Some bread machine baking basics

Although using a bread machine is one of the easiest ways to make bread, there are still a lot of variables that can affect your results. Here are some basics that will help you get the best out of your machine.  The most important considerations have to do with the ingredients.

One of the most important things that will make a difference in the quality of your bread machine bread is the quality of the ingredients. Just the same as with all cooking, fresh is best.

It seems obvious, but it’s all too easy to let that flour sit too long in your cupboard and get old.  Yeast is the obvious ingredient that will become less effective (or not effective at all!) if it’s too old.  However, you might not think too much about other basics like your flours and nuts. Particularly at risk are those specialty ingredients that you may not use very frequently, and often may have a shorter shelf life.  I just had to throw out some vital wheat gluten when I realized it had been sitting for a while and was getting too old, and causing my bread not to rise well.

The order that you place the ingredients in the machine can also affect the results, so it’s important to follow the instructions of your particular machine.  Some require the liquid ingredients to go in first, while others are the opposite.  Make sure you read your bread machine manual to get this important information.  The vast majority of bread machines require that you first add liquids, then dry ingredients, and finally the yeast on top (I make a little well in the flour and don’t let the yeast touch anything but the flour).

Another thing that can affect your results is ingredients touching each other in the machine, particularly if you set the machine to start later on a timer and the ingredients have a longer time to interact before mixing and baking.  Salt is a yeast inhibitor, as are some spices such as cinnamon, so they should not be touching the yeast when you put the ingredients in the machine.

Always be sure to measure your ingredients carefully.  Do not pack dry ingredients into a measuring cup (unless the recipe specifically calls for that), simply scoop the ingredients out and use a knife or spatula to level off the dry measuring cup.  The most accurate way to measure ingredients is to weigh them (see our chart on weights of common bread machine ingredients for help).  Be sure to use a liquid measuring cup for wet ingredients.

If you make any adjustments or modifications to the recipe, write them down so you will know what worked well (or didn’t!) when the loaf is finished, and the next time you want to use that recipe.

A final thing to remember is that making bread is somewhat of a scientific endeavor, and the actual results can vary depending on environmental factors like the temperature and humidity levels in the air.  If a tried and true recipe gives you less than perfect results, it could very well be something to do with a change in your environment.  There are simple adjustments you can make depending on the issue when you make your next loaf.  See our troubleshooting guide for more information.

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