© Denzil Green
There have been two prevailing attitudes about bread machines.
The first is that they’re not very good. This dates from the very earliest bread machines in the 1980s. Both the machines, and our understanding of how to work with them, have come a long way since then.
The second is that Bread Machines are tools of the devil and that the bread that comes out of them doesn’t taste as good as hand-kneaded bread.
The same people who will praise breads and bagels from commercial bakeries will dismiss as “fake bread” the Challah made at home because a bread machine did the mixing. Do they really think any bakery mixes their dough by hand anymore? Even Roman bakeries used “machines”; large bowls made out of lava rock with paddles turned by asses, horses or slaves.
When a bread machine makes the dough for you, which you then turn out and proceed to work with as needed, you’ve merely automated the mixing and kneading part. You can see the nay-sayers’ point, though. What’s next? Electric beaters? Blenders? And heaven forfend, gas or electricity powered ovens with thermostats? No doubt they’ll also agree that food from modern ovens doesn’t taste as good as that cooked in ovens fired up with wood or coal, the kind where setting the temperature was holding your arm in as long as you could to gauge how hot it was. And laundry. Oh, there’s a major point. Surely these people still beat their laundry against rocks in the river. After all, clothes just don’t feel the same, do they, when a machine washes them for you?
It seems that part of their negative attitude comes from wanting to imbue breadmaking with some kind of out-of-body experience. Making bread though is just plain hard work. Yes, the smell of bread coming out of the oven is amazing, but it doesn’t happen by magic. My Canadian grandmother made bread every day for her family of 7 for 40 years. When her husband died, she finally stopped, and started buying bread. After 40 years, it was not something she did for pleasure. People talk about the kneading process as being some kind of Zen meditation period, but that’s a bunch of spoiled, middle-class yuppies speaking, as opposed to someone who had to make it every day for 40 years because the family couldn’t afford to buy it at the store. This was a busy woman, who also worked part-time as a registered nurse. If she had an hour free, she could probably have thought of lots of other things to do than kneading bread — and you can bet there was never an offer of help from the men. There was a woman who, believe me, if she’d had access to a bread machine, you couldn’t have kept her away from the “Start” button.
Never, however, give anyone a bread machine unless they ask for one. Bread Machines deserve better fates than to live buried at the back of bottom cupboards or up in the attic. Unless someone asks for one, this is a tool that it’s better to let people buy themselves.
Working with Bread Machine Dough
Bread Machine pan
– © Denzil Green
All bread machines have a dough cycle with a rise after the dough. Some have a few choices of dough cycles. When the rise is complete (a bell will usually go off), you remove the dough from the bread and get on with it.
You can open your bread machine while the dough is being made, or rising. Don’t stand there with it open for an hour, but opening it to check on the dough is perfectly fine. It’s not going to blow up. Sometimes, if the dough is looking a little dry during a mixing cycle though the window, you should open it up to touch it lightly to confirm what you think you are seeing. If you think it actually feels a little dry too, add a teaspoon or so at a time of warm water, to see how the dough takes it up. Obviously only do this while it’s still mixing and able to mix the water in, and mind the paddle.
The major difference between dough made in a bread machine and dough made by hand is that when doing something with dough made by hand, you flour your work top. That’s basic, and a basic instinct for cooks. However, dough comes out of the bread machine already mixed beautifully, and (usually) having had its first rise, and dough that’s come that far isn’t going to take any more flour in. If you floured the worktop, the flour will just end up as gludgy little flour pockets in your dough. So, either have a good clean non-stick work surface such as a large plastic cutting board, or spread out plastic wrap or put a very little food oil on the worktop and then spread it around your work area with your hands — very light, now. (Yes, you could also spray the surface with a spray oil.)
When you take it out of the bread machine, knead it a bit (to “punch it down”.) If you have time, some advise to let it rest after that for about five minutes, but most don’t, and it doesn’t seem to make any noticeable difference.
When you have finished shaping your rolls, bread or whatever, cover them with a smooth cotton tea towel (not a waffle-textured one, or a terry-towel one — been there, done that, got the loser’s prize, which is dough stuck to the tea towel that bakes on in the wash.)
Then let your shaped dough rise the required amount of time, depending on your recipe.
Converting Manual Recipes to Bread Machine Recipes
Best way to go is plan to use the dough cycle. The biggest hurdle to overcome is that with manual bread recipes, you can work in flour as you go. With bread machines, all your ingredients in the right quantities have to go in at once. It requires a bit of planning.
It may take you a few times to make a transition that you are happy with. Make notes as you go along on what you did each time to allow for adjustments later. Make sure that your bread machine can handle the amount of flour that will be needed. In general, if a machine can handle the following “poundages” of bread, it can handle the corresponding number cups of dry ingredients.
|Max flour||Max yeast|
|1-pound (450g)||2 to 2 1/2 cups||1 to 1 1/2 tsp|
|1 1/2-pound (675g)||3 to 3 1/2 cups||1 1/2 to 2 tsp|
|2-pound (900g)||4 to 4 1/2 cups||1 1/2 to 2 1/2 tsp|
To start, if your manual bread recipe gives a range of flour (e.g. 4 to 4 1/2 cups), use the lower amount. By whatever amount you reduce the flour, reduce the other ingredients proportionately. Especially the liquid.
If you need to reduce by the flour by something obscure such as 1/8, just reduce everything by something easier to calculate such as 1/4.
As the dough is being made in the machine, have handy extra flour to add to get the look and feel of it right while it is mixing, and don’t forget to measure and note how much extra you are adding. Check the dough five minutes after the mixing starts. It should be a smooth, slightly tacky ball congregating around the paddle. If it’s sticky or soft, you need more flour: if it appears really stiff or if the paddle is really labouring, it needs additional liquid a teaspoon at a time, and don’t forget to write down your additions!
Note the maximum yeast amounts in the table above. Yeast in bread machines tends to be a far happier camper than outside of bread machines, as it is in an ideal temperature and humidity environment. So, you don’t need as much as in manual recipes.
Your manual recipe will probably have you dissolve the yeast in water first. Don’t do that when converting to a bread machine, and don’t forget the golden rule about yeast on the top of the other dry goods, well away from the liquids.
In manual recipes, you may have added items such as raisins or olives somewhere at the start of the process: with Bread Machines, don’t add these things until you hear the raisin beep on your machine! The first phase of kneading in bread machines is quite rough and may simply purée or shred your special ingredients.
Expect to need a few goes at the recipe before you get it perfect. It’s a good idea to make only “one improvement” at a time, so that if it doesn’t work, you know what it was. It’s also helpful to compare your manual recipe with a bread machine recipe that seems close, to act as kind of a guideline.
I knew that I wanted to end up using my grandmother’s manual white bread recipe in a Bread Machine, so I used a Black & Decker recipe as rough guidelines. It took several goes to get it to the point where it now comes out perfectly every time, but it was worth it. The handed-down recipe has now successfully transitioned to the new tools, and Nanny’s bread recipe can now be made by future generations. There is a link to the recipe at the bottom of this entry.
Most bread machines come with special instructions for use at high altitudes.
Machines have different loading instructions for the ingredients, but generally bread machine pros just disregard all that and do the following:
- all liquids or mooshy ingredients in first;
- then all dry ingredients;
- yeast last, on top, kept nice and dry.
Some machines have a pre-warming cycle, so that you can use ingredients straight from the fridge. If possible when choosing a bread machine, make sure your machine has this. It’s an invaluable time saver and not having to get ingredients out of the fridge in advance to warm up is one less thing to futz about.
Use non-iodized salt. Iodine really hurts yeast activity. If you are using non-iodized salt, you will find that you can get way better results out of ordinary yeast without having to pay for bread machine yeast, and you’ll find over time that you can use less yeast (helping to reduce your cost per loaf). Many North American recipes call for 1 1/2 teaspoons of yeast, quite possibly to compensate for the use of iodized table salt. If you use non-iodized salt, you’ll find that in many of these recipes you actually need to cut the yeast back by 1/2 teaspoon. And, don’t plunk your yeast on top of the salt. Any kind of salt is a yeast inhibitor in general: sugar is put in bread dough to help yeast grow, and the salt is there to keep it in line, so that it doesn’t go crazy. But you don’t want to make your yeast not do hardly anything at all by plunking it right on top the salt. Many people make salt the first dry ingredient to go in, to avoid this.
Besides cutting back on yeast when using non-iodized salt, if you’re making bread on a hot summer’s day, cut back on the yeast by just the slightest tidge, so that the dough doesn’t rise so much that it pushes the top of the bread machine open.
Some bread machine writers advise to melt any fat such as butter, margarine or shortening in the microwave first, but most people never bother, and rightly so, as no reason is ever given for this.
If you are doing whole grain recipes and want some more rise out of them, remember that whole grain is not only lower in gluten than white flour, but that the grains cut through the gluten strands that do develop. To compensate for using whole grain flour, toss in 1 tsp of gluten flour per cup of whole grain flour.