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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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!