Use these tips to get the perfect golden loaf from your bread machine.
To make bread with a bread machine, you follow the same process as making bread by hand. The only difference is that the mixing, rising, and baking all take place within the machine.
Just like hand-made bread, you only need four ingredients to make bread from a machine:
- Yeast (or a starter )
- Liquid (typically water or milk)
- Salt (for flavor and to control fermentation)
Once you have these basics, you can add any number of other ingredients to make a great variety of breads.
First Things First
With some bread machines, the wet ingredients go in first; with others, the dry ingredients. Check your machine's instructions for the proper order of loading ingredients.
When reading bread machine recipes, remember that all bread machines are not created equal. Some machines make 1-pound loaves; others make 1½- or 2-pound loaves. Some machines have a variety of settings while others simply have an on/off button. Make sure you read your machine's manual and follow its guidelines.
When trying a new recipe, compare the amounts of ingredients to the recipes you usually use in your bread machine. It's important not to exceed the capacity of your bread machine pan. Small loaf machines generally use about 2 cups of flour, while large loaf machines use 3 cups. It's also very important that you measure ingredients correctly. Be exact. Even a teaspoon more or less of water could make a difference.
- "Bread machine bread flour" is the same thing as bread flour. Both contain more gluten than all-purpose flour.
- To bring cold, refrigerated eggs to room temperature quickly, place the whole (uncracked) egg in a cup of hot tap water for four or five minutes.
- If your recipe calls for milk, DO NOT use a delayed mix cycle.
- Cut butter or margarine into small pieces before adding it to the machine.
Know Your Yeasts
Bread machine yeast and rapid-rise yeast are specially formulated for the bread machine. They also become active more quickly than active dry yeast. Active dry yeast should be dissolved in water before being used, but bread machine yeast can be mixed in with other dry ingredients. This is particularly important when using the timed mixing function on your machine.
If you want to check whether your active dry yeast is still usable, you need to proof it, which means feeding and growing the yeast. It's simple. Here's How to Proof Yeast.
Related: How to Bake Yeast Breads
The Scoop on Flours and Gluten
Gluten, a protein in wheat flour, is what provides the structure in bread. Strands of gluten are woven together by mixing and then inflate as the yeast multiplies. High-protein flours help give yeast breads a chewy texture, so look for flour ground from hard wheat with 13 or more grams of protein per cup (hard wheat yields the highest amount of protein, or gluten).
If you want to add more stability to your bread, you can add a product called vital wheat gluten. This is especially important if 25% of the total flour in your recipe is a low- or no-gluten variety such as whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, soy flour or oatmeal. The rule of thumb is to add 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for every cup of low- or no-gluten flour that is being used in your recipe. Bagels and pizza dough also benefit from the added elasticity of high-gluten flour.
The Lowdown on Liquids
Yeast needs a warm (but not hot) environment to grow in, and for this reason, all liquids added to the bread machine (including eggs) should be at room temperature. Water is a common ingredient, but since many people use the timer on their bread machines, most recipes call for non-fat dry milk or powdered buttermilk. However, if you are mixing your dough right away, you can certainly use fresh milk. Simply replace the water with milk or buttermilk and omit the powdered milk.
Remember, yeast will activate when it contacts any moist ingredient, not just water or milk. Eggs, fruit, cheese, vegetables, butter, they can all activate yeast.
Experimenting with Ingredients
Once you have the basics down, you can start experimenting.
Start with your favorite recipes, making one substitution at a time. For example, swap rye flour for some of the wheat flour, maple syrup for honey, or milk for water. Keep in mind that you should be substituting dry for dry and wet for wet, unless you make the proper adjustments. For example, you can substitute fresh milk for dried milk as long as you reduce the water by the amount of fresh milk added. Try adding herbs, spices or seeds for a delicious change of pace, or even cheese (which should be considered a wet ingredient because it melts with heat).
Adapting a Manual Recipe for the Bread Machine
When converting a hand-made recipe to the bread machine, it helps to have a cheat sheet. Review some bread machine recipes that you've had success with. How many cups of flour are in them? How much liquid? Then, adjust the ingredient amounts from the manual bread recipe, being careful not to exceed your machine's capacity. Consider that most manual bread recipes make two loaves and can be divided in half to make a recipe that is roughly the right size for a bread machine. For example, a manual bread recipe that makes two 9x5-inch loaves may be divided in half to make a 1 1/2-pound bread machine loaf.
Formulas for Sizing Your Recipe:
- 1-pound loaf takes about 7/8 cup liquid and 2 3/4 cups flour.
- 1.5-pound loaf takes about 1 cup liquid and 3 cups flour.
- 2-pound loaf takes about 1 1/3 cup liquid and 4 cups flour.
Adapting a Bread Machine Recipe to a Manual Recipe
You can also convert a bread machine recipe to a hand-made loaf. For best results, refer to a comparable non-machine recipe for basic instructions. And if you don't have a comparable non-machine recipe, here are the basic steps to making most yeast breads:
- Proof the yeast (dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in warm water).
- Combine the ingredients and mix well.
- Knead the dough until smooth and soft.
- Rise until doubled. Punch down, and shape.
- Place bread in a greased loaf pan, or on a baking sheet for a round loaf.
- Rise again until nearly doubled.
- Bake. Most bread is baked in a moderate oven, 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the bottom of a loaf sounds hollow when tapped.
As you work with the dough, be sure to pay close attention to its consistency, and adjust the recipe as needed, adding small amounts of flour or liquid at a time.