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The Most Important Thing You Should Do When Using a Bread Machine (+Video)

Are you curious about the most important thing you should do when using a bread machine? The tip is, “Take a peek.” Yep. Open the lid while the machine is running and check the consistency of the dough.

Keep reading and I’ll show you what to look for and why.

Opening the lid of a bread machine to check the consistency of the dough

If you haven’t already been doing this, the quality of the bread you get out of a bread maker will start to improve immediately.

How can I improve the bread that comes out of my bread machine?

A lot of people buy a bread machine hoping it will magically make the perfect loaf of fresh yeast bread with the press of a button. You might get lucky, and it happens.

You have a good chance of experiencing success if you just happen to hit all of the following points:

  • Use the right recipe
  • The humidity is the same as wherever the recipe-developer resides on the particular day he was experimenting
  • The altitude is the same where the recipe-developer lives
  • You measured your flour in the same way the recipe-developer did
  • The ambient temperature where your bread machine sits is the same as the recipe developer
  • You use the same type and brand of flour

Whew! That’s a lot of luck!



Why is checking the dough an important bread machine tip?

Your bread machine has no brain. It may have a timer and a thermostat, but your bread maker can’t think for itself.

Your bread machine has no control over altitude, ambient temperature, or the recipe you chose. Furthermore, the bread maker can’t tell if you read the recipe wrong and added too much liquid. Neither does it recognize when you answered a text and forgot to add that last cup of flour.

If you set it and forget it as most people do with a bread machine, you may come back to a surprise when the machine is done. And it may not be a delicious or edible one, either.

“Your bread machine has no brain.”

Are you are using your bread machine as a mix-knead-rise appliance (like I do)? Or, do you want your bread machine to also bake the bread? Either way, this will surely improve your chances of producing good bread.


How will I know when the consistency of the bread dough is right?

Knowing when-what-and-how-much requires experience, a sixth sense, and sometimes, good luck. But here’s my best explanation.

The goal is for the dough to stick to the side, then pull away cleanly as it kneads. 

The dough in the video below is the perfect consistency for the average loaf of yeast bread. It’s pliable, shiny, smooth, and not too sticky.

How do I correct the consistency of the dough?

Is the dough too dry?

Does the dough refuse to form a ball? Or maybe it makes a ball that slaps loudly against the side of the pan.

Add a tablespoon of liquid (preferably the same as used in the recipe). Give it a chance to mix up for a couple of minutes. Check again. Keep doing this until the dough sticks to the side briefly, then pulls away.

Is the dough too wet?

Does it look gooey and sticky? Add a tablespoon of flour at a time, watching until you see the dough stick to the sides and then pull away cleanly. Allow a couple of minutes to incorporate the flour before adding any more.

Remember, some doughs need to be quite wet, like a brioche or ciabatta. If you are a beginner, avoid these type of recipes until you have dependable success with a simple loaf.

bread dough in a bread machine with too much moisture, too dry, or just right
Top left: too wet; Top right: too dry. Lower: Perfect…dough sticks to the side then pulls away cleanly.

Is it OK to open the bread machine lid while it’s running?

Yes. In fact, I highly recommend it. You can correct for many of the possible variables that happen when making bread if you will make this a habit.

Opening the lid during the mixing cycle won’t affect your bread. If you’ve ever tried it, you know that looking through the little window in the lid is futile. It doesn’t give you enough information.

“Do not leave the lid standing open for extended periods of time.”

–from the Breville Baker Instruction Book

I view this recommendation as permission to open the lid for short periods of time. You can do the same. The bread machine safety patrol will be thankful you checked your dough after they eat your fabulous bread.

When should I look?

Open the lid and look approximately 10-15 minutes after starting the machine and then again after the bread maker has been kneading for 15 minutes. If you walk by 20 minutes into the cycle, open the lid and evaluate the dough again to see if it is sticking and pulling away as it should.

Another time to take a look

I do not use my machine to actually bake bread very often. If you subscribe to the same philosophy of only using your machine to mix and knead the dough, this is a reminder.

Just because the dough cycle has finished doesn’t mean your bread has risen enough to proceed to the next step. Check to see. (This is one reason baking from beginning to end can be tricky. If the dough hasn’t risen enough, your machine isn’t smart enough to know it.)

I use two fingers poked into the dough. If the indentation bounces back, you will know it needs a little more time. If it fills back in slowly, it’s ready to be shaped.

What do you do if you forgot about the dough and it over-proofed or rose too much?

Over-proofing happens when the dough has proofed too long and the air bubbles have popped. You’ll know your dough is over-proofed if, when poked, it never springs back. To rescue over-proofed dough, press down on the dough to remove the gas, then reshape and reproof.”

Baking 101: What Is Proofing? Learn How to Proof Breads and Other Baked Goods

one way to check the dough to see if it has proofed enough

When you should avoid opening the lid

Avoid opening the cover in the middle of the proofing period, especially if your kitchen is cold. You don’t want to let heat escape, thus prolonging the rising time.

If you are using your machine to mix, knead, and bake, don’t open the lid during the preheat and baking cycle. You don’t want to lose heat.


Is weighing flour really necessary?

Weighing flour will prevent the need for so many adjustments. Not measuring the same way the recipe writer did can cause havoc.

For many years I did not weigh the flour in a bread recipe. Most American recipes don’t even specify a weight. Thankfully, that is starting to change.

Many of my bread recipes on this blog still don’t show the weight for the amount of flour specified. I’m slowly changing that. Meanwhile, this little trick about checking the dough will compensate for most problems that occur due to inaccurate measurement of the flour.


Wrap-Up

Remember that making bread is an art, not an exact science. Sometimes you will need to make adjustments based on the environment, the ingredients you use, and the finished product you desire.

As with any baking skill, practice makes perfect. Start checking your dough and I predict you’ll be a master bread baker before you know it.


p.s. If you are new to the bread machine world and want to increase your chances of success, I suggest you start with a bread machine mix from the grocery store. Alternatively, use a basic recipe from the manual that came with your bread maker.

Or, try using one of my bread machine recipes formulated for using a bread machine as I do. Start simple with something like pizza dough. Check out my recipe index for loads of possibilities.


Click here to sign up for a FREE 6-day Quick-Start email course: “Make Fabulous Bread with Your Bread Machine.”


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If you have a question or problem you need help with, please write it in the comment section below so I can respond back. You can also email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.

Thank you for visiting!
Paula


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Peggy

Friday 31st of July 2020

Hi Paula Is it possible to bake a sourdough bread in a bread machine? If its possible do you have a recipe to share and recipe for the starter as well. Thank you

Peggy

Saturday 1st of August 2020

@Paula, No worries Paula & thank you for your response 😊

Paula

Saturday 1st of August 2020

Hi Peggy, Yes, it is possible. I don't have a recipe on my website. However, if I did, I would only use the bread machine to mix it up, not bake it.

I love sourdough bread but I'm not a big fan of making it at home. Whenever I've made sourdough in the past, I can't keep up with the starter. Since it needs to be used or fed just about every week, that means I start making and eating more bread, which equals more inches on my hips, or I have to waste starter by throwing some away so I can keep the starter fresh. I have a hard time throwing good food out unless it's dessert. Sourdough leaves me in a quandary, so I haven't perfected any recipes worth sharing. (That's probably more than you wanted to know. Sorry.)

My ciabatta recipe is a good substitute.

Betty

Saturday 11th of July 2020

Dear Paula,

I have just encountered a problem I have never seen before on my bread dough just about finished rising in my Cuisinart convection bread machine.

I live in Nova Scotia, Canada, where right now it’s raining and damp and dishclothes have to be changed and Javexed every day because they smell of mold.

I’ve been making bread in my machine for years, and like you, I use it for the kneading and rising part of the process. BTW, I always lift the lid and peek. Today, after it had finished the 1st rise, I cannot opened the lid to take the dough out and saw a grey spot about the size of a dime on the top of the dough. It was mold! Of course I removed it but I have several questions for you, please.

Although the mold was visible on top of the dough will it have permeated the whole dough? Can you please suggest a way of preventing this from happening again? Would washing the interior of the bread machine with vinegar kill any lingering mold spores? Instead of going ahead and baking the dough should I have dumped it in the garbage?

I would really appreciated any answers or recommendations you may have about this problem.

Yours sincerely,

Betty Pearce

Sent from my iPad

Paula

Saturday 11th of July 2020

Hi Betty,

This is so weird. It's hard to believe mold could grow that fast. Since I'm not sure of the cause other than your extremely damp weather conditions, I'm not sure of the solution. Surely a vinegar wash wouldn't hurt. But not sure it will help either. I think I would have been tempted to dump the dough. On the other hand, cutting out the bad part and then baking it should make it safe. Right? I'm going to research this more.

I do have a thought. What if you open the lid and leave it open so the air can circulate? Throw a tea towel over the top of your machine while it rises. OR, remove the dough from the machine when the kneading is finished. Put it in another bowl to rise (or you could leave it in the pan I guess) and cover with a towel. I suspect there was some condensation that allowed the mold to grow rapidly. What do you think?

Jean

Friday 26th of June 2020

Hi I forgot to ask is there a specific kind of yeast i need to use when using bread machine? I watched different videos and they don’t mention if they used dry yeast or active dry yeast they just say add the yeast

Paula

Sunday 28th of June 2020

Hi Jean,

You CAN use any type of yeast you have available or prefer, but they all need to be handled differently. Using instant yeast or bread-machine yeast (same thing) is the easiest yeast to use in a bread machine, so it is my default yeast. I use it in all my bread recipes.

Bread-machine or instant yeast does not need to be dissolved. Dump it in on top of the flour. It's usually the last ingredient you will add to your machine. It will dissolve on its own as the bread mixes. Active-dry yeast needs to be dissolved in a liquid before it's added to the other ingredients. It's one more step you won't have to worry about with instant yeast. The end result is the same to my eye and tastebuds. Hope this helps.

Jean

Thursday 25th of June 2020

Can I use APF in my bread machine instead of bread flour?

Jean

Friday 26th of June 2020

@Paula, why some people suggest to add Vital Wheat Gluten when using APF? Also how do i know how much VWG should I add to my bread machine

Paula

Thursday 25th of June 2020

Hi Jean,

Yes, you can use all-purpose flour in a bread machine with great results. Doesn't matter if it is bleached or unbleached.

Rupam Khetan

Monday 25th of May 2020

Hey Betty , thanks for the mind blowing tips....I have just bought a breadmaker but my breads are too dense and chewy ....how can I improve it ? Can it be due to hard dough ?

Paula

Monday 25th of May 2020

Congratulations on your new bread machine. Have you read this post about "6 Bread Machine Secrets You Need to Know"? I think you will find it helpful.

To answer your specific question, here are the possibilities: too much flour (improper measuring) or not enough liquid, old yeast or improperly handled yeast, recipe not written for a bread machine, kitchen is too cold, because of certain ingredients like a lot of sugar or using whole wheat flour, the dough is rising slowly, so the machine bakes it too soon. I could go on but this gives you a place to start.