Bread machines are truly a time-saving and convenient option for people who like to eat fresh homemade bread. These machines don’t require any expertise – which is great for everyday folks that don’t know much about baking!
But when it comes to making bread, the flour defines the overall quality and texture of the loaf. So, which one should you use?
What is the best flour for bread machines? Bread machines work with a wide range of flours, but if you are going to make plain white bread then we highly recommend that you go with bread flour with a high-protein content. Other popular flours are whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and gluten-free flour.
Let’s learn more about bread machines, how they work, how to use them, and the best flour for bread machines to make delicious fresh loaves at home.
The Art of Bread Making
Making bread may seem like a simple task but it can be quite difficult to get right, especially if you don’t have any experience in the kitchen.
Breadmaking is all about technique, ingredients, and most of all, getting the proportions of the ingredients right. If the ingredients are off then your bread may not have the right flavor and texture!
This is why breadmaking was once only exclusive to expert bakers who would make loaves for commercial purposes!
The art of breadmaking is as old as the cultivation of wheat. It is said that humans first started making bread when they discovered how to mill wheat to make flour. Back then, the most common type of bread was a flatbread because the concept of yeast was yet to be discovered.
Ancient bread was made using three simple ingredients: flour, water, and a bit of oil. This resulted in a thick but nutritious bread that could be paired with any ingredient. But as time went on, we discovered that there were a few ways to make the bread fluffier, lighter, and more delicious.
Enter yeast. Many people erroneously believe that yeast is a modern creation, but historians have pointed out that yeast-leavened bread was around since ancient Egypt – and it’s likely that it was in use even before that!
Humans didn’t “invent” yeast as much as discovered it. Yeast was always around, and we had been using microorganisms to ferment food for eons. But it was in Egypt where the art of bread making was perfected and bakers used yeast to make better quality bread than flatbread.
Flash forward a couple of centuries and we had already started to make not one but several types of bread using various flours and techniques. As technology and our understanding of chemistry improved, we learned how to use better ingredients to make even better bread!
How Do Bread Machines Work?
Breadmaking made an entry into domestic households thanks to the popularity of home ovens. The advent of gas ovens made it possible for everyday folks to make bread – but there was still one small problem: making bread was inherently difficult!
From the outside, bread-making may seem like a straightforward task. Just add flour, sugar, salt, yeast, oil, and water to a bowl. Mix well, knead, and bake – simple right? Not quite. Bread-making is all about technique, timing, and proportion. The ingredients are the easy part!
Things like kneading the dough, how much pressure to apply, how long to knead the dough, how long to rest it, what temperature water to use, and how long to cook the loaf all come into play when making bread.
This, understandably, can be very overwhelming, time-consuming, and labor-intensive for everyday folks who just want fresh homemade bread!
Luckily, this is why bread machines were invented.
Bread machines use an array of sensors, timers, mechanical parts, and presets to make perfect bread every time. With bread machines, all you need to do is to add all the measured ingredients in the baking bin, set the preset for the type of bread you want, and press the “start” button.
The bread machine takes care of everything else! This includes kneading, resting time, proofing, kneading again, and even baking!
The benefit of using bread machines is that they don’t require expertise which is a crucial aspect of making good quality bread. Human error and manual labor are also taken out of the equation which makes it infinitely easier to make great-tasting bread every time.
Before we get into the cycles of a bread machine, we must first discuss a few settings or presets. Here are the settings that can commonly be found in most bread machines:
Every bread machine has several presets – and some of them aren’t even related to bread making too. We’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s talk about the presets for bread.
The basic setting is ideal for making plain, high-quality, white bread. This setting uses commonly used time, temperature, and kneading settings for the dough. When you select this setting, you can expect the bread to be like any commercial white bread, provided that you use the right ingredients (more on this below).
Similarly, there are up to 10-12 presets for making sourdough, quick bread, rye bread, fruit bread, cake, multigrain, sweet bread, French bread, quick sourdough, and much more.
You can refer to the manual of your bread machine and look at each preset so that you know the exact ingredients to use for every preset. Each preset tweaks the kneading time, temperature, and other qualities of the baking process.
Other than bread making, some bread machines can also be used for non-bread applications. For example, some bread machines can even make yogurt, ferment food, and even make sticky rice. Since bread machines use sensors and heating elements, you can use them for many purposes so long as there is a dedicated preset for them in your machine.
2. Baking Settings
The best thing about bread machines is that they are infinitely adjustable! Not only can you make your favorite type of bread but you also get to decide the textural details of the loaf too. For example, you can change the color of the bread to make it either light or dark.
A lighter bread is softer and has a very light golden-brown color around it while a darker loaf has a thicker crust and a much more pronounced color.
The color setting is one part of the (usual) four settings on most bread machines. Here is a step-by-step on how to set up your bread machine:
Step 1) Set the preset for the type of bread that you want.
Step 2) Select the appropriate loaf size. This can vary from 1 pound to up to 2 pounds.
Step 3) Select the baking time for the bread. We recommend the default preset time – but if you have experience with bread making, then you can adjust the bread machine to make a more customized loaf.
Step 4) Select the color of the bread as explained above.
Step 5) Press the “Go” button and start the machine!
Now that you know how to operate the bread machine, let’s take a look at what goes behind the scenes when you set the presets and hit the “start” button.
Here are the cycles of a typical bread machine:
The machine immediately begins kneading the ingredients, usually for 5 minutes. The kneading time can vary depending on the type of bread that you have selected. Most machines generally knead for up to 5 minutes as this gives the dough enough time to form gluten.
The dough rests for up to 5 minutes. Resting is also called proofing, which is a method that allows the bread to rise a bit before it is kneaded again. Once the bread has rested and risen, the dough begins to knead again.
This time the dough kneads for up to 20 minutes. The increased kneading time forms even more gluten strands which give the dough a sticky and stretchy structure. The more protein in the flour, the more gluten the dough will form!
The third cycle is when the dough is finally allowed to rest for up to 40 minutes. This is a crucial step because it allows the dough to become soft, supple, and delicious! The inner baking chamber is set at a stable temperature to allow the dough to rest efficiently.
After 40 minutes, the dough is then “punched” which is another word for degassing. When this happens, the excess gas is released and the dough becomes easy to work with. This step only takes about 10 seconds and leads into the 4th cycle.
After punching the dough, it is then again left to rest for up to 25-26 minutes. This process is tedious, but since the machine is entirely automated, you don’t have to do anything!
After the third proofing, the dough is then shaped into a ball that sits at the bottom of the baking chamber in the machine.
The dough is then left to rise for a final time. The fourth proofing takes about 48-49 minutes. This allows the bread to rise and become very fluffy.
Once the dough reaches maximum height, the sensors detect this change and begin the baking process. The baking process is very straightforward and takes about 60 minutes. Once the dough is baked, you will likely hear a “ding” sound.
Carefully lift the cover of the machine and remove the baking pan inside. Be very careful during this step because the machine will be very hot! Slide out the dough from the pan and let it rest for 5 minutes. Enjoy!
The entire process from start to finish usually takes 3 hours and 30 minutes but some bread machines can take longer depending on the type of bread that you want to bake. Most machines also show the remaining time on the display so that you know exactly how far along the dough is.
Best Flour for Bread Machines
Now that you know all about bread machines, it’s time to get into the ingredients! Always remember that bread is only going to be as good as the ingredients that you use. No matter the technique or machinery that you use, if the ingredients are subpar, so will the bread!
This is why we highly recommend that you begin with high-quality flour. Flour comes in many varieties and can be used to make all sorts of bread.
Here are the best flours for making bread:
Bread flour is the default type of flour that you should use for your bread machine. Bread flour has a higher protein content which means that it can produce more gluten. Gluten gives cohesiveness to the dough and adds to its fluffy and stretchy structure.
There are several qualities of bread flour available in the market. Some are made from low-quality wheat while others use premium wheat and special milling methods to produce a very high-quality flour. We recommend that you go with the premium variety if you want the very best dough.
Don’t worry, the premium variety isn’t that expensive either. Flour is generally cheap and affordable and spending a couple of extra dollars to get the premium flour is a no-brainer.
Some types of bread flour may also contain bread improvers and stabilizers. If you want natural-tasting bread, then go with an all-natural premium bread flour instead of commercial bread flour which usually contains additives.
All Purpose Flour
All-purpose flour is usually reserved for the times when you don’t have bread flour at home. All-purpose flour is made from hard and soft wheat which typically has a lower protein content than regular bread flour.
All-purpose flour is excellent for bread recipes like quick bread. These types of bread don’t require a lot of rising time and usually have a higher fat-to-flour ratio. Just like bread flour, all-purpose flour is also available in many different qualities.
We recommend going with premium-grade all-purpose flour for the best experience. Although it won’t make the best quality white bread, it is still a great substitute for bread flour.
Intolerant to gluten? Then don’t worry! You can easily enjoy great-tasting and high-quality homemade bread using gluten-free flour.
Gluten-free flour is typically made from a combination of rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca flour. These flours give the consistency, flavor, and texture of regular wheat flour – and gluten-free flour can also make loaves that are indistinguishable from regular flour!
Ran out of bread flour and all-purpose flour? Then you can make bread with a wide range of flour. Of course, every type of flour will give a different texture and flavor. For example, whole wheat flour is a great option for making healthy loaves.
But whole wheat bread may require more rising and kneading time than if you were to use regular bread flour. You can also use rye flour in combination with regular flour. Rye flour adds a distinctive taste to the bread which makes it pair well with savory ingredients.
Please consult the user manual of your bread machine to figure out the best type of flour to use for your appliance. The manual may also include recipes, important instructions, and even tips on how to get great-tasting homemade bread.
Investing in a bread machine can be quite rewarding since this machine can make flawless loaves of high-quality bread at home without the intensive hard work!
Now that you know how bread machines work and the best type of flour to use, here are some related questions:
Can You Add Pre-Kneaded Dough to Bread Machines?
Some bread machines have the option to bake dough but we don’t recommend that you use bread machines just for baking. First of all, most machines usually don’t have the option to bake pre-kneaded dough and many are designed to knead dough themselves. Plus, getting the ingredients, proportions, and technique right can be challenging too. It’s best to leave the heavy work to the machine!