Bread baking at home is a rewarding kitchen activity with delicious and aromatic results. But the thing is, not everyone has the time or skill to make bread from scratch. One way around it is to learn how to use a bread maker. With this smart kitchen appliance, all you need is to prepare the ingredients, dump them in, select the proper settings and forget about it!

Some people, however, are not that confident when making bread with a bread maker. Others may have attempted to use it but are not satisfied with the outcome. No matter the reason, don’t let your bread maker collect dust and go to waste. These five easy steps should keep you on the right track from start to finish, minimise errors and motivate you to take on new bread maker recipes.

1. Read the Manual

Although bread makers work with the same technology, they still have different capabilities and limitations. That’s why you need to read the manual and learn every nook and cranny of your machine. In case you got your bread maker as a hand-me-down gift or from a garage sale without the manual, you’ll likely find a copy of it online. Here are the things you need to inspect and know:

  • The bread maker usually has three parts: the machine, the kneading blade and the bucket. Make sure to know how to assemble and clean them up after use.
  • Depending on the model, bread makers can bake loaves in multiple sizes. If you cannot find the baking capacity of your machine, you can measure it by knowing how many cups of water it can hold. For example, if it can hold 10 cups of water, it can bake 680g loaves, while 12 cups of water can make 900g loaves. A water capacity lower than 10 cups means your machine suit 450g bread recipes.
  • Plug your bread maker in to check how the control panel works. Typically, this part would have a screen display and buttons to stop/start the machine, select the bread type and set the timer and crust doneness. It’s easier to remember all these controls once you pair them up with an actual recipe. I suggest starting with basic bread first to get the hang of programming your machine.

2. Pick an Easy Bread Recipe

Once you get the idea of how to use a bread maker, it’s time to do some baking! I recommend picking an easy bread recipe with simple ingredients and procedures. Having the basics down first should make it easier for you to tackle more complicated recipes. Also, keep these reminders in mind:

  1. Prep the right ingredients. Your baked product depends on the quality and state of your ingredients. Make sure to use bread flour if the recipe calls for it. This flour has the right amount of gluten to give your bread structure and chewy texture. Use room temperature eggs for bread baking to make them easier to blend in with the rest of the ingredients. Check if your stored yeast is still usable. Also, cut your butter into small pieces to help the machine mix it evenly into your dough.
  2. Make accurate measurements. Baking is an exact science. Your final bread product may not come out right if you add in too much liquid or less flour. So, have your measuring cups and spoons ready every time. I also suggest getting yourself a digital weighing scale, too, for more accurate and consistent readings.
  3. Add your ingredients in the correct order. This step is particularly essential if you’re using the Delay Cycle function of your machine, where you put the ingredients in advance for mixing later. The idea is to avoid activating your yeast ahead of time by getting it in contact with your wet ingredients. So, put the liquids in first, followed by fats, dry ingredients and yeast (also baking powder or baking soda for quick bread).

3. Set Your Bread Maker Settings

In this next step, it’s time to use the things you’ve learned on how to use a bread maker. Before you start mixing, make sure your bread maker is in a secure place. Your machine is likely to vibrate while kneading, so choose a spot where there’s no risk of your machine tipping over or falling. Next, close its lid, plug it in then select the proper baking settings. Once it starts working, keep the top closed unless you need to add other ingredients like fruit or nuts later.

4. Remove Your Baked Bread

After baking, unplug the machine, have a cooling rack ready and put on your oven gloves. Depending on your appliance model, the exterior of your bread maker can get very hot. So, take extra precaution when opening the lid and removing the bread bucket.

A little shake is usually all it takes to make the bread come off the pan. If not, let it rest for a few minutes then try again. Make sure not to use sharp tools to remove your bread from the pan. Damage on the bucket can lessen its non-stick abilities. Once it’s out, let the baked bread cool on the wire rack. Remember these tips when handling your freshly baked bread:

  • Don’t slice your loaf right after baking, and use a bread knife for slicing. These tips should protect the shape of your bread and make it easier to slice without the crumbly mess.
  • Bread usually lasts up to 7 days at room temperature, but the shelf-life may be shorter for preservative-free homemade bread. Cover it with a tea towel or store it in a bread box to protect it from drying out.
  • If you need to store it for a long time, wrap the bread in plastic wrap then with aluminium foil before freezing. Baked bread should stay fresh in the freezer for up to 6 months. You can thaw it out in the fridge overnight then reheat in the oven, or use the thawing function of your toaster.

5. Try New Recipes and Experiment

Now that you know how to use a bread maker, the final step is to explore and experiment! Check out the other recipes included in the manual and try them out. Go ahead and tweak the bread recipes you’ve already tried. If you have a bread recipe that you want to use with the machine, make sure you know its actual yield. When I do this, I typically reduce the bread recipe by half or thirds. It is a trial-and-error thing. Just continue bread baking. In time, adjusting measurements and making ingredient substitutions should be a piece of cake!

If you’re thinking of getting yourself a bread maker, these reviews and buying guide should help you make an informed choice.