The Panasonic SD-ZB2502BXC may be pricey, but it's a superb breadmaker when judged by the quality of the bread it makes – which really is the most important thing. It's good looking, too, and features include a rye kneading blade, a dispenser for seeds and dried fruit, and also a yeast dispenser to guarantee your yeast and water don't come into contact until the right time.
It comes with a superb recipe book. It's not fancy – there are no glossy photos – but it contains more than 100 recipes, with easy-to-follow instructions. Most importantly, though, the Panasonic simply makes the best bread of any breadmaker we've tested yet.
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The Panasonic is narrow and deep, so it doesn't take up too much worktop width. Its footprint is the size of a sheet of A4 (portrait) but a bit deeper. It's solidly built, in brushed stainless steel with a curvy black plastic lid. In fact, it has a double lid: lift the top section up to reveal the two dispensers – one for seeds and dried fruit, the other for yeast. The design looks classy and modern, although not as stylish as the Cuisinart Automatic Breadmaker.
It has 27 different programs: 15 for breads and another 12 for doughs and jams. And these are backed up with a comprehensive recipe book containing more than 100 recipes. These are described simply, with no glossy photos, just the quantities of each ingredient listed in the order in which you should add them.
Recipes include, for example, four different wholemeal loaves: 100%, 70% and 50% wholemeal and rapid wholemeal. The breadmaker also comes with a second kneading blade designed for making specialty breads using rye and spelt flours. A timer lets you delay the start time of the programs, so that your loaf is ready in up to 13 hours' time.
Two things are striking when you start using the Panasonic. The first is how comprehensive the recipes are. Yes, of course you can hunt for recipes online, but the ones recommended for and tested with your specific breadmaker always come out best.
The other is how clever the yeast dispenser is. It does the job of keeping water and yeast completely separate. Which means you can throw in all the other ingredients without being dainty about it. With other breadmakers, you find yourself carefully spooning the flour on top of the water to ensure it's completely covered, then carefully making an indentation in the top for the yeast. With the Panasonic you can chuck it all in much quicker.
We tested it with a 500g 70% wholemeal loaf recipe. This size is confusingly called L. The three loaf sizes – 400g, 500g and 600g – are called M, L and XL respectively. Why not S, M and L? If you're making the mid-sized loaf you need to remember to select L. The wholemeal program doesn't let you select the crust type, but on some programs you can choose a light, medium or dark crust.
The machine was fairly quiet… and initially completely silent because the 70% wholemeal program lasts 5 hours and starts with an hour of resting. This is for the ingredients to settle and come up to room temperature. If you're in a hurry this can be bypassed by going for the 3 hour rapid wholemeal program, but it's annoying that many of the Panasonic programs include this enforced rest period – it would be better to have the option of bypassing it.
That said, Panasonic's design team has definitely got something very right, because the resulting loaf was the very best we've had out of a breadmaker on test. It was evenly cooked and tall, very nicely risen. The crumb was good and fairly even, with just a few bubbles bigger than the rest. The resulting toast was light and fluffy, surprisingly so for a wholemeal loaf from a breadmaker.
Yes, you should. It's pricey but it simply produces the best loaf of bread we've had from any breadmaker we've tested yet, backed up with superb features and a diverse array of recipes. If looks are your priority then also check out the slick, contemporary Cuisinart CBK250U Automatic Breadmaker.
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The Panasonic SD-ZB2502BXC may be pricey, but it bakes bread better than any other breadmaker we've tested to date.