Bread Machine - GIVE ME YOUR SECRETS!!
April 18, 2017 1:33 AM   Subscribe

I have this basic Oster 2lbs Express Bread Maker. It makes terrible bread, the worst. My yeast and flour is awesome, my technique is obviously trash. Please hope me.

I need your best tips and tricks for bread makers. I understand this machine won't make commercial type bread, but it should make decent bread. It does not. I'm in SoCal, bread here sucks generally, and the best bread I have had here ever is the olive oil bread from Roma Deli in Pasadena that is only available on Thursdays or Fridays - I forget. That was years ago, this may not be available now. Regardless, my bread maker should make bread that is edible. It does not.

Please give me your best bread maker tips and recipes. I refuse to believe that Bread Nirvana is not possible. Please prove (proof!) me right!
posted by jbenben to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What's wrong with your bread currently in particular? And what is your "technique"? Are you just using the bread cycle on the machine?
posted by smoke at 1:53 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

Most people I know who use a bread machine use it just for the mixing cycle. In my experience bread machines are usually pretty limited in terms of being able to tweak how you prove and bake the loaf.

We had a bread maker for a while. Managed to get some adequate bread from it, but we found that the bread baked in the machine tended to have a dryer, heavier texture than we wanted, and it tended to go stale very quickly. We moved to just using the machine to mix the dough. But after we finally got a good stand mixer with a dough hook, the bread maker was out the door. I wouldn't buy one again, unless I really needed the ability to produce just-adequate bread with a minimum of effort.

So that's my tip: use if for mixing the dough, but baking with it might never give you the results you want.
posted by pipeski at 2:48 AM on April 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

Is it possible your machine isn't working right? In any case, I would vote to chuck the machine and try the yummiest and easiest bread ever -- FAR better than anything that came from my bread machine -- Mark Bittman's No-Knead Bread, courtesy of Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. It is utterly fantastic and creates a crusty loaf with tons of holes:

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

You can also make several batches of dough and freeze them in advance.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:48 AM on April 18, 2017 [18 favorites]

What specifically is wrong with your bread? I have wrestled a stubborn bread machine into deliciousness and it's a matter of tweaking, but we will need to know where your bread is on the tweak scale currently.
posted by corb at 3:53 AM on April 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

I have a different Oster. I wouldn't describe anything that it makes entirely on its own as better than 2nd tier grocery store bread. As pipeski said, there's a dense texture that's not the right mouthfeel.

It's at its best when I use it to make focaccia style dough that I bake on a pizza stone. Brush it with some olive oil and add toppings to taste before baking, and it's not bad.
posted by Candleman at 4:54 AM on April 18, 2017

Seconding the 5 minute bread. It's life-changing.

And all you need is a large spoon!
posted by metaseeker at 8:14 AM on April 18, 2017

I've been using a bread machine for over 20 years, at least once per week, and when our sons were home, four times per week. Not sure what you mean by "terrible". Short, too dense, over-risen, poorly shaped, bitter tasting, under/over-baked? Each of these has different fixes.

This is my basic recipe and method for a 2 lb loaf (which I modify depending on the type of loaf I want).

Remove the bread pan from the machine. Ensure the paddle(s) are firmly seated in the pan, but can rotate easily.

Add to the bread pan:
12 oz warm water
1 T olive oil
1 1/2 t salt
2 t sugar

Next add 4 cups of "strong" flour. This is flour with a high gluten content. I'm in Canada, so that means flour from hard winter wheat. I use Robin Hood Best for Bread flour. I'm assuming (with no reason at all to do so) that you're in the US. I've heard that all-purpose flour in the US is made from spring wheat, which is softer and doesn't have as high gluten content. If you are indeed in the US, and using a flour made from softer wheat, substitute a couple of tablespoons of gluten for the flour.

In any case, you should have a "blanket" of dry flour sitting on top of the wet ingredients.

Finally, make a small depression in the flour, something that would be left if you scooped out about 1 teaspoon of flour in the middle of the 4 cups. Add 1 teaspoon of yeast to the depression. I use regular yeast from Costco that I buy for about $5 per kilo. I keep most of it in the freezer for long-term storage, and about 1/2 cup in a jar in the cupboard at room temperature, which is what I use for baking. Do not let the yeast touch the liquids.

Put the bread pan in the machine, making sure to seat it firmly. Close the cover of the machine and choose a "basic" bread cycle, medium crust. Press the "go" button. When the bread is baked, remove the pan from the machine and let it sit for 5 minutes or so to cool slightly. This will make it easier to turn out the loaf. Wait about 30 minutes to cut the loaf. When the loaf is completely cool, place it in a plastic bag, loosely wrapped. Homemade bread where I live will go stale in 3 days, and moldy in 4 days.

My standard "daily bread" uses 2 cups of white and 2 cups of whole wheat. Lately, I've been using 4 cups of whole wheat. For an experimental loaf I would use 4 cups of white flour, and modify my recipe slightly with each iteration until I had the loaf I wanted.

If you follow this recipe and let me know the outcome (too dense, over/undercooked, mushroom top, etc.) I might be able to help you troubleshoot and adapt the recipe for your climate/flour/conditions. You can memail me.
posted by angiep at 8:21 AM on April 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

And here I thought that the whole purpose of a bread machine was to not need technique...

I have an older Breadman machine. I'm in the group identified by pipeksi that mostly uses the dough cycle, but that's mostly because I don't like having the paddle baked into the loaf. Also, I use it more for rolls and buns than loaves of bread.

You express confidence in your ingredients, but I'll say for the record that the difference between all-purpose flour plus regular yeast versus bread flour plus bread machine (or RapidRise) yeast in enormous. I have regularly used Pillsbury or Gold Medal bread flours. We have just begun to see house brand/generic bread flour in our grocery store, and it seemed to be fine in the one batch of buns in which I used it.

My father baked bread for years before someone gave him a bread machine. He found his usual recipe didn't work at all well in the machine, and tinkered with the recipe for quite a while before he settled on a new one. So, just any recipe won't work in the machine however well it works when done manually. The yeast companies (Red Star, Fleischmann) have good recipes for bread machines.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:01 AM on April 18, 2017

I would say the problem is dense crumbly bread lacking in flavor. Not awful flavor, maybe it's even OK, but the texture really interrupts any enjoyment. Sometimes the top deflates a little, too. And that's on the loaf that tastes best, details below...

My best version is 2 tsp Yeast, 2 tsp salt, 2 Tbl Honey, 2 Tbl Olive Oil, 2 cups+ Bread Flour (I check the kneading process and add extra flour as necessary) 1 cup Water, on the longest proof setting (about 3.5 hr total time.)

I have tried subbing in some AP Flour? I'm not sure what I was aiming for there? Anyhow, I once dated someone who made lovely bread overnight whenever I visited, it was delicious and a really nice cozy ritual. I want to do that.

I also attempted interrupting the cycle to allow the bread to rise 6 hours longer. That didn't really work, and it was complicated to get the pan back in at the right time to bake.

I will say the 2:2:2:2:1 recipe, as I like to call it, makes a great crust! It's just the inside I feel can be better. Would extra gluten help? Because that was going to be my next attempt. I was also considering Japanese Milk Bread.

I'm keen to make this machine work for me! If you see any obvious tweaks, lemme know!!
posted by jbenben at 10:42 AM on April 18, 2017

Like mentioned above, I would start by only using the machine for the mix and first rise (dough function). Even with a really nice bread machine it is often damn difficult to get it to actually bake anything but plain white bread and have it turn out. Get the white bread recipe that came in your machine's manual down first, then get frisky. Google your model and words such as recipes or troubleshooting and find other people who've talked about it.

And adding flour in the knead might be a problem. Please find an established olive oil bread recipe for machine and trust it and start there. Lots of bread machine blogs out there.

On preview: It looks like you haven't been weighing your ingredients. Get a gram scale. Find bread machine recipes with weights not volumes. Weigh ingredients. This can make a very big difference in results.
posted by monopas at 10:59 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Given your feedback, here's my best guess as to what's going on.

1) Bread machine baking is much more dependent on exact ingredients than regular bread baking. I measure everything and make sure that liquid is measured in liquid measures and the dry ingredients are measured using the measures made for dry ingredients. For amounts under a tablespoon, there's not much difference, but a dry tablespoon measure has less volume than a wet tablespoon measure. For amounts over 1/4 cup, that can make a significant difference in bread machine baking.

2) 8 oz of water seems too little for a 2 lb loaf--I use a full 1/2 cup more water for a 2 lb loaf. I would start with your machine manufacturer's recipe ratio and modify from there. Add the ingredients in the recipe to the pan, in the order suggested by the manufacturer, and then leave the machine alone. Once you see what the baseline recipe gets you, then you can start to modify the recipe for your machine/environment. Just use Bread Flour for now--which has stronger gluten--and don't use all-purpose flour until you've experimented some more.

3) The flour and water, and gluten in the flour combine to make a stretchy, elastic dough. As the yeast works and makes bubbles in the bread, the elasticity in the dough is what captures those bubbles to make a lattice of what becomes bread. The yeast needs something sweet to grow (honey is fine), but the salt not only flavours the bread but inhibits the growth of the yeast. Too much salt and the yeast doesn't do enough of its thing to make lots of bubbles. Too little salt, and the yeast makes more bubbles than can be sustained by the dough. In this case you often get a deflated top as the dough rises, but cannot support the rise and so deflates. 1/4 teaspoon of salt can make a significant difference.

4) I make all kinds of wonderful bread entirely in my machine and have for decades. In addition to our daily bread, whole wheat bread, and plain white bread, I often make challah, cheese and herb bread, "hot cross bun" bread (sliceable bread, rather than rolls), and oatmeal raisin bread. Those are my standard recipes. At Christmas I make stollen in the bread machine. I have gone through a number of machines, usually because a part wore out and replacement parts weren't available. I had an Oster machine that worked fine, as well as Black & Decker, Sunbeam, and Breadman machines. I currently have a Zojirushi machine because Zojirushi is more reliable at keeping replacement parts for older machines available.

And yes, we use it for pizza dough, dough for a quasi-Maltese loaf, dinner roll dough, etc. It also makes awesome banana loaf. I know there are lots of people who don't use their bread machines to the extent that I do, but I find immensely convenient. My standard recipe takes me 3-4 minutes to put together, and I usually put it on a timer overnight so that fresh bread is ready for the morning. I would encourage you to keep going.
posted by angiep at 11:37 AM on April 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

angiep, I can unequivocally tell you that the manufacturer's recipes are the dead worst for making dense crumbly garbage I didn't even bother turning into bread crumbs... but I will give it another go and report back!

I'm aware dry and wet measures are different, but I will double check my measurements. Also, I appreciate the idea to try a bit more salt. I do keep the salt away from the yeast, I think I will re-read the manufacturer's advice and start there.

I will report back tonight or tomorrow!
posted by jbenben at 11:59 AM on April 18, 2017

I've had success with this recipe....

1 1/2 cups hot water (I just put it in the microwave for 1 min)
1 T sugar
1 t salt
3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 1/2 t yeast

I always put the salt and sugar in first, then the water. Sometimes a couple splashes of olive oil. Then flour, then yeast on the top.

Substituting some wheat flour (maybe about 1/4 to 1/2 of the total flour) and throwing in a handful of 9-grain or oatmeal works too. In this case I might add a little more water at the 5 minute mark, depending on how it looks.

When I bake it in the machine it comes out very light and crusty. (Don't let it sit in the machine for too long or the condensation will mess with the crust)

You can also take it out and bake it in the oven, 450 for about 20 minutes.

(I actually halve the recipe most of the time, makes the perfect amount for two people.. plus leftovers)

I am far from exact or consistent with the measurements every time, but it's always successful. (Also seconding the no-knead recipe!)
posted by starman at 1:29 PM on April 18, 2017

That's a potentially (weights really are the way to go here) very low hydration for the average loaf. Try aiming for a good 65% hydration (eg 650mls water to 1kg flour, sorry I don't know what that would be in imperial). That could be a reason for the off texture. Other reasons could include: inadequate kneading and/or proofing. Over cooking can also result dryer loaves.

But I reckon it's hydration. Switch to weights and see how you go. Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 2:14 PM on April 18, 2017

Cynic that I am, I wondered if maybe the Oster was just really a crappy breadmaker. I searched for online reviews and found them mostly quite positive, but I did find something interesting here.

The Oster CKSTBRTW20 has a circular viewing window in the lid. While this viewing window helps to observe progress through the cycles there were complaints about the lid failing to close tightly on some machines.

Any gaps or leaks as a result of an ill-fitting lid can cause significant problems during the rising and baking cycles. The result is a sunken or fallen loaf and it seems that many people have had this problem with the Oster.

I had hopes, and went through 10 pounds of bread dough. Lumpy, damp, top collapses, bottoms wet. Tried all suggested tricks.

If you order this machine inspect it immediately. Test the lid and bake a loaf or two. If you have any problems you’ll want to return it.

Personally, I doubt the difference between wet and dry measures, or the exactly order of putting stuff in the pan are going to matter. I'm pretty cavalier about that sort of thing. I even put in lumps of frozen butter, and it all works out OK. I do suggest that, contrary to all advice, you lift the lid and look in during the mixing/kneading cycle. In my experience, you should see a ball of dough hopping around on the spinning paddle. Stab it with your finger if you dare. If it seems really hard, add a Tablespoon of water. If it's sticking to the sides of the pan, add some flour. Don't open the lid after the start of the rising/baking parts of the cycle.

I've been baking bread off and on since about 1970. I can't remember ever getting a result I would call crumbly. It's hard to see how that could happen, even with AP flour, if the dough is actually being kneaded properly.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:44 AM on April 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

Man, that bread from Roma Deli. They still have it on the weekends, btw. I have an olive oil & rosemary bread machine recipe at home; can find for you later if you're interested.

This is a pretty good, really basic recipe from the book that came with my bread machine (Breville BBM800XL - love it). Ingredients are supposed to go in this order:

1 1/2 c lukewarm water (but honestly the temp doesn't matter as long as it's not too hot for the yeast)
2 tsp salt
4 c bread flour
1 1/4 Tbsp gluten (I leave this out unless I'm using AP flour)
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (In my experience, it doesn't matter whether you use instant-rise or not)

Do you have sourdough starter? (Do you want sourdough starter? I'm happy to share!) This is what we make almost every day:

1 c wet starter
3/4 c lukewarm water
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 c bread flour - I normally use some bread or AP flour and some rye or spelt
1 1/4 Tbsp gluten (but again I omit this)
1/2 tsp yeast
posted by karbonokapi at 11:08 AM on April 19, 2017

My recipe, which I'm not too strict on measurements​ for, with ingredients added in this order:

1.5 cups warm water
1tsp salt
1 tbsp water
2tbsp molasses or honey
3 cups whole wheat flour
Half cup white flour
One third cup gluten
2.25 tsp yeast

I use the rapid whole wheat setting.
posted by metasarah at 2:03 PM on April 21, 2017

My lid is loosey goosey! I am going to check my warranty (I think I bought warranty upgrade) and hack the lid if I did not.


I also bought Vital Wheat Gluten and Powdered Milk. The Powdered Milk is in the traditional white bread recipe for my machine....

I'm finally going to get to do the recipe strictly by the instructions tomorrow, will do a second run subbing in a little Vital Wheat Gluten.....

That said, the problem is obviously the lid. Every loaf sags in the middle. I'm glad to know it's the naxhine because that is fixable :))

I'll report back and memail everyone who contacted me. Thanks everyone so much! The Bread Adventure continues!!!
posted by jbenben at 10:25 PM on April 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


#1 - wonky lid
#2 - adding vital wheat gluten to existing recipes was a TOTAL game changer producing something delicious and universally recognizable as bread! Even though I was using bread flour, it just wasn't enough.

OK.... Here is my favorite recipe for 1.5 lbs loaf, in the order it gets added to the maker...

Dissolve 2 Tbl of Honey in 1 Cup of warm Water. Add to Maker.

Sprinkle in 2 tsp of Dry Active Yeast. Let it bloom.

Add 2 Tbl Olive Oil. Sprinkle in 2 Cups of Bread Flour. Measure out 1 more Cup of Bread Flour, scoop out 2 Tbl of flour, add on top 2 Tbl of Vital Wheat Gluten. Add this last cup of Bread Flour + Gluten to the Maker. Sprinkle on top 2 tsp of Salt.

Close the lid. Set for French or European type (at least 3.5 hr cycle) and in 3+ hrs you will have the most amazing bread, great flavor, with an excellent crust.

I was using Bob's Red Mill Bread Flour, and 2 Tbl of gluten per loaf is fine. The interwebs say 1 tsp of gluten might be enough to sub into recipes, depending on the protein content of the bread. YMMV on how much gluten you add. It makes a huge yummy difference, tho!

This is basically the 1c H2O + 2 tbl honey + 2 tsp yeast + 2 tbl olive oil + 2 cups bread flour + 2 tsps of salt recipe I was using previously. As per advice, I went back to the manufacturer recipe and that's when I added an extra cup of bread flour. Weighting down the lid (vent holes exposed) with a thermal blanket + subbing in sone extra gluten completely changed the results! I'm going to make a kickass Brioche next. I'm so excited!!

Thanks everyone!!
posted by jbenben at 6:02 PM on April 27, 2017

I meant subbing in just 1 tsp of extra gluten might be fine if your bread flour's protein content is accurate to the package labeling. I have been through 4 or 5 bags of fancy bread flour since Christmas, I'm pretty sure Bob's Red Mill Bread Flour isn't as high in protein (gluten) as the label says. A little extra sure did help.

OK! Thanks again!!
posted by jbenben at 6:20 PM on April 27, 2017

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