Rise of the machine.

Of all the many ways machines make our lives easier, taking the hard work out of baking bread has to rank way up there among the all-time greats. OK, you can fight us on this, arguing that there's great benefit to be had from activating the yeast, mixing the ingredients just so, rising, kneading, and forming loaves by hand. To which we answer absolutely yes, but not everyone has time to do that these days. So we stand fast in our appreciation of the labor-saving bread machine.

How to Make Bread in a Bread Machine

The process is the same as making bread by hand; the only difference is the machine does all the mixing, rising, and baking (if you want it to).

You only need four ingredients to make bread with a bread machine:

  • Yeast (or a starter)
  • Flour
  • Liquid (typically water or milk)
  • Salt (for flavor and to control fermentation)

1. Read the Directions

  • Honestly, we cannot this emphasize this enough. All bread machines are not created equal. Some machines make one-pound loaves; others make 1½- or 2-pound loaves. Some machines have a variety of settings while others simply have an on/off button. Make sure you read your machine's manual and follow its guidelines.
  • When trying a new recipe, compare the amounts of ingredients to the recipes you usually use in your bread machine. It's important not to exceed the capacity of your bread machine pan. Small loaf machines generally use about 2 cups of flour, while large loaf machines use 3 cups. It's also very important that you measure ingredients correctly. Be exact. Even a teaspoon more or less of water could make a difference.
  • With some bread machines, the wet ingredients go in first; with others, the dry ingredients. Check your machine's instructions for the proper order of loading ingredients.

2. Know Your Ingredients

  • For best results, use bread flour. "Bread machine bread flour" is the same thing as bread flour; both contain more gluten than all-purpose flour. If you don't have bread flour, you can make a substitution: 1 cup all-purpose flour plus 1 teaspoon wheat gluten (available at health food stores & some supermarkets) to make 1 cup of bread flour. (If you want to know more about bread flour vs. all-purpose flour, scroll down a bit.)
  • Eggs should be at room temperature. To bring cold, refrigerated eggs to room temperature quickly, place the whole (uncracked) egg in a cup of hot tap water for four or five minutes.
  • If your recipe calls for milk, DO NOT use a delayed mix cycle.
  • Cut butter or margarine into small pieces before adding it to the machine.

3. Working With Yeast

  • Bread machine yeast and rapid-rise yeast are specially formulated for the bread machine and become active more quickly than active dry yeast. You can use active dry yeast in your bread machine, but it should be dissolved in water before being used. In contrast, bread machine yeast can be mixed in with other dry ingredients. The difference between using active dry yeast and bread machine yeast (or rapid-rise yeast) is particularly important when using the timed mixing function on your machine.
  • If you want to check whether your active dry yeast is still usable, you need to "proof it."(It's easy.) Here's How to Proof Yeast.
  • Yeast needs a warm (but not hot) environment to grow in, and for this reason, all liquids added to the bread machine (including eggs) should be at room temperature. Water is a common ingredient, but since many people use the timer on their bread machines, most recipes call for non-fat dry milk or powdered buttermilk. However, if you are mixing your dough right away, you can certainly use fresh milk. Simply replace the water with milk or buttermilk and omit the powdered milk.
  • Remember, yeast will activate when it contacts any moist ingredient, not just water or milk. Eggs, fruit, cheese, vegetables, butter, they can all activate yeast.

Optional Reading: More About Flours and Gluten

Gluten, a protein in wheat flour, is what provides the structure in bread, which is why you use high-protein flour (bread flour) to make bread. Strands of gluten are woven together by mixing and then inflate as the yeast multiplies. High-protein flours help give yeast breads a chewy texture, so look for flour ground from hard wheat with 13 or more grams of protein per cup (hard wheat yields the highest amount of protein, or gluten).

If you want to add more stability to your bread, you can add a product called vital wheat gluten. This is especially important if 25% of the total flour in your recipe is a low- or no-gluten variety such as whole wheat flour, cornmeal, rye flour, soy flour or oatmeal. The rule of thumb is to add 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for every cup of low- or no-gluten flour that is being used in your recipe. Bagels and pizza dough also benefit from the added elasticity of high-gluten flour.

Experimenting with Ingredients

Once you have the basics down, you can start experimenting.

Start with your favorite recipes, making one substitution at a time. For example, swap rye flour for some of the wheat flour, maple syrup for honey, or milk for water. Keep in mind that you should be substituting dry for dry and wet for wet, unless you make the proper adjustments. For example, you can substitute fresh milk for dried milk as long as you reduce the water by the amount of fresh milk added. Try adding herbs, spices or seeds for a delicious change of pace, or even cheese (which should be considered a wet ingredient because it melts with heat).

Adapting a Manual Recipe for the Bread Machine

When converting a handmade bread recipe to the bread machine, it helps to have a cheat sheet. Review some bread machine recipes that you've had success with. How many cups of flour are in them? How much liquid? Then, adjust the ingredient amounts from the manual bread recipe, being careful not to exceed your machine's capacity. Consider that most handmade bread recipes make two loaves and can be divided in half to make a recipe that is roughly the right size for a bread machine. For example, a handmade bread recipe that makes two 9x5-inch loaves may be divided in half to make a 1 1/2-pound bread machine loaf.

Formulas for Sizing Your Recipe:

  • 1-pound loaf takes about 7/8 cup liquid and 2 3/4 cups flour.
  • 1.5-pound loaf takes about 1 cup liquid and 3 cups flour.
  • 2-pound loaf takes about 1 1/3 cup liquid and 4 cups flour.

Adapting a Bread Machine Recipe to a Manual Recipe

You can also convert a bread machine recipe to a handmade loaf. For best results, find a comparable handmade bread recipe for basic instructions. And if you don't have a comparable recipe, here are the basic steps to making most yeast breads by hand:

  1. Proof the yeast (dissolve the yeast and 1 tablespoon of sugar in warm water).
  2. Combine the ingredients and mix well.
  3. Knead the dough until smooth and soft.
  4. Rise until doubled. Punch down, and shape.
  5. Place bread in a greased loaf pan, or on a baking sheet for a round loaf.
  6. Rise again until nearly doubled.
  7. Bake. Most bread is baked in a moderate oven, 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the bottom of a loaf sounds hollow when tapped.

As you work with the dough, be sure to pay close attention to its consistency, and adjust the recipe as needed, adding small amounts of flour or liquid at a time.

What Else Can Your Bread Machine Make Besides Loaves of Bread?

Remember, your bread machine is doing all the mixing and kneading, but you can use the dough to bake a lot of other things besides bread loaves. Here are just a few of the recipes your bread machine can help you make:

By Allrecipes Editors and Kimberly Holland