Sneak Peek: This is a collection of 6 bread maker tips (+ 1 bonus tip about dense bread) for beginners and experienced bread machine users.
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Are you just now unpacking a new machine or digging one out of the attic? If Santa brought you a bread maker or the shut-down has inspired you, you might be wondering where to start.
You could read the manual. (Just kidding! Who has time for that?)
I’ve gathered more than six bread maker tips to build your confidence. At the end of this post, I’ll share with you the most popular bread recipe on this website. It’s beginner-friendly and an excellent place to start.
Why do I need tips and tricks? Isn’t a bread maker supposed to be easy?
When I first started using my bread machine, I was infatuated with the smell of fresh bread–especially when using a timer to make it overnight. What an enticing wake-up call!
But as I always say, “Even bad bread tastes good when it’s warm.” Don’t be fooled.
The reality of tighter-than-they-were-before jeans inspired me to be pickier. I decided that good-smelling bread didn’t justify the thick crusts, holes in the bottom, and awkwardly ugly loaves I was offering my family.
Even bad bread tastes good when it’s warm. So don’t settle for dense bread.
I threw out the bread maker manual and experimented with recipes I already loved. I questioned everything.
Condensed Milk Bread is mixed and kneaded in a bread machine but baked in a conventional oven.
Remember that any advanced skill (making high-quality yeast bread qualifies) will take practice and experience.
Adjust your early expectations while keeping your standards high. You don’t have to compromise.
6 Bread Machine Tips + 1 about Dense Bread
1. Start simple.
- (If you are already an experienced bread-maker, skip this one.) If you have never made bread before, use a bread machine mix from the grocery store and observe the consistency of the dough in various stages.
- Begin with a simple recipe like pizza dough. It’s my favorite, and it’s almost fool-proof.
2. Be cautious about substitutions.
In the beginning, try to follow the ingredient list as carefully as possible to maximize your chances of success.
- Substituting whole wheat flour for white or even all-purpose flour for bread flour is not necessarily a 1-to-1 proposition. Different flours absorb different amounts of moisture and have varying amounts of gluten.
- All yeast is not the same. You can substitute active-dry yeast for instant or bread machine yeast. (Instant, bread machine, and rapid-rise yeast are interchangeable.)
However, active dry yeast is slower on the uptake. Add 1/4 teaspoon extra yeast if you are substituting for instant yeast.
Instant yeast saves time as it does not need to be dissolved. Traditionally, active-dry yeast needed to be dissolved. The modern formulation means that it can now be added directly to your flour.
If it makes you feel better, go ahead and dissolve it according to the package directions. No worries!
3. Don’t be afraid to open the lid.
Take a peek 10-15 minutes into the mixing process. I cannot stress this tip enough to avoid inedible surprises!!!
- If nothing is happening, the blade may not be present or engaged.
Many times I have plunged a wooden spoon or spatula through the unmixed ingredients to push a paddle down into the proper position so it could do its job. I’ve even forgotten to install the blade before adding ingredients to the pan.
- Another possibility is that the machine has entered a preheat phase. There will be no action until the machine has a chance to bring all the ingredients to the same temperature. Read more about the preheat feature and how to circumvent it if you want to.
- If the dough is too moist, it will level out like a thick soup. Add flour one tablespoon at a time until it makes a tacky ball that sticks to the wall of the pan and then pulls away.
- If the dough is too dry, it will form a ball that doesn’t touch the sides or may slap loudly against the side of the pan. (If it’s very dry it won’t even form a ball.) Add water one tablespoon at a time until you get a tacky ball.
Top left–too wet; Top right–too dry; Lower–Just right
Although experience is helpful, I’m hoping you’ll have beginner’s luck and your bread will turn out superbly the first time.
When you learn how to gauge the consistency of the dough and can add water or flour as needed, the bread-machine world will be your oyster.
4. Stick with the “DOUGH” cycle on your bread maker.
If you haven’t read my blog before, I rarely bake bread in my machine. I use the dough cycle to mix the ingredients. Then, I remove the dough to a floured board to shape it. Finally, bake it in a conventional oven.
This method gives me more control, more shaping options, and a better crust on the finished product. If I’m going to ingest luxury calories, they must be worth it. Bread baked in a bread machine rarely makes the cut.
What if you have no oven or are a fix-it-and-forget-it kind of baker?
If you prefer to use the bread machine for the entire process, keep reading.
How to get a better-looking loaf when you use the bread machine to bake your bread:
- Determine when the final rise starts during the REGULAR cycle. Check your manual.
- At the beginning of the last rise, remove the dough from the pan and take the dough blades out.
- Reshape the dough. You could braid it, make large or small balls (see picture below), twist it, or flatten and roll it up to make a loaf that is evenly distributed in the pan.
- Place the dough back into the bread machine pan and let the cycle continue uninterrupted. (I unplug my machine to stop the process. When I replug it, the cycle takes up where it left off. Your machine may be different.)
This extra step will give your loaf a nicer top, a uniform shape, and smaller holes in the bottom of the loaf after it is baked. Of course, the crust will still be thick and cardboard-like, but that’s the price one pays for convenience.
5. Invest in quality bakeware and accessories.
If you decide you want to bake your bread-machine-mixed dough in a regular oven, you will want a nice crust on your bread. Purchase high-quality pans.
A few suggestions:
I highly recommend the last three items if you aspire to be an excellent bread-baker. See some of my favorites in my Amazon store
- Two heavy-duty pizza pans (for pizza) with a dark finish (Check e-bay for these. Often sold off from defunct pizza restaurants.)
- Two (8 or 9-inch with 2-inch high sides) heavy-duty cake pans with dark interior or gold finish
- An 8 x 4-1/2-inch loaf pan and a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan for recipes containing approximately 2-1/2 to 3 cups of flour
- A heavy-duty half-sheet cookie sheet.
- Instant-read thermometer or this smaller one (paid links)–helps to gauge when the bread is fully baked
- Dough scraper
- Freebie shower caps–perfect for covering pans of formed dough for second rising
Heavy, dark-colored pans, instant-read thermometer, and a dough scraper
6. Consider the ambient temperature.
(Ambient temperature refers to the area or room where your bread machine sits.) Even though bread machines contain a heating element, the room temperature can make a huge difference in how fast the dough rises.
If your house is chilly, the dough may not rise to double in the time allotted by the DOUGH cycle. Leave the bread dough inside the machine to continue proofing.
To do otherwise will keep the yeast from developing to its full potential resulting in less flavor and dense texture.
What to do when your house is too cold:
- Consider moving your machine to a warmer spot in the house.
- Throw a blanket over it.
What to do when your house is too warm:
When your house is too warm or the humidity is high, your bread may overproof and turn out flat. You can read all about over-proofed dough in a bread machine and what to do about it here.
If you are using the DOUGH cycle:
- Transfer the dough out of the bread machine pan into another bowl. Cover it. Set it inside a slightly warm oven (85˚F) or on top of a water heater or any warm place.
- The dough may not rise to double in the time allotted by the DOUGH cycle due to the cooler temperature. Leave the bread dough inside the machine to continue proofing as long as necessary. Otherwise, the yeast won’t develop properly resulting in less flavor and a dense texture.
Bonus Tip: Why is my bread too dense?
This is the most common complaint I get from new bread makers. Your bread will be dense when it does not rise as it should in the time allowed by the bread machine timer. The possible causes are many. You can see an exhaustive list of 26 reasons your bread is dense including many bread machine-specific issues here.
Here’s a sampling:
- Did you measure the flour correctly? Because the percentage of flour is so high in a bread recipe, mistakes are magnified. Too much flour will make your bread dense and crumbly. If you intend to make very much bread, a digital scale is worth the money.
- Did you use whole grain flour? Don’t expect them to rise as high or as fast. Use the whole wheat setting or use the DOUGH cycle and take more control of the process.
- Did you drastically reduce or leave out the salt or add a lot of salty ingredients? This will mess with the yeast. Salt and yeast work together like brakes (the regulator) and the gas peddle (source of energy). Without salt, the yeast will wear itself out when you need it most. With too much salt, the yeast will be sluggish.
- Did you substitute all-purpose flour for bread flour? Since bread flour has more gluten, it will help your bread rise higher. This is not usually a big issue with dinner rolls, but it can be with loaves.
- Did you use active dry yeast instead of instant yeast? Active dry yeast is a bit slower. Add 1/4 teaspoon more.
- Were all of your ingredients at room temperature when you started the machine? This is very important when you use your machine to mix, knead, and BAKE your bread. How is your bread maker supposed to know that you used cold flour straight out of the freezer? Cold ingredients will slow down the action. Consequently, the dough won’t rise as fast.
The Final Analysis:
Using a bread machine or bread maker is like an automatic washer and dryer. If you insist on using them for ALL of your clothes because “that’s what it’s made for,” you’re going to have some disasters. Fading, shrinking, and complete unraveling come to mind. Using machines successfully usually requires human discretion.
Likewise with a bread machine. If you insist on using it to mix-knead-and-bake every bread recipe because “that’s why you bought it,” you may have some unappetizing and surprising results. A dense loaf, a thick crust, or the occasional crater-top are just a few examples. Using human discretion, the DOUGH cycle, and your oven will solve a lot of problems people complain about.
Don’t forget: Learn how to use a bread machine (in cooperation with your brain and your oven) to make marvelous bread. Sign up for my free bread-machine email course.
Before you go…
I hope you won’t settle for bad bread just because it smelled good while it was baking. You might start with the most popular recipe on this website: Crusty French Bread. It’s perfect for beginners. Then let me know how it turned out. I can’t wait to hear.
Would you like more tips and tricks for using a bread maker?
- Crusty French Bread (Mixed in a Bread Machine)
- How To Make Ciabatta with a Bread Machine
- Classic Dinner Rolls from a Bread Machine
- How To Use a Bread Machine To Make Fabulous Bread
- 5 Reasons Why You Might Want a Bread Machine
If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately to Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon! Paula