Small footprint saves counter space
No gluten-free setting
Display isn’t backlit
Top of loaves are sometimes pale
After stocking up on flour and yeast, we put the Oster ExpressBake through its paces, working our way through each of the model’s setting and slicing and tasting the resulting breads. This type of machine makes bread baking easy, since you simply add ingredients in the recommended order, press a few buttons, and wait for the bread to bake. There’s no need to set timers to punch down or shape the dough, so it’s very convenient for inexperienced bread makers. Besides using the machine for baking bread, we also made pizza dough and mixed up a batch of jam. We sliced countless loaves and made a few more runs to the store for flour before we were confident we knew what this machine was capable of. Read on for what a few weeks of testing revealed.
Performance: Decidedly solid
We started our testing by whipping up a basic white bread recipe from the included booklet—and the result was spot-on. After good first results, we decided to try one of the ExpressBake settings which produces a loaf in less than an hour. Compared to our successful white bread, the quickly baked bread was short, dense, dark on the sides, pale on the top, and slightly torn from rapid rising. While that sounds like a lot of flaws, the loaf was actually pretty attractive, just in a rustic way.
After running through a few more of the included recipes with favorable results, we progressed to using our own to test the machine’s versatility. Some worked, but many of them gave us loaves with sunken tops rather than a nice dome. While the concave loaves weren’t the most aesthetically appealing, they were fully baked and tasted good, so we still used them for sandwiches, toast, croutons, and bread crumbs.
We started our testing by whipping up a basic white bread recipe from the included booklet—and the result was spot-on.
Since I’ve been baking bread for decades and have authored my own cookbook, Make Ahead Bread, I know that bread can be a little finicky and that different brands of flour or yeast can make a difference in the result. For this reason, I wasn’t surprised when some of the loaves weren’t perfect on the first try, and was actually impressed at how many recipes worked well.
The included recipe booklet has tips for adjusting ingredients when bread doesn’t turn out as expected. Generally, the adjustments are minor; sometimes all it takes is reducing the yeast by ¼ of a teaspoon. The adjustments aren’t terribly difficult, though it can take a bit of trial and error to figure out exactly how much adjustment is needed for a perfect loaf. Using those tips as our guide, we were able to tweak our recipes and got better results on subsequent attempts.
One downside to many of our loaves was that the sides tended to be darker than the top.
One downside to many of our loaves was that the sides tended to be darker than the top. That makes sense, since the heat comes from the bottom of the machine. While this was barely noticeable on some loaves, on ExpressBake breads, the top was far paler.
Design: Plain Jane
The Oster bread maker isn’t the prettiest kitchen appliance you’ll find. It’s white, mostly square, and the front is rather plain as all the controls are on the top. While it’s not super attractive, it’s also not intrusive, measuring just 12 x 11 x 11 inches, so you can tuck it out of sight in a corner. Since it’s lightweight at just 8 pounds, it’s also easy to move into storage when not in use. Two small hand-holds on the side make it a cinch to hold and carry.
The control buttons are clearly labeled and a list of available programs is printed to the left of the buttons. The LCD screen shows your selections along with the baking time, so you can make sure you’ve got everything set correctly before pressing the start button. One downside is that the screen isn’t backlit, so it’s a bit difficult to read if your kitchen isn’t well-lit.
The top of the machine is removable, which is great for cleaning, but we found this out by surprise when we accidentally knocked it off. A round window in the top of the lid lets you peek at the dough as it mixes, kneads, bakes, and rests, but there are times when the lid gets too steamy to see what’s going on. Still, it’s better than having no window at all.
The start button lights up in blue when the machine is active, and it blinks when baking is done. The machine beeps insistently after finishing and then switches into warm mode for an hour. Once 60 minutes have ticked by, it beeps again and automatically turns off. We suggest retrieving the bread as soon as it’s done, so it has time to cool before you slice it.
Features: Lots of settings
This machine has 12 different baking programs including two ExpressBake settings for different sized loaves. A Quick setting bakes bread faster than usual, but not as fast as ExpressBake. We like the results of the Quick setting better that the ExpressBake, but both were acceptable for a rushed loaf. For most of the programs, you can set your loaf size (maximum is 2 pounds) and crust color, so there are plenty of options to choose from.
A timer lets you set the baking time up to 13 hours in advance. Since this machine doesn’t have clock, however, we needed to do the math to figure out how long the delay time should be.
Besides baking bread, the machine can also be used for mixing and cooking jam, and we were quite pleased with the results when we tried it. The dough setting mixes and kneads dough and lets it rise gently. We used this setting for pizza dough, which we refrigerated and used the next day, but you can also shape it and bake in the oven immediately. The Oster is also great for making dinner rolls, bread sticks, and other breads that don’t get baked in a bread pan.
A timer lets you set the baking time up to 13 hours in advance. Since this machine doesn’t have clock, however, we needed to do the math to figure out how long the delay time should be. Still, it’s a very convenient feature.
Included Accessories: Basic measuring cups
The Oster ExpressBake comes with a liquid measuring cup, a measuring spoon, and a tool for extracting the paddle from the bread. The extraction tool is simple, but we found it very useful as the paddle remained in most loaves after they finished baking. The liquid measuring cup is quite basic, but is certainly handy to have. One thing we found odd was that many of the recipes require 1 ⅜ cups of water, but the measuring cup didn’t have a ⅜ measure. When we made those recipes, we had to estimate the halfway point between ¼ and ½ cup.
With a retail price of $89.99, the Oster bread maker is pretty middle of the road. The machine’s results were consistently good (especially if you follow the included recipes) and it has plenty of features for folks who want to expand their skills beyond a basic loaf every once in a while.
Competition: More features = more money
Hamilton Beach HomeBaker: The Hamilton Beach HomeBaker is quite similar to the Oster bread machine both in price and performance. We did find that the Oster was slightly better at producing good loaves on the first try, though, and more accommodating when making creative loaves. Once you’ve used a machine for a while and you’ve tweaked recipes to work with your ingredients, altitude, and the temperature of your kitchen, either machine will be reliable. That said, the Hamilton Beach bread machine has a gluten-free setting, so if that’s an important consideration, it’s worth a look. If you don’t need a gluten-free setting, we give Oster the nod for its slightly more reliable performance.
Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus Bread Maker: If you’re willing to shell out more on your bread machine (to the tune of $339.99 MSRP), the Zojirushi Home Bakery Virtuoso Plus Bread Maker is our pick. The machine has enough options to keep you experimenting with new breads for a long time, and the included recipe book offers reliable recipes and tips on how to adjust ingredients for best results. Along with preset settings, the user can program three custom bread settings, adjusting everything from the initial rest to the kneading, rising, and baking time. While the more hands-on nature of the machine may not appeal to everyone, it’s ideal for those who want to try more advanced recipes. In the end, Oster suits those looking to make occasional loaves while the Zojirushi is a worthwhile investment for serious bakers.
- Product Name ExpressBake Bread Machine
- Product Brand Oster
- MPN CKSTBRTW20
- Price $89.99
- Weight 8 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 12 x 11 x 11 in.
- Color White
- Material Nonstick aluminum
- Warranty 1 year
- What’s Included Liquid measuring cup, dual measuring spoon, and kneading paddle