How To Add More Flavor to Homemade Bread

Sneak Preview: Here are ten tips to help you elevate the flavor of your homemade bread. These apply whether you make your bread with the help of a bread machine, stand mixer, or manually.

sprouted wheat bread with tons of flavorPin
This Unique Sprouted Wheat Bread is packed with flavor, including interesting flour, seeds, and spices. Make it with the help of your bread machine.

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If you have been disappointed in the flavor of your bread, whether made with a bread machine or otherwise, I have some insights and ideas for you.

But first, a story…


A Tale of Two Trees

We have many beautiful oak trees in our neighborhood, along with a few fast-growing cottonwood trees. I’m sure these trees have their place in nature somewhere in the world, but they don’t belong in a North Texas landscape. These junky trees spend all their energy to grow as fast as they can. Their use as street or landscape trees is limited by their shallow root system, weak wood, messy ‘cotton’ of female trees, and the fact that they are relatively short-lived (30-60 years).

In contrast, consider our long-standing oak trees. They grow slowly, allowing the natural process of growth to unfold at its own pace. Nutrients and sunlight work together to nurture them, resulting in leaves that, though late to appear, are vibrant, beautiful, and finely textured.

While we continue to enjoy our beautiful oaks, the cottonwoods, unfortunately, quickly exhaust themselves. They are costly to remove, often after causing problems like clogged air conditioning units and pool filters, not to mention the large branches prone to break off during our storms.

These trees offer a valuable lesson for baking bread. Allowing dough to rise and develop slowly leads to more complex flavors and a superior texture.

Time is a critical factor in nature for achieving extraordinary results, and this is especially true in bread making, where working with yeast is essentially working with nature.

This brings us to the number one way to make more flavorful bread.

1. Slow Down the Fermentation Process

Like the beautiful oak in my story, extraordinary results take time! The first three tips are about ways to build more time into the breadmaking process.

whole wheat dough that spent the night in the refrigerator to intensify the flavor.Pin
This whole wheat pizza dough spent the night fermenting in the refrigerator–nice and slow.

Ways to slow down the rising period or fermentation:

Fermentation is primarily affected by temperature, though the amount of yeast and other recipe ingredients also play significant roles.

  1. Consider fermenting your dough in the refrigerator overnight.
    • Prepare your dough using the DOUGH cycle of a bread machine, a stand mixer, or by hand.
    • Once the cycle is complete or your dough rises to double the original size, gently deflate it and shape it into a ball.
    • Place this ball in a large, greased bowl, ensuring ample space for rising. Cover the bowl and refrigerate.
    • Later in the day or the next morning, remove the dough, shape it, and allow it to nearly double in size before baking.
  2. Avoid proofing dough at temperatures higher than 75-78˚F.
    • If using your oven’s proofing cycle, check the temperature. The lowest setting on my oven is 85˚F, which is a bit high unless you’re in a rush, such as expecting the President for dinner within an hour.
    • In summer, you might need to move the dough from the bread machine to a cooler spot if your house is too warm, slowing down the rising process.
    • In winter, cold temperatures often tempt us to move the bread machine or the dough to a warm place. Don’t place your dough too close to anything hot, like a wood-burning stove. If you have a quick-read digital thermometer (paid link), this is a great time to check the temperature wherever you plan to let your bread rise.
  3. Avoid using the QUICK DOUGH cycle on your bread machine, as it doesn’t provide enough time for flavor development.

2. Decrease the yeast

all of the ingredients are loaded into the bread machine with the instant yeast last.Pin

Adding more yeast does not increase the yeast flavor. It only serves to make the dough rise faster, which is unnecessary and counterproductive. (See #1)

Older bread recipes usually specify one package of active dry yeast (2¼ teaspoons) for every three cups of flour or two packages for six cups of flour. You don’t need that much with the new formulations and a better understanding of making good bread. Try reducing the amount by half, especially when baking lean bread (no eggs and minimal fat or sugar).

Any time you use the more potent instant yeast (perfect for use with a bread machine), use less, at least a half teaspoon less than active dry yeast.

3. Experiment With Pre-ferments

bubbling biga the next morningPin
This preferment was made the night before inside a bread machine. The remaining ingredients for the bread recipe were added to this mixture before starting the bread machine.

A pre-ferment consists of flour, water, and a minimal amount of yeast. For convenience, mix these in a bread machine and let the mixture sit for several hours, or even overnight. When you’re ready to make the dough, simply add the remaining ingredients and begin the DOUGH cycle. This process leads to a richer, more complex flavor in the final bread.

See examples of pre-ferments in these recipes:

4. Add Flavorful Ingredients

Dough with herbs in a bread machine.Pin
The addition of herbs to this dough will make your kitchen smell like a Parisian cafe when it hits the oven.

The list is endless. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Cheese
  2. Seeds
  3. Nuts
  4. Herbs
  5. Olives
  6. Dried Fruit
  7. Fresh Fruit

Three ways to add ingredients

1) For ingredients like mashed bananas that you want to blend in with the bread, add them with the other ingredients before starting the DOUGH cycle.

2) To preserve the integrity and distinctiveness of ingredients like cheese, raisins, and nuts, incorporate them into the dough during the last five minutes of the DOUGH cycle.

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Dough with add-ins added during the last three minutes of the kneading phasePin
The raisins and nuts were added in the last three minutes of the kneading phase so their integrity is preserved.

3) If you forget to add them to the bread machine, it’s not an issue. Simply knead them gently into the dough by hand while shaping it after the DOUGH cycle. This method works well for herbs or small chocolate pieces as well.

5. Use the Freshest and Best Quality Ingredients You Can Find and/or Afford

ingredients needed for herb dinner rollsPin

White flour has a shorter shelf life than you might expect, so always check its expiration date. Store whole grain flours like whole wheat, rye, and spelt in the refrigerator to prevent them from going rancid. For an exceptionally fresh flavor, consider grinding your own flour—this is something I plan to explore in 2024.

Remember, freshness matters.

6. Don’t Skimp on the Salt

If you are watching your salt intake, see this post for cutting back salt in bread(Focus on #4.) Otherwise, salt makes a huge difference in the taste. For three cups of flour, I usually start with one teaspoon and adjust upward for the best taste.

7. Use a Sourdough Starter or Starter Discard

jar of fully developed sourdough starter made from flour and yogurt whey.Pin
Make this sourdough starter with yogurt or yogurt whey.

Sourdough starter lends all kinds of complexity to bread flavor. See these recipes formulated for use in a bread machine.

8. Experiment With Your Baking Method

A cast iron Dutch oven

9. Try Different Glazes

glazing dinner rollsPin

Prior to baking, try brushing various glazes to not only change the appearance but to add flavor. Glazes can also serve as “glue” for seeds, spices, coarse sugar, or salt. Or, add sweetness and shine with a sugar glaze or honey butter.

10. Underproofing or Overproofing Will Ruin the Flavor of Your Bread

bread baked in bread machine compared to ovenPin
Left: Bread baked in a bread machine–overproofed. Right: Same recipe but baked in the oven; a bigger pan would have worked better.

Under-proofing means there is less time for the fermentation process, resulting in a less complex flavor and a weaker flavor profile. In some cases, the bread may be slightly more acidic or have a pronounced yeast flavor.

Over-proofing exhausts the dough, leaving you with a bland, off-flavor, not to mention a volcano or flat top. This often happens when using a bread machine to both mix and bake your bread. A computer can’t recognize when conditions are less than optimal for proofing bread.

Dough should double in size by the end of the DOUGH cycle.Pin
Poking raised dough with two fingers can help you tell if the dough has proofed or risen enough or has over-proofed. When raised properly, the dough will partially fill the holes.

Parting thoughts: Improving the flavor of your homemade bread boils down to time, exploring different baking techniques, and considering the amount and quality of your ingredients. Be willing to try new things while paying attention to the details.

If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at Hope to see you again soon! 

Making fabulous bread is not as easy as throwing together a pan of brownies. When live organisms (yeast) are involved, you’ve got to play by their rules.

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  1. patty olson says:

    Hi Paula,
    I have made so many of your wonderful bread & roll recipes but I have one question. My husband’s favorite is the crusty French bread. I made 13 loaves over the holidays to send home with my kids and we had them for Christmas dinner and now New Years Eve. My question is. I’d like to add some roasted garlic and herbs but don’t know when to add them? If I add them in the beginning will it mess up the integrity of the loaf?
    Thank you for your time and yummy recipes!
    PS I have now got 3 of my kids making bread!
    Patty O

    1. Hi Patty,

      That’s a good question. Garlic can be problematic and inhibit the rising of the dough unless it has been baked or roasted in some way. Some people say you can get away with using a little bit. Experimentation may be in order.

      I would add parsley during the last 5 minutes of the kneading phase so the dough doesn’t turn green. If you’re using dried parsley, it probably doesn’t matter.

      I’m so impressed that your kids are making bread. Good job, Mama!

  2. Great article, Paula…as usual! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Steve. Your feedback means a lot.

      1. I hope you have a wonderful New Year! 🙂

  3. Hi Paula
    I have read, but have not yet tried, using whey from straining homemade yogurt (which is how you make Greek yogurt at home).. I’ve read this gives bread that sourdough taste without using sourdough starter.

    Have you read about or tried this?

    1. Hi Dave,

      So glad you wrote.

      Yes, I’ve tried it—several times. 18+ Uses for Yogurt Whey You May Not Have Thought Of Yet. This is one of the first posts I wrote when I started my website back in 2009.

      If you’ve ever eaten authentic and excellent quality sourdough bread, you will not think bread made with whey tastes much like the real thing. It’s not bad at all, just a slightly different taste. I make authentic sourdough bread every week with my bread machine. Yes! Make Sourdough Bread (Without Yeast) Using a Bread Machine

  4. Fantastic post, Paula! I have never considered doing a pre-ferment in my bread machine, but I will explore this. I do very long rises at times, and it definitely improves flavor. My favorite loaf is whole grain spelt sourdough bread, but I have not discovered a way to easily incorporate this into my typical day as yet. It may not require lots of hands-on time, but making really good bread requires some focus. I bought a grain mill a couple of years ago, and it does make an incredible amount of difference in flavor. I have explored many types of grains that are not available as flour, and some of them are so much flavorful than those commercially available. Milling can be a fiddly process, and I recommend Breadtopia for grain mill education and trouble-shooting. I don’t mill flour for all my breads. You and Breadtopia are responsible for all my bread baking advancements and success. You are a jewel!

    1. Hi Becky,

      Using your bread machine to make the preferment is super-convenient.

      I make spelt sourdough bread, too. Every week, sometimes more often.

      Here’s my schedule. Place spelt, bread flour, and organic AP flour in my bread machine along with water. Run the Dough cycle for 1 minute and stop the machine. Add the starter on top of the mixed-up flour and water, the salt in one corner where it doesn’t touch the dough, and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of honey in the corner by the salt.

      Then I set the Bread machine timer on my Zoji to start the DOUGH cycle 30 minutes later. (Some people call this the autolyse). So I have two hours before I have to come back to the machine. I always intend to take the dough out as soon as the kneading phase ends, but it doesn’t always happen. It doesn’t matter.

      When I finally remove the dough from the bread machine pan, I do 2-3 stretch-and-folds by hand to strengthen the dough. Then I put the dough into a covered container for the bulk rise. This usually lasts all day since I don’t use a lot of starter. Around 4 or 5:00 pm, I shape the dough and then put it into the fridge to bake the next morning.

      This requires so little attention that I have to make a reminder or I will forget about the dough completely.

      Where do you buy your spelt? I’m curious.

      Happy New Year!!