How to Make your Bread Machine More Useful in Your Kitchen than it is as a Boat Anchor or a Doorstop!

I love my bread machine. I mean it – I really do LOVE it!  That may be hard for some of you to believe – but I do.  I am amazed at how often I talk to people who have given up on their bread machine and left it our for the garbage men or left it in their garage to collect dust.  In our house, there is nothing like a nice warm loaf of fresh bread to fill out our dinner menu or to fill hungry tummies when the main course doesn’t appeal to everyone’s “delicately fine-tuned” taste buds.  When I was growing up, there was always a jar of peanut butter and a plate of sliced bread on the table.  We always had to try what was prepared, but bread and peanut butter were often what filled our tummies.

I used to make bread by hand – totally by hand.  No mixer or food processor or bread machine – simply a big bowl and a large spatula. When we opened our produce store, I knew that homemade, handmade bread was no longer going to be an option.  So for Christmas, my wonderful mother-in-law blessed me with a breadmaker.  Wow, I thought!  No more work, just wonderful bread, made hot and fresh daily!  After my first two weeks of trying to produce an edible and attractive loaf of bread, I was ready to toss the breadmaker out with my Salton food dehydrator.  (That’s another story for another day!)  But, I persevered.  I checked out bread books from the library, I visited hundreds of cooking websites, and I started my own science laboratory – all to discover how to have my life made easier with my bread machine.  It was not love at first sight.  It wasn’t even close.  Annulment, divorce or permanent separation was looking like my only option.  Thankfully, we made it work.  How?  I learned a few key items which made all the difference in the world in my relationship with by breadmaker.  I couldn’t live without it now.  Perhaps the key points which follow will help you reunite with your long lost breadmaker and help you sustain a close and wonderful relationship with it as an integral part of your kitchen staff.

Ingredients must be CARFEULLY measured each and every time.  When the recipe calls for 2 ½ cups flour, don’t scoop with the measuring cup.  Fluff the flour first with a spoon, then use the spoon to fill the measuring cup.  Use the flat edge of a knife to scrape off the excess flour before placing it in the pan.

  1. Know the different kinds of basic wheat flour.  Besides color, texture and taste, flours are also graded according their protein/gluten content.
    1. All-purpose flour is a blend of hard and soft wheat berries and was created to be a single flour that works well in all recipes.  It has approximately 10 to 11 percent gluten content and bread loaves made with this type flour will be significantly smaller than those made with bread flour.
    2. Unbleached flour is an all-purpose flour that has whitened with age rather than chlorine gas.
    3. Bread flour has a gluten content of approximately 14 percent and produces the highest loaves.  It absorbs more water than all-purpose flour due to its higher gluten content.
    4. Whole wheat flour contains all three component of the wheat kernel and thereby has a much higher nutritional value than the other flours, although less gluten content.  Breads made with whole wheat flour take longer to rise and may require more liquid and yeast than those made with other flour types.
    5. Vital wheat gluten is not actually a flour, but an additive that is used to create taller, lighter breads.
  2. Increase the nutritional value of your bread recipes by substituting whole wheat flour for some or all of the bread flour called for in your recipe.  To make the recipe still produce a high loaf of bread, add approximately 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for every 1 cup of whole wheat flour you add.  Make sure to take this into account when measuring the flours, that is add 1 cup less 1 tablespoon of whole wheat flour and then add 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten.
  3. Don’t get confused about yeast and don’t spend a fortune buying it.  At our local warehouse club, I buy active dry yeast in large 2 pound bags.  I keep the yeast in the freezer and scoop it out as I need it.  If your recipe calls for packages of yeast, it is equivalent to 2 ¼ teaspoons of yeast.
  4. Liquid is liquid and most any kind can be used.  I have found that any liquid whether water, potato water, cow’s milk, soy milk, almond milk or rice milk, can be used in bread recipes.  Water tends to make the crust firmer, while milk makes the bread crust softer.  I use water as my liquid and then add an appropriate amount of dried soy milk powder for all of my bread recipes.  This gives me the added benefit of using the delayed timer on my machine without worrying if the milk will sour before mixing and baking occurs.
  5. Don’t forget or overlook the salt.  Bread will not rise well or will rise too fast and then fall without any salt in the mixture.  Reducing the salt in a recipe usually presents no problems, but omitting the salt is not a good alternative.
  6. Flour from fresh ground wheat berries can be a little tricky. I have yet to get my bread machine recipes to work well with freshly ground wheat berries, but perhaps I haven’t experimented enough.  If I really want to use fresh ground flour, I let my bread machine do the mixing and kneading, and then I do the rising and baking in my conventional oven.
  7. Egg replacers work as well as whole chicken eggs in all my recipes.  If using egg replacer, make sure that the volume of liquid is about the same.  I find that 3 tablespoons of water, mixed with 1 ½ teaspoons of Ener-G egg replacer is a perfect substitute and I don’t have to worry about the egg spoiling if I use the delayed timer on my machine.
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