Fine Tuning Bread Machine Mixes

Sometimes bread machines can be tricky.  We were trying to help a customer whose bread did not rise enough.  It seemed that he did everything right.  Come to find out, he had an older model and a brand that we were not familiar with.  (Bread machines are becoming more standardized but there are still different requirements for different machines.)   So we tried to help him fine tune his mix to work perfectly with his machine.

Fine tuning may be required either because the mix does not perfectly match the machine or because of environmental conditions in your kitchen—humidity, temperature, or altitude.  (Since temperature is a variable, make sure that both the mix and machine are at room temperature before beginning.)

Bread machines work on a timer.  They mix, allow time for the bread to rise, and then bake.  If the dough does not rise fast enough, then the loaf is dense with poor volume.  If the dough rises too fast, it collapses with a depression in the middle.  To fine tune a mix, we want to adjust the rising so that it is at peak height when the baking cycle begins.  

In fine tuning, there are two variables to work with.  The first is hydration, the ratio of water to dry ingredients.   A more hydrated dough is softer and will rise easier.  If it is too firm, it won't rise enough and will be dense.  If it is too soft, it will rise too quickly and collapse as baking begins.  A little difference in the amount of water added will change the loaf so measure carefully with a reliable measuring cup designed for liquids. 

Check the dough ball at the end of the kneading cycle.  Poke it with your finger.  It should be soft but not too sticky.  If you think it is too soft or too firm, pull it out of the machine, form a loaf, let it rise, and bake it in the oven.  Then next time, add or subtract water.  Usually a one tablespoon adjustment is all that is needed.

The other method for fine tuning is adjusting the temperature of the water.  All of our bread machine mixes are developed with water at 80 degrees and a specified water temperature range of 75 to 85 degrees.  As a rule of thumb, if your kitchen is chilly, use water at 85 degrees.  If hot, use water at 75 degrees. 

Increasing or decreasing the water temperature will change the rate of the yeast growth substantially.  So if the dough ball indicates the right consistency, then you can speed or retard the rising of the bread quite handily by adjusting the water temperature--warmer water will speed the rising and cooler water will slow the rising.  Usually an adjustment of ten degrees is adequate.  

We hope this helps you fine tune any mix for your bread machine and the conditions in your kitchen.  What works for one mix, should work for all mixes of that same brand.  Once you find what works, stick with it.  Consistently turning out perfect loaves is usually no more difficult than carefully measuring the water and controlling water temperature.