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The Surprising Secret for How To Make Better Bread with a Bread Machine

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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? 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.

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

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.

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.

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 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?

  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.

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.

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.

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

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:

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

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