Bread-makers - Masterclass
There are several different types of bread-makers on the market, but how they are used can be different. In every instance the water and yeast are kept separate at the start, with some machines requiring the yeast put in first, then the dry ingredients followed by the water, with another machine it is vice versa - the water in first, the yeast last. Then some wish the dry ingredients kept separate, with the salt put in one corner, the sugar in another, and so on... Personally, the moment the machine is switched on and the paddle starts mixing, all the dry ingredients get mixed together, so see no reason why the dry ingredients (other than the yeast) cannot be mixed together in the first place. Maybe this separation of the drieds is more to do with delayed baking (when the machine is set to start at a given time).
Many bread-makers come with a variety of settings according to the type of bread being made, and it is important that the recommended flour is used and the correct ingredients added in the right order (if necessary) - also the right setting is used (see below). The book that comes with the machine will give the instructions.
As when making bread by hand, there are many reasons why one loaf could turn out better than another. One type of flour may need more water, and even the weather can affect the moisture level. When we knead dough by hand we can feel whether it is too wet or too dry, but the bread machine cannot do this, so after a few minutes open the machine lid and take a peek at the dough, it should appear pliable and soft. When the machine stops kneading, the dough should start to relax back down into the pan.
understanding the bread-maker:
Bread makers will mix, knead, prove rise and bake the dough, so once we have followed the manufacturers directions we can let the machine do all the work, most of that being done in several stages starting with:
Machines differ, one may start mixing immediately, another may wait/'rest' before starting, and then 'rest' again before starting the next cycle. This gives the machine a chance to warm the ingredients to the correct temperature for the yeast to begin working.
Using the paddle, the machine mixes all the ingredients together in the same way as we would do by hand, and this usually is done in stages with a rest between. With some machines the paddle will go first clockwise, then rest before going anti-clockwise, and repeating until the dough is ready for baking. Sometimes there will be an initial quick mix, followed by more vigorous mixing, with resting in between, and each stage can sound different. Just let it get on with it, but at the same time learn how the different cycles sound, for you may need to raise the lid for one reason or another at certain times.
When extra ingredients need be added (fruit, nuts etc) these are usually added towards the end of the kneading time to prevent them being broken up by the paddle earlier on. Most bread makers have a setting for these, so that the machine will 'beep' when it is time to add the extra ingredient. But the beeps are only a few and not that loud, so stay near the machine.
rising the dough:
When made by hand the dough is always left in a warm place to rise. The warmth encourages fermentation of the yeast, the bubbles then trapped in the dough, and these cause the dough to swell. A bread-maker automatically creates the right temperature, so when the kneading has stopped the machine becomes silent the dough then begins to rise, occasionally you will hear the machine giving a few quick movements as the paddle 'knocks back' the dough between rises, automatically varying the length of time between the risings to reflect the different composition of different varieties of bread - the wholewheat and French programmes normally being given a much longer rise than the basic white loaf.
The machine automatically switches from the rising to baking programmes, with the temperature and timings controlled depending upon the composition and size of loaf. During the baking cycle the machine may become hot, and take special care when removing the pan from the machine as the pan (and bread) will be very hot indeed. If using the machine to make dough only, it will only be warm.
the machine cycles:
The machine will adjust itself according to the type of loaf made and the correct programme used, although it needs our help to programme it correctly. There is usually a 'menu' button to allow us to do this, and here is a little more about the settings;
for baking standard loaves made from white or wholewheat plain or bread flour. If you wish for a soft crust to your standard loaf, bake it using the 'sweet' cycle.
for making loaves using a heavier wholewheat flour, or when using oats and rye. This usually means a longer rising time then for a lighter loaf.
when making French loaves, this cycle produces the distinctive light and airy crumb, with a golden and crispy crust.
to make a quick-cooked loaf, one or more of the rising cycles may be skipped, so the loaf normally does not rise as well as when made using the full process.
uses a lower baking temperature to prevent over-browning or scorching the crust.
use this setting for mixing bread dough that will then be finished and baked in the convential way. With some machines the cycle finishes after the kneading stage, others include the rising time. Either way, it is better to knock back the dough and let it rise again before baking.
One of the problems with a machine baked loaf is the shape. The larger loaves tend to be taller than they are wide, and whichever way they are sliced (upright or sideways) the slices seem too large to fit in many modern toasters. If wishing for a large loaf but with smaller slices, make the dough in the machine, then remove it, knock it back, form into a thick 'sausage', put it into a greased and floured (usually 2 lb) loaf tin, cover and place somewhere warm for the dough to rise to the top of the tin, then bake in the oven for about 35 - 40 mins (200C...).
The advantage with the above 'dough only' method is that the dough need not be dealt with immediately it comes from the machine. The dough can be put into an oiled bowl, the top covered with clingfilm, then put in the fridge and kept for up to five days if no perishable ingredients have been added. If butter, milk or eggs have been used, then it will keep only up to 2 days.
Despite the chilling, the dough will still slowly rise so needs to be knocked back occasionally, this does no harm and often improves the crumb texture. When ready to use the dough, bring it back to room temperature, then shape, prove and bake in the normal way.
freezing bread dough:
basic bread dough can be frozen in a freezer proof bag for up to 1 month. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the fridge until it doubles in size (allowing room in the bag for it to rise). Them remove and shape, prove and bake as normal. Remember that the dough - being cold - will take longer to rise than freshly made dough.
storing baked bread:
after the bread has cooled, wrap in foil or place is a plastic bag to preserve the freshness. Ideally, wrap the bread in a clean cloth, or use a bag that bought (sliced) bread has been wrapped in. However, wrapping the bread will soften the crust, so if it is crusty bread you like, leave uncovered overnight before removing the first slice, then place the loaf in a large paper bag, but try to use within 2 - 3 days as home-made bread has a tendency to dry out more rapidly than bought.
Breads made with eggs tend to dry more quickly than those made with honey or added fats.
Do not store home-made or bought bread in the fridge as this causes it to become stale quite rapidly, although the cooked breads can be frozen, in a freezer proof bag or foil (making sure to push out all the air before freezing), for up to 3 months. If intending to use bread for toast or sandwiches, it is easier to slice the bread before freezing, so that you only remove the slices you need that day.
Very crusty bread, such as French sticks, do not freeze well as they tend to come apart when thawed, although any leftover after using a fresh 'stick' can be sliced and frozen ready to eat with soups etc.
cleaning the machine:
It is important to keep the machine clean as dried crumbs and other particles end up in the hollow under the pan, seen only when the pan is lifted out. Disconnect the machine from the electrics and then use the hose of a vacuum cleaner to suck up the debris, and then wipe round with a damp cloth.
After a few weeks use my machine developed an ear-splitting 'squeak' when the paddle began to knead the dough and I rang the manufacturers. Apparently this was normal, no need to worry, and caused by sediment getting down into the 'works'. The suggestion was remove the particles (as above), and there should be no more problem. Occasionally it gives a squeak so I know it is time to wipe it out again (which I should do more often).
If the pan is not washed immediately, the paddle can glue itself to the pan as the trapped dough sets, so always remove the paddle (sometimes this comes out embedded into the loaf - so always check as once I gave a freshly baked loaf to a friend with the paddle stuck in it, unnoticed by both of us. Luckily she lived close so was able to get it back the same day). So put water into the pan to soak off any dough, and make sure the paddle and spindle are kept clean.
tip: to avoid the hole in the bread made by the paddle, lift out the dough after the rising period and before it begins baking, remove paddle and place dough back in the pan to continue baking.
Also NEVER use metal utensils to remove the bread from the pan or to remove paddle from the bread as these will scratch and damage the non-stick surfaces. Also NEVER wash the pan or paddle in a dishwasher. Always wash by hand.
for the best results, bread should be made using 'high protein' flour such as 'strong' flour. Sometimes called 'bread flour', or 'strong bread flour'. Very strong bread flour is usually imported from Canada and North America and gives a better volume with lighter results. This type of flour is the best to use when mixing with a lower gluten flour such as rye, wholemeal, seeds and whole grains.
Flour should be stored in an cool, dry place, in an airtight container. If baking occasionally rather than regularly, store the flour in a freezer, but make sure to bring the amount needed back to room temperature before using. Because wholemeal/wholewheat flour contains more fat than white flour, it does not keep as long.
when making bread by hand, the best yeast to use is the fresh yeast, but when making bread in a machine, use only the 'instant', 'fast-baking' or 'easy-blend' yeasts. With some brands, Vitamin C has been added - this vitamin being a natural dough improver - which helps to ensure the fast action of the yeast and improves the protein structure.
Even when packed in airtight sachets, yeast will still deteriorate in time and especially if the packet has been opened and only part used, so problems with rising may be due to yeast stored for too long.
salt controls the action of the yeast all the way through the baking, and also improves the keeping quality, so should always be used but with care - too much will kill the yeast, too little will mean the dough can rise out of control. Left out altogether will give a poor quality loaf with a collapsed crust.
sugar feeds the yeast and is needed to allow sufficient fermentation to occur within the limits of the machine's cycle. But as with salt - too much sugar will kill the yeast. Take particular care when using recipes that contain more than one sweet ingredient (eg. honey, syrup...) as collectively they may be enough sugar to kill the yeast.
fats are added to bread to give a good textured crumb, enhance the taste and above all allow for longer keeping before the bread goes stale. Butter, margarine, lard and vegetable oils can normally be substituted like for like, and all will vary the flavour according to your taste. Many bakers prefer to use only lard.
almost any liquid can be used to bind the dough together. Water is the normal choice, but milk, cream, buttermilk, yogurt, can all be used. Some breads are made using beer, cold tea, fruits juices etc. If wishing to use milk, dried milk can be mixed in with the flour, then water added.
Whatever liquid is added, it should always be at the right temperature as yeast will die if the temperature is too cold or too hot. Even though bread makers gently heat the ingredients as they are blended, always start off with water at room temperature rather than drawing it directly from the tap (or just add a splash of hot water to it).
ingredients that can be added:
often extra ingredients can be added, although refer to the instruction book as to amounts and cycle to be used. A rough guide is to add 1 measure of added ingredients to 3 measures of flour.
nuts: walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pecan nuts, unsalted cashew nuts and peanuts.
seeds: sunflower, caraway, pumpkin, poppy, sesame
dried fruit: raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel
semi-dried (no-soak and chopped) fruits: apricots, prunes, mango, pineapple, apple, pear, cranberries, blueberries.
herbs/spices: 1 - 2 tsp either.
other: dried onion flakes, grated chocolate or chocolate chips.
ingredients to be wary of:
the following can be used but with caution: garlic, fresh onion, too much cheese, fresh herbs, water vegetables (courgettes, spinach etc), and fresh fruit (such as grated apple).
the order of ingredients:
the important thing when putting the ingredients into the pan is to keep the yeast and water apart. Some machines need the yeast putting in first, followed by the flour and then the water, other machines do the reverse, water in first, then flour then yeast. Some machines also recommend the salt and sugar is also kept away from the yeast, this mainly important when the delay timer is used. If baking directly the ingredients are added, other than keeping the yeast and water separate, there should be no problem - in fact I now tend to bag-up my home-made bread mixes, several at a time. Weighing carefully, the flour, salt, sugar, dried milk, are all put into one bag, even a knob of butter tucked in. The bag twisted tight, and then another filled in the same way. Usually I do seven at a time, so that when wishing to bake bread, all that needs to be done is put the yeast in the pan (my pan has yeast in first), then tip in the contents of one bag, and pour over the correct amount of water. Job done.
look and learn:
some machines come with a window so that you can see what is happening, with others just lift the lid during the kneading and take a peek. Most recipes need the dough to be smooth, a bit tacky to the touch and the dough relaxes back into the pan when the paddle stops. As the kneading progresses the dough will become smoother. With experience, the sound of the machine will tell you whether the dough is right, or whether too dry.
glazing machine-backed bread:
glazing the top of loaves makes them look really special. For high-sugar glaze simply brush the top of the bread as soon as it comes out of the oven or pan, any extra toppings such as seeds or coarse grains should be sprinkled on top immediately after the glaze has been brushed over as this will help them stick to the bread.
If using an egg glaze, this can also be brushed onto the bread immediately it is baked, but if worrying about using 'raw' egg, lift the lid during the final minutes of baking and - working rapidly, brush the top of the loaf, adding other topping, then close the lid until the time is up.
Most machines have a timer, so that it easy to see when a couple of moments are left before the 'end of baking' bleep, but if there is no way of checking, a rough guide is that most machines bake for 45 minutes after the last cycle. Take care when lifting the lid as the machine will be hot and steam may puff out. Wear gloves, have the glaze at room temperature, apply quickly and add any seeds etc, then close the lid.
egg: gives a shiny, golden crust. Make glaze by whisking 1 egg with 1 tblsp water and a pinch of salt. Can be brushed over proved dough before baking.
milk: also gives a golden crust. Use just milk for basic bread, but for sweet breads, add a little sugar to warm milk, and use as for egg glaze.
water: this gives a 'French-style' finish to bread. Brush with warm water at the beginning of the baking cycle, then brush up to three times during the baking, but make quite sure the crust is dry between glazing or it may go soggy.
salt water: this gives a shiny surface and a crisp crust. Brush immediately before the baking cycle.
beer: use at room temperature. This glaze gives a rich and shiny crust.
olive oil: brushing both before and after baking, this adds a subtle flavour and makes for a rich and shiny crust. Good on focaccia bread.
butter: brush melted butter or margarinel over the top of a cooked loaf (and while it is still hot). This gives a rich flavour but a softer textured crust.
seeds: best sprinkled over the crust immediately after it has been glazed.
grains: whole, cracked and crushed grains added after glazing.
bran: both improves the texture of the loaf when added as an ingredient, but also makes a great textured topping.
oats: all grades can be used, and can be sprinkled over proved dough that has been brushed with waterbefore baking or when baked and glazed.
flour: sift dough over the proved dough before proving, and again before baking.
cornmeal/polenta: brush proved dough with water and sprinkle over the cornmeal. This gives a crispy golden crust.
cheese: best applied (grated and sprinkled) to baked bread that has just been removed from the oven or pan, and allowed to melt. Alternatively sprinkle over the bread 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Parmesan cheese is especially good when sprinkled over an egg or water glaze.
herbs: although dried herbs can be used, finely chopped fresh herbs can be sprinkled over a glaze, and best used on flat-breads, rolls or oven-baked loaves. Either at the end of, or the last few minutes of cooking time if a loaf is cooked in a machine.
French Bread Recipe:
Although most French bread is typically baguettes, French sticks, or free-formed loaves, the bread dough itself can be fully cooked in a bread-maker, and still give the same and very distinctive light an airy crumb. Like all French bread, best eaten the day of making. For those that prefer the traditional shaped bread, the alternative method is also given below.
basic French dough:
8 fl oz (225ml/1 cup) water
1 1/2 teaspoons each sugar and salt
16 oz (450g/3 cup) very strong bread white bread flour
1 1/2 tsp instant/fast-acting dried yeast
Pour water into the machine pan, followed by the sugar and salt, then cover the liquid with flour and sprinkle over the yeast (or in reverse order depending upon the machine).
Put the pan into the machine and set to the French programme. Once cooked, carefully shake the loaf from the pan and stand right way up on a cake airer. Brush with chosen glaze (see above) and leave the bread to cool for at least an hour before cutting (or removing the paddle if stuck inside).
to shape traditional French bread:
make the dough in the machine, then remove the dough, place on a lightly floured surface and knock it back. Divide into 3 or four portions, then shape each into a ball, rolling each into a rectangle approx 8" x 3" (20 x 7.5cm). Fold one-third up lengthways and one-third down, then press. Repeat twice more, allowing the dough to rest between foldings.
Then gently roll and stretch each piece to a 11" x 13" (28 x 23cm) loaf, or whatever size you wish (aiming for a small baguette shape). Place each loaf between folds of a pleated and floured tea cloth so that the traditional shape is maintained as it rises. Cover with lightly oiled clear film and leave to rise in a warm place fro 30 - 45 minutes, then roll out of the cloth onto a baking sheet, leaving plenty of space between each. Slash the tops across diagonally in several places using a sharp knife, then place at the top of a pre-heated oven 230C, 460C, gas 8, spray the inside of the oven with water and bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until golden. Cool on a cake airer.
tip: normally a bread-maker does not have a French dough setting, so use the French bread setting and remove the dough before the final rising stage and shape/prove/cook as above.