Perfect Bread Machine Dough

On a homeschool message board I frequent the question of homemade bread, bread machines, and baking bread come up a lot. It seems like a lot of people would like to try to make their own bread, but it seems really daunting. The “good” bread machines that bake well are really expensive, and a pretty huge investment unless you’re sure you want to bake a lot. How can you go about starting to bake fresh bread without a huge investment of time or money, AND make sure you have fun!? I’m here to help!

Gear: When I first started out I bought a bread machine for $5 at a yard sale. It had been rarely used and was in perfect shape. It didn’t have a manual, which didn’t concern me at all. You can find just about every manual online, and if you can’t, you really don’t need it. You can also find cheap bread machines on ebay, at thrift stores, or ask around – someone you know probably has one collecting dust and they’ll give it to you.

Dough“: No, not money. We’re covered that! For me, the best way to start learning to bake bread was to make my dough in the bread machine. The hard parts – kneading and rising – are handled and you then just shape and bake. When you use the dough setting on a bread machine you can use ANY recipe you want, since it doesn’t actually bake in the machine. I use this setting for pizza dough, rolls, bread, English muffin dough… You name it.

For this post I used the Amish White Bread recipe at Tammysrecipes.com. I picked it because it’s a no fail recipe, and it’s easy to tweak after you have a couple of successful batches (I’d recommend mastering an easy white bread and understanding the process a little before moving on to whole wheat). It also only has a couple of ingredients. Her recipes are awesome!! Definitely look around over there!

Ingredients: The two biggies for new bakers are flour and yeast.  I used to buy my yeast at Sam’s Club. SERIOUSLY – it’s a zillion times cheaper than local places! The last time I needed yeast I bought SAF Instant Yeast on Amazon. Either way – store it in the fridge, or in the freezer if it’s unopened. I open one of those big bags and keep it in a mason jar about forever in the fridge. I’ve never had issues with it going bad. For flour – bread flour really does make a HUGE difference. It’s worth having a bag on hand. I also bought my flour at Sam’s Club and I store it (and all my bulk grains) in old frosting containers that I got for free from my local grocery store. SCORE!! Food safe food storage for FREE!

ImageImageProcess: I start with warm water. By “warm” I mean baby bottle warm. Some dough settings start mixing right away, some preheat the water, but either way if you use warm water you’re covered.

After the water, I add in any sweetener. I used white sugar for this demo, but usually use honey, molasses, sucanat, brown sugar… pretty much anything works it just needs to provide the yeast with a little lunch. 😉

To the sugar water, I add the oil and salt. Oil can, again, be anything. In this I used coconut oil, but you can use butter, olive oil, vegetable oil… You get the idea. Something greasy goes in here. Image

Now all the “wet” stuff is in the bucket, I make sure the paddles are in. I usually don’t forget, but I have. It’s a mess. LOL!! I also make sure they can turn. As my pans wear out sometimes they get sticky.

To the oily, sweet, warm, salty water (yum!) add the flour. You don’t need to sift – but don’t pack it in. Level measures are good.

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This is a hold-over from baking in the machine – but to add the yeast I make a hole and add the yeast to the top. I think the theory is so the yeast doesn’t hit the water and start the party too soon, but I’ve seen it done a million ways. Let me know if you do something crazy- like getting your yeast wet – and if it works!

Insert your pan FIRMLY into your machine (because if you don’t the machine will spin, but your dough paddles wont, and you’ll get NOTHING! LOL!!). Turn on to the DOUGH setting, and start it up. Make sure everything is spinning. Take a minute to clean up the kitchen, save for the flour, and come look at your dough…

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Use the DOUGH setting. Most take between an hour and a half and two hours.

Now is the time you may need to tweak and troubleshoot.

If it’s too WET – add flour about 1 T at a time…

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TOO WET! It’s super sticky and spreads out under the paddles. It also will stick hard to your fingers if you touch it.

DON’T EVER stick your fingers in the machine (ask me how much it hurts…)!

If your dough is TOO DRY, add water about 1 t. at a time. Really, it takes very little if you’ve followed the recipe closely and didn’t go crazy packing in the flour.

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This is BARELY too dry. There is lots of flour left in the bottom, but the dough on the sides is pretty moist. Add only a tiny bit of water at a time!

You’ve done your work and the dough is PERFECT! Leave it alone. Walk away…

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This is great. It’s a little sticky… it’s nicely kneading but not sticky… most of the dough is off the pan walls. Just walk away!

SHAPING. When your dough is ready you have some decisions to make… Rolls? Loaf? Cinnamon rolls? Bread sticks? There’s a lot going on here. LOL!! You can search the internet, but the VERY BEST EVER video on how to shape a roll is HERE. When my son was 7 he made these into rolls using this video and recipe for 4H. He rocked it! So, if a 7 year old boy can do it – you can too! Today I went to run errands so I left the dough and my 11 year old shaped these for me when the bread machine “beeped”.

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SECOND RISE: After you shape the rolls, or loaf, or whatever, you need to let them rise a second time. There are two methods:

1. Sit it on the counter for an hour. (Or in all the old school recipes, “set it in a warm, draft free area”. Yeah, right.) That’s great if you aren’t in a rush and planned ahead. I rarely use this method.

2. As you shape, turn the oven to preheat to it’s lowest setting. I use 195. As soon as it gets there, turn off the oven, and pump the door a few times to dissipate the heat. Put your shaped dough in, cover with a wet cloth, and leave in there for 20 minutes. VIOLA! It’s risen. Pull it out, preheat to bake, and bake. Easy-peasy. I think I learned that trick at Everyday Food Storage, a really cool resource for scratch baking.

In short, don’t be intimidated. You can do it. Start easy – basic white bread. Try it out a few times. Make rolls, make cinnamon rolls, make a loaf of bread. From that you can get to know the process and chemistry, and then move up. It’s fun and easy and YOU can do it!!

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