6 Bread Machine Secrets for Beginners

sweet milk bread_squared on black reduced

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

Now what do I do

If Santa brought you a bread machine, you may be wondering where to start.

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

Once you unpack and wash all the parts, here are a few recommendations you may or may not find in the manual.

1. START SIMPLE.

  • (If you are already an experienced bread-maker, skip this one.) If you have never ever made bread before, use a bread machine mix from the grocery store and observe the consistency of the dough in various stages.
  • Start with a simple recipe like  pizza dough. This is my favorite recipe and it’s almost fool-proof. Try focaccia using the same recipe.
pizza and foccacia

Foccacia and Pizza–A very good place to start

  • Make a simple dinner roll or loaf of white bread as seen in the first picture above. Whole grain flours can be a little tricky so I suggest saving those until you’ve had a few successes with white flour.
My Favorite Rolls

My Favorite Dinner Rolls

2. BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT SUBSTITUTIONS.

In the beginning, try to follow the ingredient list as closely as possible for the greatest chance of success.

  • Substituting whole wheat flour for white or even all-purpose flour for bread flour is not necessarily a 1-to-1 proposition. They each absorb different amounts of moisture and have different amounts of gluten.
  • All yeast is not the same. I  use bread machine yeast which is a close relative of instant yeast. Most recipes recommend dissolving regular yeast before adding to the other ingredients. It’s an extra step I can skip by using bread machine yeast.

3.  DO NOT FEAR OPENING THE LID.

5-10 minutes into the mixing process, take a peek. 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 my freshly washed index finger through the unmixed ingredients to push the blade 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 dough is too moist, it will level out like 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 dough is too dry, it will form a ball that doesn’t touch the sides or may slap loudly against the sides of the pan. (If it’s really dry it won’t even form a ball.) Add water one tablespoon at a time till you get a tacky ball.
breadmachine-story-board_edited-1

Top left–too wet; Top right–too dry; Lower–Just right

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. This is best learned through experience but I’m hoping you’ll have beginner’s luck and your bread will turn out perfect the first time.

4. STICK WITH THE DOUGH CYCLE.

In case you haven’t read my blog before, I rarely–as in almost never–actually bake bread in my machine. I use the dough cycle to mix the ingredients and remove the dough to shape and then bake 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 better be worth it and bread actually baked in a bread machine rarely makes the cut in my book.

dough cycle

My favorite button on my bread machine

5. INVEST IN QUALITY BAKE WARE AND ACCESSORIES.

If you want a nice crust on your bread, purchase good pans.  Here’s my personal list to get you started. The last 3 items listed are  nice to have if you plan to bake much bread.

  • 2 heavy-duty pizza pans with a dark finish.
  • 2 (8 or 9-inch with 2-inch high sides) heavy-duty cake pans with dark interior finish.
  • 4×8-inch loaf pan for recipes containing approximately 3 cups of flour.
  • Instant-read thermometer to take the guess-work out of knowing when the bread is done.
  • Dough scraper.
  • Freebie shower caps–perfect for covering pans of formed dough for second rising.
bakeware for bread

Heavy, dark-colored pans, instant-read thermometer and a dough scraper

6. ONE LAST WARNING…

If your house is cool, the dough in your machine may not rise to double in the time allotted by the dough cycle. If necessary, leave it in the machine to continue rising. If the ambient temperature is really cool, 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.

If you have a question or things aren’t working out like you hoped, leave me a comment and I will get back to you ASAP.

Happy bread baking from your friendly bread machine fanatic,

Paula

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