What Is a Bread Machine?

Bread machine and loaf of bread
The Spruce / Diana Rattray

If you own a bread machine, it feels like the most magical thing in the world. You can enjoy fresh, preservative-free, homemade bread or rolls any day of the week. And there is almost no effort involved: Just measure the ingredients, close the lid, and press the button. That's it!

Why Do You Need a Bread Machine?

The bread machine turns bread baking into an almost entirely hands-off process, which is helpful for most busy people. The bread machine does all the work, from preheating to kneading, resting, proofing, and baking.

And, if you prefer a different shape or type of bread, you can still use the bread machine by running it on the dough cycle and then baking it in the oven in any form, from pizza and baguettes to individual rolls or pull-aparts.

Also, there's no flour mess to clean up, and there are very few dirty dishes. Every step is completed in the bread pan. All you have to wash are the bread pan and measuring utensils.

How Does It Work?

Take a little time to read the instructions that came with your bread machine. The manual will go over all operating, cleaning, and safety features. You might know you should use oven mitts to handle the hot bread pan, but you might not realize the machine must be unplugged after each use.

The manual will also offer a variety of tested recipes. These recipes are an excellent way to begin, especially if you are new to breadmaking.

While there may be some exceptions, the typical order of ingredients begins with liquids and ends with the dry ingredients, the fat, and then the yeast. The yeast is kept away from the liquids so it won't activate until kneading begins. A basic loaf of bread, from mixing and kneading to rising and baking, takes approximately 3 to 4 hours, depending on the type of flour, or about 2 hours on the rapid or quick cycle.

  • The bread machine loaf pan contains one or two paddles—or kneading blades—which rotate to mix and knead the loaf. The heating element works to preheat, proof, and bake the loaf.
  • Most bread machines begin with a preheating cycle of up to 20 minutes. Next comes the kneading cycle, which will last from 13 to 25 minutes. There is a beep before the end of the kneading cycle—this is when you add any additional ingredients, such as raisins, nuts, cheese, etc.
  • The first rise lasts about 45 minutes, followed by a "punch" down or stir down period, and the second rising of about 20 to 25 minutes. After another stir down phase and third rising of about 40 to 45 minutes, the loaf bakes for about 60 to 65 minutes. The quick or rapid cycle will have a shorter preheating cycle and less rising time overall.

Bread machines have a window, so you can see what's happening at every stage of the process. If the dough appears to be too dry or too wet, you can always add small amounts of liquid or flour during the kneading cycle.

Basic Breadmaking Steps

  1. Remove the baking pan from the bread machine and attach the paddle(s) securely.
  2. Measure and add the ingredients to the pan in the correct order—often liquid, flour, sugar, dry milk, salt, fat, and then the yeast.
  3. Return the pan to the bread machine cavity, pressing it firmly into place.
  4. Choose the settings for basic or rapid and select the desired crust color.
  5. Add any extra ingredients at the beep, or about 5 minutes before the kneading cycle completes.
  6. When baking is completed, the machine will beep, and most will keep the bread warm for up to 1 hour.
  7. Remove the bread and turn the pan upside-down and gently shake it to remove the loaf to a rack. If the kneading paddle stays in the bread, remove it with a heat-resistant non-metal utensil.

The Dough Setting

The dough setting preheats, kneads, and proofs the dough; but does not bake it. When the cycle is done, remove the dough from the pan, and shape it as desired. Use the dough cycle to make shaped breads: such as French or Italian bread, ciabatta, cinnamon rolls, sandwich buns, and pizza dough. Or use the bread machine to mix and knead, and then put the dough in a loaf pan, let it rise one more time, and then bake it in a conventional oven following your favorite recipe.

Additional Settings

Many bread machines have settings and recipes for sourdough starter, cakes and quick breads, and fruit jams and compotes.

Basic Ingredients

Liquids: These can include water, milk, buttermilk, melted butter or shortening, oil, yogurt, sour cream, applesauce, fruit purées, liquid sweeteners, eggs, and soft cheeses, such as cream cheese. One large egg is equivalent to about 3 tablespoons of liquid.

Sweeteners: Sugar, though not essential, gives the yeast a head start and aids in browning. Too much sugar, however, can slow the yeast activity. If you are using a liquid sweetener, such as honey, molasses, and maple syrup, count it as part of the liquid in the recipe. 

Salt: You can reduce the salt in a recipe but shouldn't eliminate it, as it enhances the flavor and regulates the yeast activity.

Fat: Fat acts as a preservative and can give bread flavor as well as tenderness. Fats can include soft or melted butter, vegetable oil, olive oil, or flavored-infused oil.

Flour: All-purpose and higher gluten bread flour are fine to use in most recipes. Whole wheat flour, however, is lower in gluten, which could result in a denser, smaller loaf. Gluten is important because it gives the bread its texture and holds it together. Vital wheat gluten may be added—about 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons per cup—to whole wheat or a soft all-purpose flour to increase the gluten content.

Milk Powder: Many bread machine recipes call for a few tablespoons of dry milk powder. Milk gives the bread better color and texture than plain water. If you don't have it, replace about half of the water with milk or omit it altogether.

Yeast: Many manufacturers recommend instant yeast (also known as rapid-rise, or bread machine yeast), which has smaller granules and hydrates more quickly when mixed with flour. To use active dry yeast in a bread machine recipe calling for instant yeast, use about 3/4 teaspoon for each cup of flour. Active dry yeast may not work as well on the rapid or quick bread cycle.

Spices: Some spices can be toxic to the yeast. Allspice, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg all contain a compound that can impact the rising. Use no more than a scant teaspoon for each cup of flour. Or use the spice in a topping or filling.


After baking a loaf of bread, remove the pan, unplug the machine, and let it cool completely. Clean any crumbs out of the bread machine, and check the heating element for residue. If there are any bits of dough stuck to the walls of the bread machine, let it dry, and then remove it. A small brush and damp cloth should be all you need.

Make sure the inside of the machine and heating element is clean and completely dry before using it again.

Most bread pans are not dishwasher safe. Clean the pan and paddles with warm soapy water. Don't scrub or use harsh cleansers, as that will damage the nonstick surface.

Troubleshooting: Problems and Solutions

Sunken Loaf

  • The dough was overproofed.
  • There was too much liquid in the dough.
  • There was no salt or too little salt in the dough.
  • The machine was jolted while rising, causing the bread to deflate.

Mushroom Top

  • The dough was too wet.
  • The recipe called for too much yeast.
  • There was no salt or too little salt in the dough.
  • The dough had too many sweet ingredients.

Doughy Center

  • The recipe was too large for the bread machine.
  • Too much heat escaped from the machine while the bread baked.

Large Crack on the Loaf

  • The dough was too dry.
  • The dough was underproofed and needed more rising time.

Burnt Crust

  • Too much sugar in the dough.
  • Choose a lighter crust setting.

Pale Crust

  • Choose a darker crust setting.
  • Add a bit more sweetener to the dough.

Dry Bread

  • Eggs can cause dry bread. Try adding extra fat to the bread.
  • The bread was stored in the refrigerator. Store bread at room temperature or freeze it for longer storage.
  • Some grains, such as oats, can soak up moisture.

Adapting Recipes

Do you have a favorite bread or roll recipe? With a few tweaks, it will probably work in your bread machine. Depending on the capacity of your bread machine, you might have to scale it down a bit. Watch it closely throughout the process and make notes of any adjustments you make.

A 1 1/2-pound loaf of bread will contain approximately the following:

  • 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups of liquid
  • 3 to 4 cups of flour
  • 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
  • Up to 4 tablespoons of fat
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons of sweetener
  • 1 1/2 to 3 teaspoons of yeast

If you find mixes convenient, make your own with this basic recipe.