My bread machine hates me
January 27, 2014 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Why does my bread machine hate me? I've tried the same recipe twice in the last few days, and neither has worked.

We got a Zojirushi bread machine years ago. Many years ago. Like, I suspect, most bread machine owners, we used it a lot for a few months, and then stopped. The machine then sat there like a small piece of gym equipment. I honestly don't know how long it's been, but I'm guessing something like 5-7 years. Long enough, certainly, that our 11-year-old daughter has no memory of us ever using it.

Anyway, I got it in my mind to try it again, and both loaves have been failures. In both cases, I'm trying the same recipe - a dill bread from Beth Hensperger's The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook. The first time, I skipped one detail in the recipe - I didn't let the cream cheese warm up to room temperature. Other than that, though, I did everything I thought I was supposed to, including leveling off the dry ingredients and whatnot. We're using all completely fresh stuff, too - brand new packages of bread flour and gluten and yeast, and yes I'm being careful to put the wet ingredients in first, then the dry on top, and the yeast last, as per the machine's instruction book. The result could best be described as a mass of dry, hard crumbs rather than a loaf of bread. Some Googling found a forum that suggested that using something other than room-temperature water might have been the issue.

So I tried again today. Room-temp water, room-temp cream cheese and butter, and otherwise obsessive attention to detail in the recipe. The result was a slight improvement, but still not what I want.

I didn't think to take a picture of the first loaf, but you can see the result of the second here.

So what am I doing wrong? Is it possible that something has gone wrong with the machine from sitting on the counter and being ignored all those years? Or is it me?
posted by robhuddles to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What kind of yeast are you using, how fresh is it, and how much are you using? My past bread machine problems have been caused by using outdated yeast or not enough yeast.
posted by southern_sky at 6:04 PM on January 27, 2014

Yes, check the yeast type and quantity. Also, proof it to make sure it works (warmish 40C water, a spoonful of sugar, yeast, stir and wait 10 minutes, if it foams plenty on top, it is good).
posted by ssg at 6:17 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't help with the bread machine so I'm not sure if my comment is useful or not. But... for what it's worth, it's really easy to make it by hand. I've been happy with my results and it's pretty quick. After the yeast process, (I use medium temp water, like hot bath water with dissolved honey and then sprinkle yeast. I don't stir it, just cover and leave for about 5 minutes) then mix in a few cups of flour, cover again and leave for a few hours. Then knead for about 5 minutes, shape and bake. Just in case you'd like an alternative.
posted by lunastellasol at 6:19 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was thinking yeast also. You want a rapid rise or bread machine yeast rather than an active dry yeast. The active needs to bloom in warm water before using and the rise takes longer in my experience.
posted by cecic at 6:20 PM on January 27, 2014

Have you moved since you got the machine? The type of water used can affect the bread. Tap water with chlorine or bottle water can make a huge difference in the way the bread turns out. I usually use filtered water to make bread as regular tap water (chlorinated) can adversely affect bread quality.
posted by BostonCannuck at 6:21 PM on January 27, 2014

Although most Zojirushi bread machines are indeed capable of hating their owners (the Japanese government unsuccessfully campaigned to have the hatred circuit removed from the Neuro Fuzzy brainboard), your machine probably feels a little left out and neglected more than anything else.

You mention "brand new packages of...gluten". Are you adding gluten to recipes that already call for bread flour? Because that might be an issue.

I wold suggest two things: making the dill bread by hand to test the recipe itself, and then trying a really simple bread recipe with the bread maker. If it still can't seem to get it right, with great sadness, you might have to consider that your electric bread-making machine might be malfunctioning.
posted by clockzero at 6:22 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

As I mentioned in the post, it's a brand new container of yeast. Specifically, Fleischmann's Bread Machine Yeast. I'm using the exact quantity called for in the recipe.

@BostonCannuck - no, we haven't moved. I don't recall if we used tap water before, but I suspect we did.

@Clockzero - The recipe calls for both bread flour and gluten. Making a simple recipe in the machine is a good idea. I'll give that a try.

posted by robhuddles at 6:25 PM on January 27, 2014

I believe warming up the cream cheese matters - if it's cold, it could be hard for the machine to stir in and, more significantly, it could lower the temperature of the dough at a crucial point. (I suspect this isn't a problem where you are, but I know that here in Boston room temperature in my kitchen isn't really warm enough to soften butter for baking right now. I'm currently sitting with butter in the living room so it warms!)

Additionally, double check that you're using the right amount of cream cheese, just incase her "package" is a different size than what you bought.
posted by maryr at 6:36 PM on January 27, 2014

I'd be curious to know the proportion of ingredients. The loaf looks lumpy & pale, which could be because the dough was underproofed and/or baked at a temperature that was too low. But the lumpiness could also be because the dough was under-kneaded, or because it was too wet. As I say, knowing what went into it would give us some clues.
posted by thisclickableme at 6:43 PM on January 27, 2014

I know this sounds weird, but try NOT using the exact quantity of yeast called for in the recipe. Use an entire one of those little pre-portioned yeast pouches that you can buy at U.S. supermarkets. I did that in my last bread machine loaf (even though the pouch contained slightly more yeast than the recipe called for) and the loaf turned out perfectly.
posted by southern_sky at 6:44 PM on January 27, 2014

As I mentioned in the post, it's a brand new container of yeast. Specifically, Fleischmann's Bread Machine Yeast. I'm using the exact quantity called for in the recipe.

It is still a good idea to proof the yeast, since you are having issues with the rise of your bread. Doing so can eliminate that one easy variable from the troubleshooting process.
posted by ssg at 6:47 PM on January 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I bake bread, but I don't use a machine - so take this for what it's worth. I nth the suggestion to proof the yeast. It will definitely let you know the yeast is good and won't hurt anything; the extra five minutes or so may even improve the finished product. Also, anything cold is bad as far as the yeast is concerned. Cold cream cheese will definitely retard, if not stop, the yeast's action. Ideally, you want liquids ( including butter and cream cheese) to be slightly warm for best results.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:03 PM on January 27, 2014

By warm, I mean the liquids should be 110 degrees or so. Not hot, but warm when you test with your finger.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:08 PM on January 27, 2014

FWIW, in the laboratory, we grow yeast at 30C. ^_^
posted by maryr at 7:23 PM on January 27, 2014

Is there salt in the recipe? If there is, you might want to try to sprinkle it around the edge of the container rather than dumping it in the middle right on top of the yeast. Salt can kill yeast, and give you the results you're seeing there.
posted by headspace at 7:31 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is sort of out-there as a notion, but if your municipal water supply has changed, you might try using bottled water for a second proofing test to see if the problem is your yeast is being suppressed.
It seems possible to me that the lubrication for the bearings in the paddle mechanism in your bread machine might have dried out over the years, so that the dough isn't kneading properly. (It's also possible for the paddle to stick because there's dough in the joint - if so, that's an easy fix, just fill the bottom of the container with warm water, let it sit for a while, work the blade free, and give it a good clean.) Is it making any odd noises? Can you hear it throwing the dough around at the kneading phase?
posted by gingerest at 7:35 PM on January 27, 2014

The lumps make me think that you need more liquid. Are you checking the texture after about 5 minutes of kneading? You can open the lid and touch the dough to make sure it is right. Different batches of flour can have different amounts of moisture in them. Also, try a simpler recipe for troubleshooting, then go back to this one. For example, use a recipe that uses white bread flour, oil, milk, yeast, and salt. If you can find the model number, you might be able to find the original manual online. It will have recipes that are calibrated for your machine. I've noticed that some recipes from books don't work as well. If the recipe has vital wheat gluten in it, mix it up with the flour before putting it in the machine. Lastly, did the bread look better in the past? That brand has at least one model that people complained made bread with tops that were too lightly colored.
posted by SandiBeech at 8:06 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try making a loaf of plain white bread to make sure that the machine is working correctly. Then you will know if the recipe needs tweaking or the machine is toast (teh he).
posted by saradarlin at 8:10 PM on January 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

The comment from headspace about salt makes bells ring. I remember when I used my bread machine I read somewhere to put the salt in with the flour and mix it well before the yeast goes in or put it in with the liquid before the dry ingredients, then the yeast, the point being to keep the salt away from the yeast. I also remember using a bit more yeast (the same type you're using) because the bread always came out better.

You might also try a loaf in your machine just through the kneading process and then bake it in your oven - that would let you know if the problem is in the baking or in the kneading or in the recipe itself.

I've been thinking of making my old bread machine get to work again. Dill bread sounds wonderful.
posted by aryma at 8:48 PM on January 27, 2014

Look at the bread at the begining of the mixing process, you might need to add more flour or more water due to humidity and moisture differences. You want to go by how it looks to fine tune things instead of just going by the book.

Do try the manual for the machine, sometimes recipies from other sources don't work as well. Try a plain basic bread. Often there are tips for adjustments to make to your bread.

For the machine hating you, if therapy doesn't work DTMFA. There are other bread machines in the sea...
posted by yohko at 11:16 PM on January 27, 2014

The comments about salt are true. An alternative theory: is there garlic in the recipe? Garlic can kill yeast, too, so you have to be careful of how much you put in.
posted by fancyoats at 4:40 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try a regular bread in the machine, or try baking that recipe in your oven. My breads started looking like that when the heating element in my bread machine started to fail.
posted by kimberussell at 6:07 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

When we let a bread machine sit for a long time, and then took it out, it didn't mix as well. If I was there, and we were making a heavy loaf (cream cheese, and extra gluten? That sounds heavy) I could hear / witness the breadmachine failing. The paddle moved enough to mostly mix the ingredients, but there wasn't enough strength to "knead" it as it was becoming dough. If I sat around, and helped it (pushed against the paddle anytime it got stuck for more than 2 seconds), then it could limp along and bread would turn out.

I also second making a very basic bread. And be available during the entire mixing process to see how it's doing, incase your bread machine is failing similar to ours did.
posted by nobeagle at 7:56 AM on January 28, 2014

My bread machine (which admittedly is not of the finest quality to begin with) produced bread like that when the paddle had got dough in its joint, as gingerest describes. Cleaning it out carefully restored it to normal functioning. And yes, I was mildly horrified that I could have overlooked something like that.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 2:44 PM on January 29, 2014

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