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The Most Important Thing You Should Do When Using a Bread Machine

Sneak Preview: Read about this bread-maker tip you should do every time you make bread in your bread machine if you want to make a loaf you are excited to eat and proud to share.

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. Keep reading and I’ll show you what to look for, why, and what to do about it.

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.

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

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.

But first, you have to score on the following points:

  • Use the right recipe
  • The humidity is the same as wherever the recipe-developer resides
  • 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!


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    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 also 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 find 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 safe 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?

    1. Immediately after you start your machine–check to make sure the paddle(s) is engaged and actually mixing your dough.
    2. Open the lid and look approximately 15-18 minutes after starting the machine. 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.
    3. Check to see if the dough has risen enough at the end of the DOUGH cycle. Just because the dough cycle has finished doesn’t mean your bread has risen enough to proceed to the next step.

    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.

    How do you know when the dough has risen enough?

    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 I do with the dough if it hasn’t risen enough by the end of the dough cycle?

    • Leave it in the machine and let it continue to rise. Set a timer to remind yourself to check again in 15-30 minutes.
    • Move the dough (either in the bread machine pan or to another bowl) to a warmer location. This might hasten the rising process.
    one way to check the dough to see if it has proofed enough

    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

    When you should avoid opening the lid

    Try not to open 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.


    How weighing your flour makes this tip easier:

    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.

    Some of my bread recipes on this website still don’t show the flour weights. 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, 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 this post with over 50 of my tried and tested bread recipes you can make with a bread machine.


    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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      Robin Scobey

      Tuesday 10th of November 2020

      Thank you for this article. It's rare to find someone else admit to using a machine !

      if you have a moment, you may be able to suggest where I'm going wrong... I have made fairly successful sour-ish dough bread for a couple of years in London (sea level) using a modified recipe from Joshua Burton at Stella Culinary. This recipe uses a lot of starter and is made in a day. I use a bread maker as you do for the mix and rise. I take it out after its 31/2 hour programme and put it in a rice floured basket covered with oiled cling flim for 30 minutes or so before baking in a cast iron casserole for 30 minutes covered at 240C and then 30 minutes at 210C uncovered. I'm now at 1500 metres altitude in the southern French Alps and it's all going horribly wrong. I hope it's simpler than my starter having effete London microbes in it... I'm struggling a bit with the french flours of course... My previously successful recipe has 375g starter, 300g fairly strong wheat flour, 32g wholewheat flour, 32g Rye flour, 250g warm water and 8g salt. All this goes into the machine. Now, when the programme finishes I pour out the contents into the basket and find quite a lot doesn' want to pour out. It doesn't rise in the basket now. Similarly when I decant the dough from the basket on to the baking paper, I leave a centimetre thick layer attached to the basket. Too wet ? Too much starter ? Wrong flour ? Any thoughts ?

      Paula

      Tuesday 10th of November 2020

      Hi Robin, Sounds like you have quite a challenge. Off the bat, I should tell you I have never baked at a high altitude. But I know you need to make several adjustments. I found a really good article here. https://www.wheatmontana.com/content/high-altitude-baking-how-make-your-recipes-work-mountains Maybe that will be helpful. It sounds like you need to add more flour and less yeast.

      I don't quite understand what you mean by the 3 1/2 hour program on the bread machine. Normally, the DOUGH cycle on a bread machine is more like 1 1/2 hour or 1 hour and 45 minutes. Am I missing something? Probably so. 3 and 1/2 hours is way too long for your bread to be rising unless you are using a very small amount of yeast. Sorry, I can't be more helpful. Good luck with your bread.

      Carman

      Thursday 5th of November 2020

      when my bread is all done in my bread maker Do I take it out and butter the top and sides or let it cool down in the machine

      Paula

      Friday 6th of November 2020

      Hi Carman,

      Normally, I let any bread (whether baked in a bread machine or the oven) cool down before trying to remove it from the pan--at least 10-15 minutes. Otherwise, you risk squashing it. Honestly, I have never buttered the sides of a loaf and rarely the top. I only butter rolls. However, if you want to butter just the top of your bread before you remove it from the pan, I don't see any harm in that.

      In case you are wanting to butter the sides of the loaf to make the crust more tender, I have two suggestions:

      1.) Look for a bread recipe with more butter or oil in it. 2.) Use the dough cycle on your machine and remove the bread at the end of that cycle. Shape it, let rise again in a standard bread pan, and bake in a conventional oven. Bread that is actually baked in a bread machine tends to have a thick and somewhat tough crust.

      Russell Beaton

      Wednesday 7th of October 2020

      If I have not used my bread machine in quite some time (a few years I suspect), is there any problem with just going ahead and using it again? Do I need to do anything to get it ready for use again?

      Paula

      Wednesday 7th of October 2020

      Hi Russell,

      I can't think of anything you need to do other than to be sure the pan is clean. Can't wait to hear about your bread.

      Dianne

      Tuesday 6th of October 2020

      One thing the bread machine maker never tells you is to ALWAYS (even in summer) put warm water in empty bread machine pan and leave it sit for 10 minutes then dump it out and proceed with your bread recipe. A warm pan helps your yeast to work properly. Also another tip I found out on my own - put ALL the ingredients in your bread machine pan EXCEPT the yeast - PUT THE YEAST IN LAST AND YOU WON'T KILL THE YEAST WITH YOUR WARM LIQUID. Hope this helps newbies and us older bread machine users.

      Kathy L Klawitter

      Wednesday 30th of September 2020

      My crust on my bread is always hard as a rock when my bread is done from my machine how do I correct this

      Paula

      Wednesday 30th of September 2020

      Hi Kathy, "Hard as a rock" does not sound very appetizing. Are you weighing your flour or using a measuring cup? Most people who use measuring cups add too much flour. You might find this post helpful. https://saladinajar.com/bread-machine-tips/measuring-flour/

      Personally, I almost never "bake" bread in a bread machine. It comes out SO SO much better if you make your bread on the dough cycle, then remove the dough from the machine, shape it, let it rise again, and bake it in your conventional oven. This post will give you more details. https://saladinajar.com/recipes/bread/oatmeal-sunflower-bread-recipe-how-to-knead-in-a-bread-machine-but-bake-in-a-conventional-oven/