10 Tips For Success When Using Your Bread Maker

Bread maker machines are advertised as easy to use — and they are, once you get to know them. But your first results can be disappointingly deflating. Small, dense and under-cooked loaves are often a problem for new machine owners. You can, of course, go with a bread mix, which has all the ingredients in one bag. Just add yeast and water and you’re ready to go.

But if you’d rather start from scratch, here are ten tips to make sure your loaves are the best every single time.

Flour

Use High-Grade Flour

In some countries, you can buy “bread flour” which has an even higher gluten content (12-14%) but New Zealand’s high grade usually works well enough.

You’ll have noticed many different types of flour on the supermarket shelves, and each is best suited to a particular use. In New Zealand, high-grade flour is the best for bread making because it has the higher gluten content (11%) needed for elasticity in the dough. Standard flour has a lower gluten content and bread simply won’t rise as well if you use it.

Warm The Flour

It’s a good idea to make sure the flour is at least room temperature before it goes into the bread maker. My flour lives in the pantry, so in winter I make sure I bring it inside for a while before I need to get started. I often pop the bag down by the fire if I need it to warm up in a hurry.

Measure Flour Correctly

Bread maker recipes will give you two ways to measure: cups and weight. Using a set of scales will give you a consistently accurate amount of flour each time. The amount of flour in a cupful can vary quite considerably, depending on whether you heap it or not. Some people pour the flour into the cup, others scoop it out of the flour bin. Each method will result in a slightly different amount of flour in the cup.

Be Generous Measuring Other Ingredients

The standard ingredients for an ordinary loaf of bread are flour, sugar, salt, oil, milk powder and yeast. I find that the amounts stated in the recipe in my bread maker book are a bit small. The amounts I use for a loaf made from 450g (1lb) of high-grade flour are:

  • 1 ½ tbsp olive or rice bran oil
  • 1 ½ tbsp milk powder (1 ½ tbsp of liquid milk works too)
  • 2 tbsp sugar (white sugar or coconut sugar both work well)
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Yeast (see below)

Tbsp = tablespoon (15 ml in NZ)        Tsp = teaspoon (5 ml)

Your machine is probably not made in New Zealand, and the measurements given in its recipe book may be using Australian or US tablespoons, which are actually a different size to NZ ones. An Aussie tablespoon, for example, is 20 ml whereas NZ tablespoons are only 15 ml.

To be on the safe side, I use the largest tablespoon in my set which is actually NZ1½ tbsp.

Warm Water Is Important

Use water that is warm to the touch but not hot. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast, but cold water will take too long to activate it, and your bread is less likely to rise properly.

Yeast

Use a yeast with added improvers

In New Zealand, you need to add flour improvers to your mix, because of the comparatively low protein/gluten content in our flour (even high grade.) The easiest way to do this is to use a yeast with improvers already added.

I use Edmonds Surebake Yeast — look for the jars with red tops in the baking aisle — but I have seen at least one other brand which also offered a yeast+improver option.

3 tsp is a good amount to add.

Breadmaker recipes vary as to the amount of yeast to use. Some will break it down into a yeast measurement and an improver measurement.

I’ve experimented with amounts over the years, and have found that 3 tsp of Surebake Yeast has given a well-risen loaf every time.

Check the date on the yeast jar.

If you’ve done everything else correctly and the bread still doesn’t rise properly, check the date on the yeast jar. If it’s a long way past the “best before” date then stale yeast could be the problem.

Add the ingredients in the order listed for your bread maker.

Your bread maker machine recipe book will have a list of ingredients and the order you should put them into the bread pan. Some start with the water and add the flour and yeast last. Others list the yeast first. It’s probably best to add them in the order recommended for your machine.

Check the crust setting

Not all bread maker machines have a crust setting. If yours does, experiment with the setting that works best for you. On my machine, dark is the best option to use.

Yum — Fresh Bread

Bowl of soup with a slice of bread fresh from the bread maker.
Soup and fresh, homemade bread is such a treat, especially in winter. I often put a big pot of homemade soup on the slow-burning wood burner and let it cook all night. Next morning I pop bread ingredients into the bread maker and hey presto! By lunchtime, we have a delicious meal ready to eat.

I’ve made many mistakes with my bread over the years, but if a loaf doesn’t rise properly then it’s usually because I haven’t followed my own tips.

Farm Recipes on Time of my Life

Food is such a part of farming culture. The first thing you’re likely to hear when you walk into our house is “have a cuppa.” 

Apart from fresh bread, I’ve got some go-to recipes for keeping my farmer and guests well fed. Cheese scones are another perfect accompaniment to soup, or a quick snack to whip up when your farmer suddenly turns up with guests in tow.

Extra-Special Pumpkin Soup

Sweet’n’spicy Poached Pears in Precious Pears

Mushrooms and Rice Risotto in Mushrooms Galore

Delicious Mixed Grain and Walnut Salad

2 Replies to “10 Tips For Success When Using Your Bread Maker”

  1. I have been meaning to write about your article about bread machines several months ago.

    All of your suggestions were useful but I wish the bread machine manufacturers would be a little more honest in their advertising. It is never as simple as “dump in the ingredients and turn it on”. Machines have their individual characteristics. and differences between flours, yeasts, etc. require experience and adaptation before the baker can reliably turn out excellent loaves. My first attempts produced tasty brown bricks. Now, after several months of weekly baking, I can be confident of getting a beautiful, tasty loaf, even with some variations in the ingredients.

    Your suggestion to heat the flour and machine has been very useful this winter. Bread machines are programmed to allow the dough to rise for a specific length of time and they do not adjust the time to allow for colder temps.

    The most important factor is the flour/water ratio. It is not possible for a manufacturer to determine the exact amount of flour and water. Best to add a minimum amount of water, start the machine, and add driblets of water into the machine as it kneads the bread. Again, only experience will tell the baker what is the right amount, i.e., when it looks right.

    I have read in some old recipes that, one hundred years ago, homemade bread was started with a “sponge” using potato water. I love some of the old traditions and making things “from scratch” so, whenever I boil some potatoes, I always save a couple of cups of the salty water to “proof” the yeast. Not sure how much that affects the bread but I like to feel a link to the traditional ways.

    Also, when I finish a jar of peanut butter, there is always some peanut butter stuck on the sides that I cannot get out. So, I save it for the next batch of bread. I pour the hot potato water into the peanut butter jar and let it cool a bit before I add the yeast. At least in my imagination, there is a richer taste and color.

    Bread machines are wonderful and convenient. They are a great compromise between our wish to bake and our limited free time. In that way, they fulfill the manufacturer’s promises. And, the aroma that fills our kitchens is just as good as ever. (Almost as good, anyway. My grandmother had a “convertible” range that burned gas but also burned wood. From my youth, I can remember the wonderful smell of burning wood to go along with the other fragrances from that most memorable of kitchens.)

    1. This is interesting information, Randy. I’m intrigued by the potato water and peanut butter jar ideas. I’ll have to try those out. I have to admit to using slightly more liquid than my breadmaker instructions state, owing to the fact that I rarely have milk powder on hand so I tend to just put 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of liquid milk into the mixture instead. It still seems to turn out just the same. Hot, fresh bread is such a treat that a loaf rarely makes it to the next day, but when it does I love to toast a thick slice and eat it hot and crunchy with vegemite and butter (a New Zealand classic spread.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.