The Surprising Secret for Making Better Bread with a Bread Machine
Sneak Peek: This surprising secret for making better bread with a bread machine will help you determine 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.
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Is your bread dough too dry or too wet? Is your machine mixing the dough correctly? 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 improve immediately.
Are you 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? Then, 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.
Why is checking the dough important?
If you set your machine and walk away like many people, you may be surprised when you return. And it may not be a delicious or edible surprise.
Good reasons to take a peek:
- You will 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 you didn’t push the paddles down flush with the top of the posts.
- 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, forgot to add that last cup of flour, miscounted the cups, or mismeasured. With this tip, you can fix your mistake on the fly.
- Your bread machine can’t compensate for poor recipes, high altitudes, weather extremes, and miscalculations. But you can adjust the moisture in the dough and save the day.
- 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 leave out an essential ingredient, such as salt or yeast. If you are using the DOUGH cycle and your bread is not rising, 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.”
When should I look? Open the lid and check the dough at least three times.
What to look for the FIRST TIME you check:
Within the first minute after the kneading phase starts, open the lid and peek at the dough. Ensure the paddle(s) are engaged and the ingredients start clumping.
What does “clumping” look like? The dough should stick together in big and small lumps. It looks messy and raggedy, but the dough is coming together and moving with purpose.
Just as bad is the opposite problem.
Reasons why your dough won’t clump:
Most likely, the ingredients were mismeasured.
Consider the possibilities before you pronounce the recipe a dud or your bread machine to the next garage sale. (These reasons are listed in the order of the most common ones first.)
- Did you misread the recipe? 🙋🏼♀️ (I’ve done this more than I want to admit.)
- Were you interrupted or distracted mid-recipe? Did you leave out an ingredient or miscount your cups or teaspoons? Think hard. (I’ve done this one, too.)
- Did you substitute an ingredient with a different consistency or characteristic from the original? I try to give this information in my substitution list, but sometimes, readers’ imaginations regarding variations eclipse mine.
- If you weigh your ingredients, did you zero out between each ingredient? (Guilty of this one too.)
- If you measure your ingredients, were you precise and careful not to pack the flour? Consider this one if your mixture is dry. If you stick with recipes that list weights, your chances for success are much better.
- Did the author make a mistake? If it’s my recipe, send an email ASAP with details.
How do I avoid an impending bread disaster?
Do these things as the machine kneads.
- If you realize you left something out, add it immediately.
- If the dough mixture is crumbly, like oatmeal, add more liquid, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough clumps. Go slow with the liquid to allow the mixture to absorb it.
- If the dough mixture is more like a cookie or pancake batter, add more flour, one tablespoon at a time. Allow time for each addition of flour to absorb into the mixture before adding more.
Beware of the seesaw effect: Go slow when making adjustments. If you add too much liquid or flour too fast, you may have the opposite problem 10 minutes after the dough has absorbed the ingredients you added.
Knowing when-what-and-how-much with bread dough requires experience, a sixth sense, and sometimes, good luck.
What to look for the SECOND TIME you check:
Approximately 15-18 minutes after starting the machine, open the lid and recheck. The dough should stick to the side, then pull away cleanly as it kneads.
The dough should 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 tacky without being too sticky.
How do I adjust 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 and watch until you see the dough stick to the sides, then pull away cleanly. Allow a couple of minutes to incorporate the flour before adding any more.
Remember, some doughs will be wet, like a brioche or ciabatta. If you are a beginner, avoid these recipes until you have dependable success with a simple loaf like French Bread.
What to look for the THIRD TIME you check:
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.
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 it.
This is one reason making bread in a bread machine from beginning to end can be tricky. If the dough hasn’t risen enough or has overproofed, your machine isn’t intelligent enough to recognize it. The result? Dense bread.
How do you know when the dough has risen enough?
Use two floury fingers to poke into the dough. You will know the dough needs more time if the indentation bounces back. On the other hand, if the holes fill back in slowly, the dough is ready to be shaped.
Is it safe to open the bread machine lid while it’s running?
Yes. I highly recommend it. Checking the dough as it kneads helps you make corrections on the fly.
Opening the lid during the mixing cycle won’t affect your bread. It’s better than looking through the little window at the top, which won’t give you much 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 briefly.
Addendum 12/21/21: Some newer bread machines will no longer keep running when you open the lid. This is an unfortunate safety feature for bakers who want to make fabulous bread. Do your best to watch the action through the window, then open the lid to add more flour or liquid.
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 forget about the dough and it over-proofs or rises too much?
Remove the dough from the pan and gently compress it to remove the bubbles. Put the dough back in the bread machine pan or another bowl and allow it to rise again, but this time, watch it closely. It will rise faster because it’s already had some practice.
“Overproofing 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
Are there times when I shouldn’t open the lid?
Avoid opening 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 dough’s rise.
Don’t open the lid during the preheating and baking cycle if you use your machine to mix, knead, and bake. 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, remove the dough from the pan unless your machine comes back on in a few minutes. If the dough is well-kneaded (smooth, shiny, and elastic), place it in a bowl to finish rising. Shape it, let the dough rise again, and bake in your oven.
If the dough is poorly mixed or kneaded, you can do it by hand or using a stand mixer. However, if the bread has already started baking, you may be out of luck.
Does it matter if I don’t use a digital scale?
Weighing flour will minimize the need for adjustments. In addition, a digital scale will minimize differences caused by measuring techniques and environmental variations.
Most American bread recipes don’t specify weights. Thankfully, that is changing.
This little trick for checking the dough moisture will compensate for most problems caused by inaccurate flour measurements.
Why you need this critical bread machine tip:
Remember that making bread is an art, not an exact science. Sometimes adjustments are necessary based on the environment, the ingredients you use, and your goal for the finished product.
As with any baking skill, practice makes perfect. So start checking your dough, and I predict you’ll be a master bread baker before you know it.
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 your bread maker manual.
Or, try using one of my bread machine recipes designed for using a bread machine as I do. Start simple with something like pizza dough. Check out this post with over 64 of my tried and tested bread recipes you can make with a bread machine.
What readers are saying:
“Your bread machine tutorial saved my bread a few times already. Checking the bread machine mixing after a few minutes is genius. Once, I didn’t have the pan all the way in the machine (my Cuisinart was really stiff when it was new) and another time, I didn’t have the paddle in tightly, requiring a dump out of the pan, but I still got perfect bread. I love your recipe hints that deal with leftover ingredients. I’m tired of dumping out 3 1/2 cups of buttermilk, love the idea that I can freeze it for the next time. Hand shaping a loaf is far more easier than I’d imagined and more impressive than my former “holy” loaves with tough crusts that I baked in the machine. Your videos and visuals on how to check for adequate rise, shaping bread, etc. are wonderful. I recommend your blog to other bread bakers that I know.”Laurie
Parting Thoughts: I hope this tip gives you confidence when using your bread machine. It takes some practice to know when you’ve got it right. However, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at determining when your bread dough needs.
More bread machine tips and tricks:
- 60+ Bread Machine Recipes To Make Any Occasion Special
- 5 Surprising Reasons I Don’t Bake Bread in My Bread Machine (But I Use It All the Time)
- How to Convert a Yeast Bread Recipe for Use in a Bread Machine
- 6 Bread Machine Secrets You Need To Know
If you have questions or suggestions, email me privately for a quick answer: Paula at saladinajar.com. Hope to see you again soon!
Paula Rhodes, author
I’m a retired home economist, wife, mother, grandmother, and creator of Saladinajar.com. I believe you don’t have to be a chef to find joy in creating homemade food worth sharing. Here you’ll find time-saving tips, troubleshooting advice, and confidence-inspiring recipes to make life in the kitchen more fun, appetizing, and satisfying.