offer a toll-free number to answer questions?

* Consider the shape of the loaf. None of the bread machines will produce a traditional-looking loaf or a French or Italian-type loaf. You can choose from tall loaves that are round or square or, less commonly, oblong.

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