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How to: Troubleshoot Bread Machine Problems

Take a look at my bread machine troubleshooting guide to identify what happened, how to avoid it next time, and how to potentially stop it from happening at all!

Start with familiarizing yourself with the ingredients for bread and the common bread complaints, and you'll be a bread maker pro in no time!

Showing a cross section of the bread crumb.

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Key Ingredients

Bread is simple. Bread is also complicated! There is a shortlist of ingredients for bread, but they all play an important role.

Overhead shot with ingredients for bread.

Water

The water used for your bread should be warm but not hot. Test it just like a baby bottle, dab some on the inside of your wrist, hot = bad + comfortable = perfect. I use tap water most times, but I have minimally treated well water. You may find that your bread prefers filtered water vs treated city water.

Oil

Oil in bread does two things; it tenderizes the crumb of the bread and leads to a more tender crust. This is an optional ingredient, try it both ways to see what your preference is!

Sugar

Sugar feeds the yeast so it can give off C02 and create airiness in bread. Sugar also helps to enhance the flavour, retains moisture and helps to give the crust its golden colour.

The type of sugar used can vary, but the most common are granulated sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, and corn syrup, and they can be interchanged in bread recipes. If using a liquid sugar such as honey, molasses, or corn syrup, reduce the amount of water by the same amount of liquid sugar added.

Salt

Salt, like sugar, adds flavour to the bread, but in a slightly different way, salt helps to enhance the flavour of the other ingredients more than add a salty taste. Salt also serves to strengthen the gluten structure of the dough, helping to trap CO2 bubbles for beautifully risen bread.

Flour

I could write an entire treatise on flour! There are many things to know about flour.

Most importantly, flour is milled from different kinds of grains. In most recipes, the writer will specify the quantity of flour to use, but they will not specify the protein content of the flour.

This is an important thing to note as protein content in flour can have major effects on your bread. When baking bread, aim for bread flour with a protein content higher than 12%.

Higher protein content allows the bread to produce more gluten and rise higher than flour with lower protein content. This is important because we want our bread to rise UPward not OUTward.

Yeast

The most integral part of bread! Yeast is responsible for the rise and texture of the bread we know and love. Yeast is also responsible for much of the flavour and aroma of bread. It's important to keep your yeast fresh. It should be stored in the fridge, and if you're nearing the expiry date, it's best to test or proof your yeast before attempting to make bread.

To proof yeast, sprinkle a small amount of yeast on top of a small bowl with warm water and a bit of sugar, give it a good stir. Wait 10-15 minutes. If the yeast foams up and smells like a beer, you're in business! If the yeast does not foam, you need to get rid of it and grab new yeast.

Cross section of bread machine bread.

First things first

Bread is like a living being. The yeast is alive and eats to grow. This is important to remember, because each and every living thing is different, which is to say, each loaf will be slightly different than the last.

We can mitigate major differences by keeping an eye on the bread while the bread maker is working.

I always recommend checking on your bread during the kneading cycle. Even though I've baked hundreds of loaves with my bread machine(s), I still check on my bread nearly every time.

Checking on your bread dough during the initial kneading cycle will allow you to immediately rectify two different problems:

  1. Not enough flour: You'll know by 10-15 minutes into the kneading cycle that there is not enough flour because the dough will be too moist to hold itself into a nice ball.
  2. Too much flour: Likewise, you'll also know that you've got too much flour if the dough is shaggy, dry, and there is a build-up of flour on the outside of the dough ball that hasn't been absorbed.

If you've got not enough flour, you can easily fix this by adding flour 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough starts to form a ball that pulls cleanly away from the edge of the pan. Allow a minute or two between flour additions for the machine to knead in the extra flour.

If you've got too much flour, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough pulls together to form a nice ball. Allow a minute or two between additions to allow the machine to knead in the water.

A loaf of bread with two slices cut off one end.

Sunken top or collapsed loaf

  1. Low protein flour: Low protein means the dough will make less gluten, which affects the rise.
  2. Too much liquid: There is a range of water quantities in the recipe card, start with the least amount of water, and work your way up. It's easier to add a bit of water to the pan while mixing than to start fresh!
  3. Not enough salt: If you're using coarse ground salt in this recipe, you may not be using enough salt! Try adding a bit more next time.
  4. Yeast: Too much or too old yeast can cause your bread to collapse. To avoid this in the future, proof a small amount of your yeast to confirm it's still active, and if so, decrease the quantity in your next loaf by 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoons.

bread too dense

  1. Type of flour: If you're using flour that doesn't have a high enough protein content, you can expect a dense loaf of bread. Protein is necessary for the bread to produce gluten, and as we know, gluten is the amazing thing that gives bread its stretch and elasticity, and the ability to trap air and create bubbles in bread.
  2. Quantity of flour: I never weigh my ingredients for this recipe, nor do I sift my flour. Here's how I scoop my flour for this recipe - stir the flour in the bag or container well, then use a 1/2 cup measuring cup or spoon to scoop the stirred flour into my 1 cup measuring cup, then level with a knife. It's quick and easy, keep it simple!
  3. Yeast - If the yeast is too old, it will not produce a nice loaf. Likewise, if the water added is too hot, it may kill the yeast. Finally, ensure you're adding the ingredients in the right order.

Mushroom top

  1. Too much yeast: double check your measurements, and if they were accurate, reduce the amount of yeast next time you bake bread using that recipe. Start by reducing by 1/4 teaspoon.
  2. Too much water: If this happens to you, decrease the amount of water in the next batch!
  1. Too much water: Too much water can cause a swiss-cheese like crumb.
  2. Not enough salt: If the salt is omitted or not in sufficient quantities, it can contribute to a funky crumb! Salt helps to strengthen the gluten structure of the bread dough necessary for a perfect crumb.
A close up look at the crumb and the top crust.

Bread machine tips for a perfect loaf

No. 1 --> Measure correctly! This sounds pretty straightforward, but use a liquid measuring cup for liquids, and dry measuring cups for dry ingredients. To scoop flour, stir the contents of the flour bag well, then using a spoon scoop the flour into your measuring cup, flatten the top with a knife. Don't sift!

No. 2 --> Add all the ingredients in the order listed. ALL my bread recipes list the ingredients in the order they must be added to the bread pan. Starting with the liquid, then sugar and salt, moving to the flour, any add-ins, and finally the yeast on top of it all.

No. 3 --> Check the loaf size of the bread you're baking before you bake it to ensure your bread maker has the right capacity! No one wants to clean a mess.

No. 4 --> Use the right yeast. Bread machines need different yeast for different cycles. Use active dry yeast for a full cycle or instant/bread machine yeast for a rapid cycle.

No. 5 --> Check on your dough while it's kneading. It was stated above, but I'm restating for more emphasis. Open that bread maker, it's ok, really!

-> Look at the dough: is it in a cohesive ball that sticks to the sides then pulls away as it's kneading?
-> Feel the dough: staying away from the mixing paddle, touch the surface of your bread, is it slightly tacky?

If the answer to both of those is yes, life's good!

Side profile of a machine baked loaf of bread.

Breville Custom Loaf - I've had this bread machine for years, and like all my other Breville appliances, this one doesn't disappoint. It's an absolute workhorse in my kitchen and literally never leaves the counter.

Liquid measuring cups - In a bread recipe, quantities are so important. Using a liquid measuring cup will ensure you're getting a good measurement.

Dry measuring cups + spoons - Liquid measuring cups are perfect for measuring liquids, likewise with nesting dry cups and spoons. These rigid scoops make it easy to get the quantities just right.

My favourite bread recipes

Cheers to you!

You are one dedicated soon to be bread master! I hope this guide gives you a fantastic jumping point to help you fall in love with your bread machine.

Ally

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