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How to make bread machines work for you.

"I fell in love at first bite."

Linda J. Wilson, Grants Pass, Oregon

I HAVE TO CONFESS I'M NOT A charter member of the new generation of breadmakers, a group that makes bread by machine. I only joined (and rather hesitantly) when the Sunset test kitchen began getting calls about the machine. The calls convinced me that we needed to investigate this latest kitchen gadget.

My research began with a query in Sunset asking readers for their opinions about the machines. More than 200 letters brought words of praise, recipes, and questions on how to fix problem loaves. Armed with these questions, and lots of advice from readers and bread machine converts, I began to bake bread in four machines that I felt were representative of the dozen or so available models: the 1-pound-capacity Panasonic Bread Bakery and Welbilt Bread Oven; and the 1 1/2-pound-capacity Zojirushi Home Bakery and DAK Turbo Baker IV. Four months later, here's what I found.

WHAT BREAD MACHINES OFFER

You get fresh, good-tasting bread by convenience--a no-mess, no-fuss proposition--anytime you want from ingredients you choose. The machine mixes ingredients, warms the dough so it will rise, kneads it, then bakes the bread. You never touch the dough; all you do is measure the ingredients into the machine's bread pan, pick a baking cycle, and push the start button. The bread will be ready in 2 1/2 to 4 hours, depending on the cycle and the particular machine.

The downside? Funny-looking loaves by traditional standards, reduced counter space, and the cost of the machine. The price can range from as little as $99 (for a basic 1-pound capacity) to $400 (top of the line, 1 1/2-pound capacity). Many readers didn't let cost, space, or loaf shape considerations affect their view of the machine.

Says Tom Walton, of Seattle, "It's the next best thing since--you guessed it--sliced bread! I haven't bought bread at the store since I got it."

SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU BUY

Machine size and bread shape. Choices include machines with 1-, 1 1/2-, and 2-pound loaf capacities (determine how much bread you eat in one to two days). Loaf shapes may be round, square, or rectangular.

Cycle options. Consider a 100 percent whole-wheat cycle (loaves may rise higher than with a regular cycle); a dough cycle, good for making dough for pizza and rolls you intend to shape and bake in a conventional oven; a delayed cycle (a timer sees to it that you have fresh-baked bread when you wake or return from work); or a programmable cycle (you can develop your own program for recipes, good for heavier and nonwheat bread recipes).

Other features. A window allows easy viewing for checking dough consistency (you can lift the lid of windowless machines to check dough, but only quickly and occasionally, to avoid heat loss). A yeast dispenser keeps yeast away from liquid--especially important in delayed cycles (however, carefully layering ingredients avoids this problem). Consider cleaning: most machines are easy to clean, but those with removable bread pans keep spills out of the machine. And check noise level before you choose a machine. Some are louder than others; if your kitchen is near the bedroom and you want to use the delayed cycle for overnight bread, you'll want a quieter machine.

WHAT WE LEARNED IN OUR TEST KITCHEN

Do your initial baking with manufacturers' recipes. Recipes that come with your bread machine have been developed specifically for its programmed cycles, so they tend to work best. If you wish to use other recipe sources--or adapt regular bread recipes--you'll need to be ready for some trial-and-error loaves. Recipes from general bread machine cookbooks are not usually developed for a particular machine, and may work better in some machines than others. In our test kitchen, no single recipe performed the same way in all machines. However, almost all loaves were edible, and most were delicious.

For a good start, follow directions. All manufacturers recommend using bread flour (which has more gluten--a tough, elastic protein--and provides a stronger framework than all-purpose flour). And, most manufacturers suggest using room-temperature ingredients--some, liquids heated to between 75 |degrees~ and 110 |degrees~--to maximize the yeast's leavening potential. (If you use cold ingredients, the loaf is likely to be dense with less height.) A few machines have a heat-up period before ingredients are mixed together, so you needn't worry about temperature.

Once ingredients are in the pan, you choose a cycle. Each recipe states which cycle to use. Cycles vary in rise time and baking heat (important for sweet doughs--they need lower heat). You can choose rapid or turbo cycles to reduce cycle time by about an hour, but loaves will be lower.

Check dough consistency. Ideally, once the machine is loaded and the cycle is in progress, you can walk away; however, until you have a failproof recipe and know your machine, you'll need to check the dough's consistency--which determines the success or failure of a loaf--before you go about other business.

It's important to watch the dough for about 10 minutes of the first mix-knead cycle. The proper balance between liquid and flour is essential for a good loaf. You want a soft ball that pulls clean from the sides of the pan. (If dough is too stiff, the machine can't knead effectively; if too soft, the machine can't add extra flour.)

Machines can't compensate for variations in humidity, heat, altitude, and ingredients. That's why they sometimes produce overproofed loaves, loaves that don't rise properly, and loaves that are doughy--and why a recipe that's successful in spring and fall may not work as well in summer.

Size and appearance don't necessarily indicate success or failure. Since all loaves from a machine are similarly shaped, the machine's loaf gets character from the ingredients, not the shape. However, some loaves may be high with domed tops, others only half as high as the pan. And others may sport bumpy tops.

Don't let appearance dictate your opinion. A loaf that doesn't rise as high as the pan isn't necessarily a failure. Loaves made from whole-grain flours won't rise as high as those made with 100 percent bread flour (although they'll gain height with the addition of wheat gluten--add 1 1/2 teaspoons to each cup of whole-grain flour). You may prefer to forgo a perfectly domed white loaf for a stubbier, dense loaf with great whole-grain flavor.

Interesting results from our baking. Some machine manuals recommend rapid-rise yeast. We tested with both regular and rapid-rise yeast and found the results comparable in most machines. We also used a whole package of yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) when a recipe called for 2 teaspoons without encountering any problems.

Many machine recipes were too salty for our taste-testers. Cutting the salt in half didn't affect the loaves (1/2 teaspoon worked well for both 1- and 1 1/2-pound-capacity machines). Loaves without any salt, however, were squat and coarse textured.

ADAPTING RECIPES SUCCESSFULLY

If, as we did, you alter a recipe to achieve better results--higher loaf, finer texture--keep track of the changes you make, so that you have an accurate account when you develop the perfect recipe. You may need to remake and readjust a recipe several times before you're satisfied.

When you adapt a traditional bread recipe, first determine your machine's flour capacity; then adjust the recipe's flour to this amount, and other ingredients proportionally. One ingredient you don't need to change significantly is yeast--machine baking tends to require more yeast than traditional bread baking. Use the amount recommended in your machine's recipes (most machines specify a similar amount for all recipes). If your machine customarily calls for 1 package of yeast, use 1 package in the recipe you're adapting, even if the proportional amount would be 1 1/2 teaspoons.

If a loaf fails to work after you've experimented with the liquid and flour, you can change (one at a time) the other ingredients that affect rising properties: yeast, salt, sugar, and fat.

But first, check to see that you've used the proper amount of yeast and that the package expiration date hasn't passed. Make sure that the yeast does not contact hot liquids (over 120 |degrees~ will kill yeast); conversely, liquid that is below 75 |degrees~ slows yeast's leavening action (your manual gives the correct liquid temperature for your machine).

Salt retards yeast's action, so you may want to decrease it by half. Or, there might not be enough sugar to feed the yeast (sugar speeds up yeast's action); try increasing the sugar by 50 percent. If that doesn't work, reduce the fat--it also slows yeast's action.

REFERENCE HELP

Owner's manuals have troubleshooting sections. Use this first. A bi-monthly newsletter is also available. To order, write to Donna R. German, 976 Houston Northcutt Blvd., Suite 3, Mount Pleasant, S.C. 29464; fax (803) 849-0530. A one-year subscription costs $14.95.

Fleischmann's Yeast's Best-Ever Breads recipe book has a thorough section on bread machines and helpful tips for adjusting recipes. To order, send a $2.95 check or money order to Best-Ever Breads, Box 5970, Department PR, Stacy, Minn. 55078; allow four to six weeks for shipment.

Welbilt/Red Star Yeast has a recipe club. Membership costs $14.99; for details, call (800) 445-4746 between 8 and 5 CST.

Three on-line computer services offer weekly forums where machine bakers can share recipes, tips, and problems. Call America Online, (800) 827-6364; CompuServe, (800) 848-8199; or Prodigy, (800) 776-3552.

COMMON PROBLEMS- AND THEIR SOLUTIONS

Attempt solutions one at a time, in descending order

PROBLEM

1. Overrises, then sinks (Too much leavening action)

SOLUTIONS

1. Decrease liquid 2. Decrease sugar by 50% 3. Decrease yeast by 25% 4. Decrease fat by 50%

2. Too dense (Inadequate gluten structure or insufficient leavening)

1. Add wheat gluten (1 1/2 teaspoons per cup of whole-grain flours) 2. Substitute bread flour for some of whole-grain flour 3. Increase yeast and/or sugar

3. Gnarled (Too much flour)

1. Reduce flour 2. Increase yeast 3. Increase liquid (but not so much that recipe becomes too large for machine)

4. Large, uneven holes (Leavening action is too fast for rise cycle)

1. Decrease liquid 2. Decrease yeast 3. Use regular active dry yeast, rather than rapid or quick yeast 4. Increase salt by 50%

5. Sinks before baking (Improper flour-liquid ratio, resulting in weak gluten structure)

1. Increase flour 2. Decrease sugar
Sunset's Sourdough Recipe for Bread Machines

Ingredients 1-lb. machine 1 1/2-lb. machine

Water 1/2 c. + 2 tbsp. 1 c.
Sourdough starter 3/4 c. 1 c.
(room temperature)
Bread flour 2 1/2 c. 3 1/2 c.
Sugar 2 tsp. 1 tbsp.
Salt 3/4 tsp. 1 tsp.
Active dry yeast 1 pkg. 1 pkg.


Fill machine's bread pan according to manufacturer's directions; select white bread cycle. Observe dough during first mixing; it should form a soft ball. If dough won't hold together in a ball and machine labors, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough holds together. Or, if dough is too soft to form a ball, add more bread flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until soft ball forms (flour must be completely absorbed before you add more; wait at least 30 seconds between additions). At end of baking cycle, remove loaf promptly; cool on rack before slicing. Makes 1 loaf: about 1 pound 6 ounces in 1-pound machine, 1 pound 14 ounces in 1 1/2-pound machine.

Per ounce: 74 cal. (3.6 percent from fat); 2.7 g protein; 0.3 g fat (0 g sat.); 15 g carbo.; 79 mg sodium; 0.2 mg chol.

Sourdough starter. In a 1- to 1 1/2-quart pan over medium heat, or in a nonmetal container in a microwave oven, heat 1 cup nonfat or low-fat milk to 90 |degrees~ to 100 |degrees~. Remove from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons unflavored yogurt. Pour into a warm 3- to 6-cup glass, ceramic, plastic, or stainless steel container with a tight lid. Cover and let stand in a warm place (80 |degrees~ to 90 |degrees~) until mixture is the consistency of yogurt, a curd has formed, and mixture doesn't flow readily when container is tilted (it may also form smaller curds suspended in clear liquid); process takes 18 to 24 hours. If some clear liquid rises to top of milk during this time, stir to mix with curds. If the liquid turns light pink, discard and start again. Once curd has formed, stir in 1 cup bread flour until smooth. Cover tightly and let stand in a warm place (80 |degrees~ to 90 |degrees~) until mixture is full of bubbles and has a good sour smell (2 to 5 days). Again, if clear liquid forms, stir it back into starter; if pink, discard and start over. To store, cover and refrigerate. Makes about 1 1/3 cups.

To feed starter and maintain a supply, add nonfat or low-fat milk and bread flour in equal amounts to starter you'll be using. (For example, if recipe calls for 1 cup starter, add 1 cup milk and 1 cup flour.) Cover tightly; let stand in a warm place until it bubbles, smells sour, and forms a clear liquid on top, 12 to 24 hours. Use, or cover and chill. Stir to use.

READER TIPS

"I was bemoaning the fact that I'd burned my fingers trying to lift the pan handle, when I thought of my large metal crochet hook. It's perfect for the job; then I use a pot holder to remove the pan."

Joan Dickey, Moss Beach, California

"If you are not going to bake in the unit, you can double the batch of dough and just let the machine knead and rise."

Karen Jensen, Garrison, Utah

"The handiest trick I've learned is 'double kneading'... to make breads using lower-gluten flours (whole-wheat, rye) lighter in consistency.... I just stop it, then start the machine again after the first knead cycle."

Marjorie Geiser, Running Springs, California

"For crunch, I replace some of the flour with 1/4 to 1/3 cup cornmeal or polenta."

Ann Swanson, Menlo Park, California

"We (yes, we--my husband makes bread more often than I do) often mix up several batches of dry ingredients at one time. We just need to add the wet ingredients and yeast each time we bake."

Julie Sessions, Bellingham, Washington
COPYRIGHT 1993 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes recipe
Author:Bateson, Betsy Reynolds
Publication:Sunset
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:2400
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