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.
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.)
Sweet Milk White Bread mixed and kneaded in a bread machine, but baked in a conventional oven.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Two heavy-duty pizza pans (for pizza) with a dark finish (Check e-bay for these. Often sold off from defunct pizza restaurants.)
- Two (8 or 9-inch with 2-inch high sides) heavy-duty cake pans with dark interior or gold finish
- 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
- A heavy-duty half-sheet cookie sheet.
- Instant-read thermometer or this smaller one (paid links)–helps to gauge when the bread is fully baked
- Dough scraper
- Freebie shower caps–perfect for covering pans of formed dough for second rising
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Did you use active dry yeast instead of instant yeast? Active dry yeast is a bit slower. Add 1/4 teaspoon more.
- 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?”
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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.
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