West Bend 41300 Electronic Dual Blade
I bought the West Bend Hi Rise bread maker about three weeks ago (November 2010). I originally was going to get a Breadman machine but read reviews that parts and service are difficult to obtain. Then I was looking at a Cuisanart but there seem to be issues about performance. Finally I settled on the West Bend based on overall good reviews. Later I found a local discount store has these on sale for fifty bucks. But I think it is a good value for anything under a hundred.
I have made about a dozen loaves so far and they have all turned out great. I have made plain white, whole wheat, Honey Oat, Cranberry quick bread, Banana Nut quick bread, and Buttermilk whole wheat. I used Red Star Active Dry Yeast for all loaves, although recipes sometimes call for bread machine yeast or instant yeast.
The recipes from the West bend manual are perfect, contrary to some comments about the poor manual. Perhaps they made corrects based on the feedback. The white, whole wheat and quick breads I made all came from the manual's recipes. I also used Beth Hensperger's Bread Machine Cookbook (highly recommended), and Sheasby's Bread Machine Bible.
The machine is well built. Solid, simple controls. The bread pan is very sturdy. I really like the two paddles and it mixes the ingredients into a consistent dough very well. I have not had the paddles stick in the loaf at all. One tip for easier removal of paddles. They often get baked dough stuck around their bases making removal difficult. Soak in warm water as stated in the manual. When you go to remove them, first push down on the paddle to break the binding dough, then pull up. You don't really feel it move down, but it does just enough to break the gummed up stuff. Works every time.
It has cycles for everything, plus a manual mode in which you can program your own cycles, and a dough cycle. It has settings for Light/Medium/Dark crust; and for 1.5, 2.0 and 2.5 pound loaves. I have baked 1.5 and 2.0 lbs loaves of the various bread types I have tried so far and they all turned out perfectly baked with beautiful brown crusts. I warm the water or milk in the microwave before pouring into the bread pan; this helps the yeast start working sooner. No significant collapse of the loaf.
Read the books carefully about interplay of yeast, liquids, temperature, salt, and sugar. There are many types of yeast so be sure you understand which type you have and how much to use. I use very basic Red Star Active Dry Yeast. It takes about 2.25 teaspoons of yeast for a 2# loaf (about 4 cups of flour). Faster acting yeasts can be in the 1.25 - 2 tsp range. If you use honey or molasses in place of some of the sugar then reduce the water/milk by the same amount (about 2-4 tablespoons).
I am not a baker by any means. I got a bread machine because I wanted a simple way to make my own bread. It takes about 10-15 minutes to assemble the ingredients, and then it does everything else in about 3.5 hours for a 2 lb loaf. For one loaf at a time this is VERY easy. If I needed to make multiple loaves at a time for a larger family I might just opt for using the Kitchen Aid mixer and convection oven for multiple bread pans all at once. A bread machine like the West Bend can make a couple of loaves per day easily. I make about 3-4 loaves per week and that feeds my wife and I plus we can give some away to other family and take some to potlucks. My first ever cranberry bread loaf was a big hit at our last breakfast potluck.
I am spending more time learning about bread, ingredients, and recipes and less time making the bread. I would never have the inclinations to get into bread this much if I had to do it all by hand. If I was a real baker I might want to get my hands on the dough, but for convenience of home made bread the West Bend is perfect.
Overall: sturdy, makes great bread of a variety of types, simple to use, mixes dough well, and works with recipes from the manual and other books.
No complaints at all. I like it so much I am getting each of my daughters the exact same machine!