Though I was an artisan-style bread baker, I love my bread machine. I was hesitant at first to use one but I finally relented when I just didn't have the time to make our daily bread from scratch. I prefer to bake my own bread. Many of the commercially produced breads include dough conditioners and other strange ingredients to maintain their product's consistency. I like that I know what I'm putting into our bread. I feel that bread is one of those comforting gifts in life---true foodie alchemy. And when my bread machine dies, I'll probably continue on without it, but for now, I'm thankful...
Bread machines have a tendency to bake bread too fast resulting in a bread that lacks the yeasty depth of flavor that handmade ones do. They also tend to dry out readily. After experimenting with my machine based on my background in baking, I found a few tips that improve bread machine bread.
1) If you can control the timing of your bread machine's phases in some sort of custom setting, do it (this is why I love my Zojirushi). Bread increases in flavor and performance with time and if you can increase the time it ferments or rises, it will improve the flavor. Here is what I have my bread machine programmed for: Knead for 20 minutes; First Rise is one hour and 11 minutes; Second rise is 45 minutes; Bake for one hour. I always use this custom setting. Remember, time is bread's bestfriend----time adds flavor among other good things.
2) Bread is a living thing and various conditions can change the way it acts. Things such as humidity, barometric pressure, and the flour you are using can change the way flour absorbs water changing the way the bread reacts even when you are using the same recipe repeatedly. For this reason, I check the dough in the bread machine when it is nearing the end of the kneading cycle to be sure the dough is the right consistency. You want your dough to be on the wet side---if you pinch it, you don't want the dough to cling to your fingers but you do want it a bit sticky (stick and release). Creating a dough that is too dry is a common mistake in baking bread. If the dough seems dry, add water to it by the tablespoon-full. If it is too wet, however, add a bit of flour.
Also, check to see where your dough is lying in the bread pan---you don't want it on one side or another (the Zo is really great about setting the dough up to rise in the correct position in the pan).
This is my daily bread recipe. It's based on a recipe from The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook (highly recommended---in fact, all of the cookbooks by Beth Hensperger are wonderful). This is a basic formula that I then add varying ingredients to depending on the grains I have on hand. My kids love it, too.
(Makes a 2 lb loaf)
1 1/2 C. water
1/4 C. honey
1/4 C. molasses
3 T. canola oil or butter at room temp.
3 C. bread flour
1 C. whole wheat flour
1/4 C. wheat germ
1/4 C. flax powder (we use the organic white flax powder from Costco---love it!)
2 T. vital wheat gluten
2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 tsp. SAF yeast (or 1 T. bread machine yeast)
Crunchy Add ins:
3 T. millet
3 T. sunflower seed
3 T. amaranth
Layer the ingredients into your bread machine pan according to the manufacturer's directions (my machine requires first the liquids and then the dry ingredients). Set the machine for your custom setting, or for a Basic Whole Wheat. Check in on your machine as it nears the end of its kneading cycle and add liquid or flour depending on the dough's consistency. Let the machine do its thing and remove your bread after it is finished baking. Cool just a bit and enjoy your nutritious bread!!