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The Surprising Secret for Making Better Bread with a Bread Machine

Sneak Preview: This important tip for how to make better bread with a bread machine will help you figure out if your bread machine dough is too wet or too dry and how to fix it immediately. Whether you bake your bread in the bread machine or bake it in the oven as I do, this secret will improve the texture of your bread.

Is your bread dough too dry? Is it too wet? Is your machine mixing the dough right? How do you know? The tip is, “Take a peek.”

Yes. 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 your bread maker will start to improve immediately.

Are you are one of those people who bought a bread machine hoping it would magically make the perfect loaf of fresh yeast bread with the press of a button? You might get lucky, and it happens.

If your bread hasn’t turned out so great, I can relate.

I was ready to throw my machine out until I discovered the most important thing you should do when using a bread machine.

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

Why is checking the dough important?

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

Good reasons to take a peek…

  1. You will be able to see when your bread maker is not mixing the dough. Did you forget to insert the paddle(s)? Maybe the pan and/or the blades were not engaged correctly. The motor will still operate in most machines even if the paddles are not pushed down all the way.
  2. Your 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, miscounted the cups, or measured wrong. With this tip, you can fix your mistake on the fly.
  3. Your bread machine can’t compensate for poor recipes, high altitudes, weather extremes, and miscalculations. But you may be able to adjust the moisture in the dough and save the day.
  4. Keep a small spatula handy when you look at your dough. Use it to clean out any unmixed flour left in the corners.

Note: This tip won’t help if you left out an important ingredient such as salt or yeast. If you are using the DOUGH cycle and your bread is not rising out all, this may be a clue you left out the yeast, your yeast is dead, or the room where your bread machine sits is too cold (move it to a warmer place).

“Your bread machine has no brain.”



How should the dough look in a bread machine?

Knowing when-what-and-how-much when it comes to bread dough requires experience, a sixth sense, and sometimes, good luck.

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 your bread machine 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 bread machine 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 types 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 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.
  4. Conversely, if the weather is warm and humid, the dough may be overproofed if you wait until the end of the DOUGH cycle. During the summer, check your dough early to see if it has already risen enough. If so, remove it from the machine and shape.

This is one reason baking from beginning to end can be tricky. If the dough hasn’t risen enough or has over-proofed, 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.

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

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.

What do you do if you forgot about the dough and it is 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 any heat to escape, thus slowing down the rise of the dough.

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.

What can I do if my bread maker machine stops in the middle of the cycle?

Whatever the reason, unless your machine comes back on in a few minutes, remove the dough from the pan. If the dough is well-kneaded (smooth, shiny, and elastic) place it in a bowl and let it rise until double in volume. Shape it, let it rise again, and bake in your oven.

If the dough is not well mixed or kneaded, you can try doing it by hand or using a stand mixer. If the bread has already started baking, you may be out of luck.


How weighing ingredients makes it easier to get the dough right:

Weighing flour will minimize the need for many adjustments. Using a digital scale will remove differences caused by measuring techniques and environmental variations.

Most American bread recipes don’t specify weights. Thankfully, that is starting to change.

Unfortunately, some of the bread recipes on this website still don’t specify 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.


Now that you know this important bread machine tip…

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 any questions or suggestions, you can email me privately: Paula at saladinajar.com.

Hope to see you again soon!
Paula

More bread machine tips and tricks:

Liane

Sunday 18th of April 2021

Thanks so much for the great tips Much appreciated

Darlene Anderson

Thursday 15th of April 2021

I use my machine for making dough. I use dough cycle. When done it’s perfect but never seems to do a second rise before baking. Any ideas?

Paula

Thursday 15th of April 2021

Hi Darlene,

It sounds like your dough may be too wet. Do you open the lid and check to make sure the dough sticks to the side and then pulls away cleanly?

Has this recipe you are using ever worked for you? If not, you might want to try a new recipe. This recipe for French bread is very popular on my website.

You don't give many details, but if you can tell me what you do with the dough AFTER the DOUGH cycle completes, maybe I can be more helpful.

Connie

Sunday 21st of March 2021

My bread sticks to the bottom and sides of my machine, I can even get it out of the machine at all! Help, what do I do?

Thank you, Connie

Darlene Anderson

Thursday 15th of April 2021

@Paula, my second rise doesn’t rise. I shape like a loaf of Italian bread but just flattens and spreads

Paula

Sunday 21st of March 2021

Hi Connie,

I can hear the frustration in your words. Are you removing your bread from the machine as soon as the machine finishes? Let the bread cool on a rack, not in the machine.

Another possibility? Use the DOUGH cycle on your machine, remove the dough, shape it by hand, let it rise again, then bake it in your oven. Your sticking problems will be non-existent if you use a good heavy pan. Your bread will be MUCH nicer with a thin crust that is more evenly browned than you can get when baking in a bread machine.

Julie

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

Best tip about only making and proving, my bread now goes in the oven after following your tips. Best bread we have made.

Paula

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

Isn't it fun to make really good bread???

Laurie

Saturday 6th of March 2021

I find the paddle gets so stuck in the baked loaf it is difficult to get out , and more often than not, then leaves a gaping hole in the bottom of the loaf. It is particularly bad when I make a sweeter cinnamon raisin loaf. Will I upset the process if I remove the dough ball carefully during a rest phase and reposition and maybe not have the paddle embedded so deeply? Or any tips to fix this issue?

Julie

Tuesday 9th of March 2021

@Paula, yes I do now only make and prove in my machine. Bake in conventional oven after second prove. You are right best bread ever, lovely crust and superior loaf done this way

Paula

Saturday 6th of March 2021

Hi Laurie,

Lots of people do what you suggested. Do it right before the last rise. While you are at it, reshape the dough before you put it back in your bread machine. Another option is to do what I do. Only use the DOUGH cycle. Pull the dough out of the pan after that cycle finishes, shape it, let it rise once more, and bake it in your conventional oven. You'll get a far superior crust and more beautiful bread when you do that. Some people don't care since they only use their bread machine bread for toast. Just wanted you to have some choices.