I have a love/hate relationship with the bread machine. It produces bread that is better than any supermarket loaf but frequently quite dense, and never in the league of no-knead bread. But it’s undeniably convenient if you’ve run out and need some soon-ish for sarnies (though for a little more effort and if to be eaten warm Mark Bittman’s fast French bread rolls are quicker and better tasting).

Having only had one I cannot confirm or deny the belief that recipes are best when specific to a given model. For many years I’ve just trusted the default manufacturer’s recipe with okay but no better results. Recently, inspired by Cooking for Geeks I started experimenting. Now the results are much better. The resultant recipe is

  • ¾ cup of water
  • ¾ cup of milk
  • 4 tablespoon of oil (olive or sunflower, both work)
  • 3 teaspoons of sugar
  • Just less than 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 500 grams of strong flour (4 cups but weigh it)
  • 2 teaspoons of dried active yeast

Mix the water and milk and heat in a microwave at 600W (medium) for a minute. Tip that into the bread machine bowl with the oil, sugar, salt. Pour the flour on top and the yeast on top of that. Bake on a 2 lb loaf program.

There are three elements key to the reliability of this:

*Heating the liquid: this improves the rise significantly. The unfortunate *side effect of this difference is that it makes the delay start programs *fairly useless (no waking up to the smell of bread) because everything cools *down.

*The flour: I thought I had this recipe nailed and then started buying strong *flour from a different shop. It took a few loaves to twig why the results *were coming out too dense again. The new flour was “strong flour” the *previous one was “extra strong flour”. Due to the bread machine’s wimpy *kneading you seem to need extra strong (which is often specifically labelled *bread machine) flour.

*Using oil: most of the recipes suggest butter as the fat. To my taste oil *gives a nicer loaf though it does dry out a bit more when the cut face is *exposed to air. It might even be more healthy. (And it is so much easier to *measure 4 tablespoons of oil than 4 tablespoons of butter.)