First check humidity, then dough's ratios

September 01, 1993|By Dotty Griffith | Dotty Griffith,Dallas Morning News Universal Press Syndicate

Check the weather report before you load your bread machine.

Humidity usually is the biggest problem when using a bread machine. That's the word from Linda West Eckhardt, author and bread machine expert.

She tested the major brands of bread machines when she was researching her award-winning cookbook, "Bread in Half the Time" (Crown Publishing Group, $25).

Learning the quirks of your machine and climate is important, she says. It is a fallacy, she adds, to think that a bread machine works like a car -- you can't just put flour in it and go.

Making bread by machine is a new craft. It is less work than mixing and kneading by hand, but optimum results still require some experimentation and learning about how dough should look and feel.

When there are problems with bread from machines, users usually blame the machine or the yeast. But look elsewhere, suggests Ms. Eckhardt.

"Most problems are because of an improper water and flour ratio," she says. A few tablespoons more or less can make a difference, depending on the weather.

Stand by for the first 10 minutes or so to check the dough's texture, she advises.

"If it looks too hard (or dry), yank that dough up and break it into four parts. Add a tablespoon or two of water and put the dough back in," she suggests. Let the machine mix the water in, and keep checking until it feels right.

On a humid summer day, hold back two or three tablespoons of liquid, she advises. See how the dough feels. If it needs more water, add it as the dough mixes.

Although it is OK to open the lid during mixing, leave the lid closed during rising and baking.

Another problem can arise in warm weather because recipes often call for heating the liquid to activate the yeast. But ingredients that are too warm can kill the yeast or cause it to rise too quickly and collapse. "You may even have to chill ingredients in warm weather," says Ms. Eckhardt.

Here's a bread machine trouble-shooting guide from Fleischmann's Yeast.

* Bread doesn't rise enough: Not enough yeast, or the yeast is no longer active; you made a medium-size loaf in a large pan; timer used and ingredients placed in pan in wrong order.

* Loaf collapses: Too much water, yeast, sugar or eggs; warm weather, high humidity or overheated liquid can speed up yeast action; bread left in machine too long after baking.

* Heavy, dense texture: Not enough water or too much flour; not enough sugar or yeast.

Bread hot lines

Both Fleischmann's Yeast and Gold Medal Bread Flour offer help lines for bread machine users: Fleischmann's Yeast, (800) 777-4959; Gold Medal Bread Flour, (800) 328-6787.

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