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6 Bread Machine Secrets You Need To Know

Sneak Peek: This is a collection of 6 bread-machine secrets (+ 1 bonus tip about dense bread) for both new and experienced bread machine users.

Are you just now unpacking a new machine or digging one out of the attic? If Santa brought you a bread machine or you have been inspired by the shut-down, you might be wondering where to start.

You could read the manual. (Just kidding! Who has time for that?)

Here are more than six tips to build your confidence. At the end, I’ll tell you the most popular bread recipe on this website. It’s beginner friendly and a good place to start.

frustrated toddler

Why do I need tips? Isn’t a bread machine 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.” The reality of tighter-than-they-were-before jeans inspired me to be more picky. 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.

I threw out the bread machine manual and started experimenting with recipes I already loved. I questioned everything. (Asking questions is one of my most annoying traits.)

6 Bread Machine Secrets for Beginners - Sweet Milk White Bread

Sweet Milk White Bread mixed and kneaded in a bread machine, but baked in a conventional oven.

The result is a different way to use a bread machine along with more than 50 bread-machine recipes published on this website. But don’t worry about all that right now.

Remember that any advanced skill (making high-quality yeast bread qualifies) is going to take practice and experience.

Adjust your early expectations while keeping your standards high. You don’t have to compromise.

6 Bread Machine Secrets

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.
pizza and foccacia made in a bread machine
Focaccia and Pizza–A very good place to start
Beginner-Friendly Classic Dinner Rolls from Your Bread Machine

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 regular yeast for instant or bread machine yeast. (Instant and bread machine yeast are the same thing.)

    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 with 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 enough to avoid inedible surprises!!!

  • If nothing is happening, the blade may not be present or engaged.

    Many times I have had to plunge a wooden spoon or spatula through the unmixed ingredients to push it 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.
  • 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 touches 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.
illustration of perfect dough in a bread machine

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 only.

In case 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 where I 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 have be worth it. Bread baked in a bread machine rarely makes the cut.

bread machine with dough cycle highlighted

My favorite button on a bread machine.

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

The last three items are highly recommended if you aspire to be an excellent bread-baker. See some of my favorites in my Amazon store

  1. Two heavy-duty pizza pans (for pizza) with a dark finish (Check e-bay for these. Often sold off from defunct pizza restaurants.)
  2. Two (8 or 9-inch with 2-inch high sides) heavy-duty cake pans with dark interior or gold finish
  3. 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
  4. A heavy-duty half-sheet cookie sheet.
  5. Instant-read thermometer or this smaller one (paid links)–helps to gauge when the bread is fully baked
  6. Dough scraper
  7. Freebie shower caps–perfect for covering pans of formed dough for second rising
 best bakeware and tools for baking bread

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.)

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.

Another option…

Consider moving your machine to a warmer spot in the house. Even though bread machines contain a heating element, the room temperature can make a huge difference in how fast the dough rises.

Third option…

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.


Free 6-Day Bread Machine Email Crash Course

Learn how to make marvelous bread with a bread machine.

    Bonus Tip: Why is my bread so 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.

    Here’s a sampling:

    1. 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.
    2. Did you use whole grain flours? 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.
    3. 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 a 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Did you use active dry yeast instead of instant yeast? Active dry yeast is a bit slower. Add 1/4 teaspoon more.
    6. Were all of your ingredients 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 machine suppose 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.

    “Why is my bread dense?”

    Download a FREE printable guide to help you diagnose the cause of dense bread when you sign up to receive my free updates and exclusive bread-making tips in your inbox.

    Don’t worry. I won’t share your address. Unsubscribe any time.

      The Final Analysis…

      Using a bread machine is a little like using 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 comes to mind. Using machines appropriately often 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 information about using a bread machine?



      If you have a question or problem you need help with, please write it in the comment section below so I can respond back. You can also email me privately: paula at saladinajar.com.

      Thank you for visiting!
      Paula

      website owner with bread machine and ciabatta in her kitchen

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        Marlene

        Tuesday 10th of November 2020

        I am in Canada and my Black and Decker manual has side by side recipes for US and Canada, suggesting that here we use either bread or all purpose flour. Would this be the same for your recipes?

        Paula

        Tuesday 10th of November 2020

        Hi Marlene, I've never baked with Canadian flour. From what I can tell, you can use either bread or all-purpose flour because your all-purpose flour is so high in protein. So it sounds like you would be safe to use all-purpose flour in nearly all my recipes.

        Deb

        Sunday 18th of October 2020

        Hi, I was wondering... if you bake your dough in an oven, would it not be just as easy to mix the dough in a food processor, let it set and then bake it? What is the advantage of using a bread maker just to make the dough? Thanks

        Paula

        Sunday 18th of October 2020

        Good question, Deb. I'm a huge food processor fan and use mine almost every day. To answer your question: Using the food processor to knead dough means you have to know when to stop the kneading. As you may know, it happens FAST. It's not hard with an easy recipe for pizza dough. But other recipes can be a little trickier if you're not a seasoned and experienced bread maker. Since the bread maker is on a timer, it always kneads the dough perfectly as long as you have a good recipe, measure correctly, and know how to make adjustments along the way. I think it's easier for beginners. I also think it can be a little bit hard on your food processor, but that's a personal observation based only on the way kneading dough makes mine walk all over the counter.

        Becky

        Monday 12th of October 2020

        Thanks for all this help. My yeast was really slow working so when my machine was done on the dough cycle I put the pan into a warm oven and left it. It finally did rise and I made cinnamon bread and baked it in the oven. I made sure to heat the house while working on the dough. I did find having the yeast in the warm water with sugar helped and then dumped it and the other ingredients into the bread machine.

        Paula

        Monday 12th of October 2020

        Good job Becky! Sounds like you used your bread machine in the best possible way (in my opinion). Since you used the dough cycle, you were able to make the necessary adjustments. Love cinnamon bread!

        Jon

        Thursday 1st of October 2020

        I often let the bread machine do its work, but then at about 2:40 ~ 1:50 left on the timer, I lift the dough out, remove the kneading blade, do a little shaping (with as little degassing as possible) and then gently put it back in the machine. Super convenient, not lopsided...

        Paula

        Thursday 1st of October 2020

        Hi Jon,

        Thanks for writing. It's a better option, especially for people who don't have a conventional oven to bake the loaf or who don't want to use their oven.

        pam welsh

        Friday 31st of July 2020

        Hi. I just got a bread machine and I have to say the bread never looks like the pictures with the recipe. There's no smooth top, I made a two pound loaf it was like a hockey puck did not rise to top of machine. What do I need to do.

        Paula

        Saturday 1st of August 2020

        Did you sign up for my quick-start bread machine course? It is 6-days of emails that will give you all the information you need to make great bread in a bread machine. You can sign up here.

        I'll give you a quick clue. Don't bake your bread in the bread machine. Use the DOUGH cycle only to do the mixing, kneading, and first rise. Take the dough out, shape it, let it rise again. Then bake it in your conventional oven. You'll be much happier with your bread.