Bread machine cycles explained

Bread machine cycles explained

Bread machines are great appliances for the home kitchen. The numerous cycles and settings can make baking fresh bread a treat instead of a chore. However, sometimes all the cycles can be confusing and it’s difficult to know which one to use for a particular recipe.  Or if you’re choosing a new bread machine, it’s important to understand what all the cycles do so you know which ones you will need.

If you aren’t quite sure what all the cycles and settings mean, and you don’t have a manual or you bought the machine second-hand, this article will help you grasp the basics. It will also help you select the correct cycle if your recipe doesn’t specify which one to use.  The most common bread machine cycles and settings are explained here for quick reference.

Most bread machines have cycle lengths with the length of time programmed in and you can’t customize them. For the best possible results, it’s ideal to have a bread machine that allows you to create your own custom programmed cycles, like the Zojirush’s which are my favorite. I like to start with the regular cycles on my bread machine, and then tweak them to get the perfect loaf. For example, if the bread doesn’t rise quite enough, I can simply extend the rise times.


Do you love farmhouse white bread? If so, this is the setting for you. Ideal for basic breads without much fuss, made in the American style, this setting is great for most savory yeast breads. Don’t use this cycle for sweet yeast breads, as you can accidentally overproof your loaf.  I use this cycle most of the time, even if I’m using some whole wheat flour.


The sweet cycle on most bread makers is designed to prepare and bake sweet yeast breads. Don’t get it confused with the quick bread cycle, however. Quick breads don’t contain yeast, so they cook at a different pace, and require no rise time.  An example of a quick bread would be something like a banana bread or zucchini bread, without yeast.

basic bread machine cycle

Whole Wheat

Whole wheat flour can take a bit longer to make a quality bread. Your rise time is generally longer in this cycle, so that the gluten can get to work. Some bakers choose to add wheat gluten to whole wheat loaves, which may allow you to use the basic setting. That said, for best results, stick with the whole wheat setting.

Note that sometimes you can get better results using the white cycle for whole wheat loaves (especially on the Zojirushis, it’s a little quirk), so it’s worth experimenting with this.


The French setting on your bread maker isn’t just for French breads! Many breads that are baked in the European style, specifically those from Western Europe, will do better using this setting. The timing is a bit longer on most machines than a basic loaf, and temperature settings may vary slightly. These modifications help your bread to obtain the texture and crust that are characteristic of French and Italian breads, among others.

Gluten Free

Individuals with special diets may require gluten free baked goods. Bread makers often include a special cycle for gluten free breads to help these individuals enjoy the experience of baking fresh bread. Gluten free bread ingredients can vary greatly based on the recipe, but using room temperature ingredients is advisable, as is using flours like almond, millet, or sorghum. Starch flours like potato and rice don’t produce spectacular gluten free bread, although they can make a good addition to either gluten free or wheat flour bread recipes. These breads still require rise time, as you will be able to see while your machine is working.

I’m really excited about the newer Zojirushi model that includes a special gluten free setting, as not all models do.


Sometimes labeled quick cycle, and other time rapid, this cycle is for bread in a hurry. This cycle varies from machine to machine, but in general implies the shortening of rise times. Your rapid cycle may proof twice, but for less time than the full cycle, or only proof once. In some machines, rapid rise yeast may be requested for this cycle. You might need to find a copy of the manual for your machine in order to use this cycle correctly.

Quick Bread

Those of you who love banana nut bread and similar treats, this is the cycle you will probably get the most use out of. It is designed for use with quick bread recipes, Quick breads, as a rule, can be baked immediately; they require no rise time. As mentioned above, quick breads do not contain yeast. You might be able to use this cycle for cakes, as well, depending on your machine.


The jam cycle is great for making homemade fruit spreads. You need to be aware that the bread pan, handle, paddle, and the machine itself can be very, very hot when this cycle completes. Make sure to use potholders. For best results when making jam in your bread machine, cut your fruit into cubes. DO NOT PUREE IN ADVANCE. Trust me on this one.


The dough cycle is a great option for making bread dough when you want to shape the loaves yourself.  It saves you quite a lot of work and mess since it does all the mixing and kneading for you.  It works very well with the timer, so you can set the dough to be ready when you have time to shape it into a loaf or rolls and bake it.  The dough cycle, depending on your machine, can also be used for creating cookie doughs, pie crust, and numerous other doughs that you intend on baking in your oven, and not in the bread machine. In some machines, this may also work for pasta doughs, although other machines include a separate cycle for pastas.


Some machines like the Zojirushis offer users the opportunity to create custom cycles, bake for preset times, set a time when a cycle will begin, or perform other advanced options. This will give you ultimate control to get the perfect loaf.

If you are unsure as to the function of one of your bread machine’s cycles and it’s not explained here, you can test it on an empty loaf pan, with the paddle(s) in place. It should be relatively simple to identify what is taking place during the cycle without any dough in the machine. If you choose to open the lid for a better view, you won’t damage the machine, so don’t worry.

General Notes

Make sure that you do not exceed your bread machine’s capacity for a particular setting. If your bread pan overflows or the heating element makes contact with dough or jam, it can spoil the machine. Many bread machine manuals are available online, and we have posted links to many of them here. If you have one on hand that I haven’t posted, I’d love to see it and add a digital copy!


Bread machine settings and cycles are easy enough to use, once you are acquainted with your machine. The most common bread machines cycles and settings explained above should help you get started, even if you don’t have your manual on hand. Happy Baking!

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