Bread Machines & Ingredients
This basic ingredient is a living organism that eats and “breathes” just as we do. It’s this breathing (actually, the process of fermentation) that gives off carbon dioxide gas, which is in turn trapped by the gluten in the flour, causing bread to rise.
Yeast is inactive in its dry form, but touch it with liquid and give it something to eat and it starts to work. That’s why, in the bread machine, we make a practice of separating the yeast from the liquid with a barrier of flour. If you’re going to put all of the ingredients into the pan and start it up right away, it doesn’t matter in what order they go. But what if you want to use your machine’s delayed cycle, where the bread won’t be ready till tomorrow morning? You want the yeast to stay dry till your machine actually starts its cycle, so a general rule is to use the flour in your recipe to separate the yeast from the liquid.
Yeast likes to eat sugar, but doesn’t like salt. It doesn’t like extremes of temperature, and feels more comfortable in an acid environment. It also is prone to over-eating; too much sugar in a recipe, rather than boost the yeast to greater heights, will slow it down to a crawl.
Your machine will provide the draft-free environment yeast loves, neither too hot nor too cold. Many manuals suggest warming ingredients before putting them into the machine. Some machines have a pre-heating cycle, which does this for you. However, we’ve found that you can add ingredients right from the refrigerator, use cold tap water as well, and the dough will still rise just as successfully. The heat generated by the vigorous kneading raises the temperature of the dough sufficiently.
Yeast likes an acidic environment. Although the fermentation process naturally creates an acidic environment, to make yeast even happier, increase the dough’s acidity a bit. You can do this by adding a pinch of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) or by replacing some of the liquid with an acidic liquid (a tablespoon of orange juice, lemon juice or vinegar). This is especially helpful when you’re following a sweet bread recipe, one in which the yeast will be slowed down by a larger amount of sugar.
What kind of yeast should you use? Use a good quality active dry or instant yeast, preferably bought in bulk (which tends to be fresher, as well as much less expensive). We prefer using instant yeast; either regular instant or instant gold for all-purpose bread baking, or special instant for sourdough or sweet breads. Instant yeast is a stronger, faster-acting yeast that performs particularly well in bread machines.
We don’t recommend rapid-rise yeast, as it goes against one of the tenets of good bread making: the longer the rise (and fermentation process), the better the flavor. As we mentioned before, this fermentation is creating acidity (or sourness) that, if carried to the extreme, would yield sourdough bread. Bread dough that rises quickly has no time to develop flavor, and will be noticeably inferior, in taste, to bread that is given a longer rising time. In other words: unless you are in a tremendous hurry, ignore the “rapid-bake” cycle on your machine.
How much sugar should you use in your machine? If you don’t have any dietary restrictions that preclude sugar entirely, we suggest 1 to 2 teaspoons. Although yeast makes its own food by converting the starch in flour into sugar, a little “fast-food fix” of pure sugar right at the start gives it the quick energy it needs to work. (If you need to avoid sugar, just leave it out; your bread will be just fine, although you may find it doesn’t brown as well).
How about if you’re making a sweet bread, one that requires sugar for flavoring? This is where you need to learn the nuances of your own machine. As a general rule, we’ve found that any more than 2 tablespoons of sugar per cup of flour will slow yeast down to the point where you can’t make a nicely risen loaf in your machine, without making some other adjustments, such as increasing the amount of yeast, increasing the acidity of the environment, etc.
No one kind of sugar is better for you, nutritionally, than another kind. White sugar, light or dark brown sugar, corn syrup, molasses, honey, maple syrup, concentrated fruit syrup -- all are suitable for the bread machine, although the liquid sugars must be counted as a liquid when you’re tracking your liquid/flour ratio. Don’t use artificial sugar substitutes; they don’t help the yeast, and we feel they give bread a strange flavor.
Why do we use salt in bread? Basically, for flavor. You can certainly make bread without salt. However, salt-free bread, to most people, is about as appetizing as cardboard. Salt brings out the flavor in food, as we well know, and bread is no exception.
For those of you who don’t want to use salt, remember that salt is a yeast inhibitor; salt-free bread will rise much more quickly and vigorously than bread with salt. When you eliminate salt from your recipe, you’ll need to reduce the amount of yeast, and perhaps even bake bread on the “rapid-bake” cycle to keep it reined in sufficiently. Don’t use salt substitutes in the bread machine -- they don’t work.
These include any liquid that is added to the machine, as well as anything that will become liquid when heat is added, such as shortening, margarine or butter. Typical bread machine liquids include water, milk, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, soft cheeses (cream cheese, cottage cheese, feta, etc.); soft fruits (applesauce and other fruit purees, bananas, etc.); liquid sweeteners; eggs, butter and vegetable oils, in either their liquid or solid forms. Relatively soft cheeses such as mozzarella, cheddar and Swiss are on the border between liquid and solid, as far as your machine is concerned; don’t figure them into the flour/liquid ratio directly, but keep in mind that they’ll tip that ratio a bit toward the liquid side. Hard cheeses, such as Parmesan or Romano, won’t affect the flour/liquid ratio.
What do liquids do? They activate the yeast, and they combine with gluten to form the elastic strands that help bread to rise. Too little liquid, and you’ll get a hard, dense, poorly risen loaf; the gluten is tough and unable to expand. Too much liquid, and you’ll get a loaf that rises, then collapses; the gluten has expanded and thinned too much.
What else do liquids do? They provide flavor (cheese or maple syrup, for example); structure (eggs -- whole protein contributes to the strength of the loaf as it bakes); nutrition (dairy products and eggs) and texture and freshness (fat, which gives bread a finer, softer texture, and keeps it fresh longer). Varying the liquids in your bread machine recipes will allow you to produce very different types of bread, in both flavor and texture. This is an area where experimentation is both useful and fun.
Flour is the basis of good bread, but many of the bread machine manuals give the reader poor information concerning flour. Be sure to use a good quality flour, one that is untreated with either bleach (powdered bleach belongs in your laundry, not your bread), or potassium bromate, a suspected carcinogen. Despite the fact that some machine recipe books call for bromated flour, it isn’t necessary to the success of your bread, and also poses a health risk.
Be sure to use a flour made from hard wheat, which means it’s high in protein, and therefore high in gluten. The gluten combines with water to form the elastic strands that trap carbon dioxide given off by yeast, allowing bread to rise. A flour high in gluten will produce a nicely risen loaf, while a low-gluten flour (such as pastry flour, cake flour or self-rising flour) will not. Most bread machine manuals and cookbooks call for bread flour rather than all-purpose flour. King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, because it’s higher in gluten than national brands of all-purpose flour, works perfectly in the bread machine.
King Arthur also makes an extra-strong bread flour, King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour, which is especially good in sweet breads and breads containing whole grains, which may have difficulty rising sufficiently. Be aware, however, that the higher the protein level of the flour you use, the more liquid it will absorb; be sure to check your dough during the kneading cycle, and add more liquid if necessary. The proper consistency for your dough is a smooth, soft ball.
If you read the protein content on a bag of whole-wheat flour, it’s actually higher than all-purpose flour. So why doesn’t whole wheat bread rise sky high? Because the bran cuts the gluten strands as they form, rendering them useless, unable to trap the carbon dioxide being generated by the yeast. This is one of the reasons 100% whole-grain breads tend to be dense, rather than light.
So we’ve established that you want to use a good-quality, high-protein flour in your bread machine. But what about whole wheat bread? And pumpernickel? And New York rye? You can make wonderful whole-grain breads in most bread machines. But, keep in mind the fact that grains other than wheat -- rye, barley, buckwheat, amaranth, corn, rice, the whole array of grains and flours available to today’s baker -- contain little or no gluten.
To make a successful bread machine loaf using these grains, you should “cut” them with some high-protein all-purpose or bread flour, to provide the gluten necessary for rising. You can also try adding some pure gluten to the mixture. Look for vital wheat gluten (not gluten flour) and for each cup of whole-grain flour used, put 1 tablespoon of gluten in the bottom of the measuring cup before filling with the flour.
When making whole-grain breads, we like to tell people to start with a mixture that is 1 cup whole grain flour, 2 cups all-purpose flour, then work from there. Gradually increase the whole grain and decrease the all-purpose, at the same time increasing the yeast a bit and perhaps adding gluten, till you get the combination of taste and texture you enjoy. (This is the part where some creative experimentation is involved.)
Here’s an interesting point concerning whole-grain bread. Many people feel they have to eat only whole-grain bread to get any health benefits at all. This is simply untrue. All-purpose flour is certainly not “nutritionally empty”, as many believe, but in fact is better nutritionally in some areas than whole wheat flour. The endosperm from which all-purpose flour is ground is, after all, the food source for a new wheat seedling (the germ); the bran is merely its protective coat.
Whole wheat flour contains more fiber, but by the same token, that fiber helps to “flush” a lot of whole wheat’s nutrients through your body before they have a chance to be absorbed. All-purpose and whole wheat flours are comparable in many areas. It’s really a toss-up as to which one you should choose, and it’s based on your personal needs and the rest of your diet. Clearly, whole wheat flour’s the winner in the fiber category; but much of that fiber is insoluble, meaning it provides bulk and roughage in your diet, but that’s about it.
Whole wheat is also noticeably higher in potassium and phosphorus, and a bit higher in protein (though some of this is tied up in the fiber, and is therefore not nutritionally available). All-purpose flour is lower in fat and sodium. They’re about equal in iron and carbohydrates.
Which should you choose? Well, if you’re getting sufficient fiber, phosphorus and potassium in other parts of your diet -- we’ll assume everyone’s getting sufficient protein, one of the easiest nutritional elements to ingest enough of -- and if you don’t like the taste of whole wheat, by all means use all-purpose flour. Ditto if you’re trying to watch your fat and/or sodium intake extremely carefully. But if you really should eat more fiber every day, then use whole wheat flour.
If you like traditional whole wheat flour, then you’re home free. But, if you feel that you ought to bake with whole wheat flour, and your family just doesn’t like the taste, try our King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour. Because it’s missing an indigestible, bitter element in the bran -- phenolic acid, related to tannins -- it’s got the light taste of all-purpose flour and all the nutrition of whole wheat, a perfect marriage of flavor and health. So, next time you read or hear someone spurning “white” flour because of its nutritional shortfalls, take it with a grain of salt.
Some machines feature a whole-grain cycle. What does this mean? Generally, this cycle will knead the dough a bit longer, and give it a significantly longer rising time. If your machine doesn’t have a whole-grain cycle, choose the cycle with the longest second rise or try the basic bread cycle.
By this we mean raisins, dried fruits, nuts, seeds, chocolate chips...anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the structure of the bread. In order to keep these things from being shredded or mashed during the kneading cycles, add them at the end of the second kneading cycle, about 3 minutes before the machine is due to go into its first rise. This gives the machine time to knead your additions into the dough, but doesn’t give it time to tear them apart. Some machines have a “raisin bread” or similar cycle, which features a “beep” when it’s time to add the fruits or nuts.