If you’re one of the many people who’ve invested in a breadmaker recently, you may have found one or two sticking points between you and the perfect loaf.
Before we get to the troubleshooting, we have a few universal tips. Make sure you've got the basics right first.
Our first tip is to refer to your manual. Your breadmaker is likely to have a series of programmes and functions that are optimised for different tasks. In addition, it may come with recipes that are made specifically to work with that appliance. If you’ve had a breadmaker before, or made bread by hand, you may well need to adjust your recipes.
If you’re just starting out, you will need to buy specialist bread flour: look for strong white flour. It has a higher gluten content than ordinary flour, so it’s ideal for breadmaking. Wright's Strong White Bread Flour costs £5.09 for 1.5kg on Amazon.
You’ll also need yeast. The type you want for most recipes is fast-action yeast, which you can buy in sachets for baking. This Hovis branded yeast will make up to ten loaves and costs £2, also on Amazon.
Beyond that, you’ll need to adjust your recipes as you go until your bread is coming out exactly as you like it.
The loaf keeps sticking to the pan
Even if your breadmaker has a non-stick pan, the bread can still get a bit over-attached to the inside of the machine, leaving you to break your loaf free in mangled lumps.
A common problem is damage to the non-stick coating of the bread pan. If your breadmaker is new, don’t put the bread pan in the dishwasher. This may damage the non-stick surface irreparably. Some people even suggest not washing it with water and detergent, simply rubbing it down with oil to clean it. However, a gentle cleaning with cool water, washing up liquid and a soft cloth should be fine.
There are some other steps you can take to help get your loaf out intact.
Before you add your dough-making ingredients, rub down the inside of the pan and the dough paddles with oil.
Or you can stop the breadmaker after its second kneading cycle, move the dough into a mixing bowl and then rub down the inside of the pan with oil before returning the dough for baking.
After baking, remove the pan from the bread machine and let it cool for 10 minutes before you try to remove the loaf. To speed up the process, stand the pan in cold water for a minute. During this cooling period, the bread will shrink a little – which may be enough to get it free from the pan.
Or, remove the pan with the loaf inside and wrap it in a warm, damp tea towel for ten minutes.
Before you try to extricate your loaf, run a knife around the inside of the pan and then turn it upside down.
The paddles leave a huge hole in the bottom of the loaf
Bread paddles will always leave some sort of hole in the middle of the loaf, which may be frustrating to home bakers.
Some breadmakers come with a collapsible paddle, which will leave a much smaller dent in the loaf. Others have a removable paddle.
If your paddle gets stuck in the bottom of the loaf when you take it out, stick a chopstick into the hole that attaches to the paddle shaft and carefully lever it out.
If you have a removable paddle, you can take it out of the breadmaker before baking. If you want to do this, stop the breadmaker at the start of the second or final rise. Remove the dough and paddle, and put the dough back into the breadmaker to bake.
Many home bakers who want the perfect loaf opt to use their breadmaker only to mix and prepare the dough. They then reshape the dough by hand and bake it in the oven.
The loaf collapses or sinks in the middle
This is a common problem and it’s difficult to diagnose as there can be a number of causes. As with all of the following points, remember that bread making measurements must be very accurate. Small changes in volume can affect the outcome hugely.
A spoonful more or less of an ingredient is enough to change the loaf’s consistency and how much it will rise. The first thing to do is go through your recipe and consider whether or not one of the measurements was obviously wrong.
Next, check that the yeast and flour you used are of the correct type for the recipe and that they’re not out of date.
The next most common cause is too much liquid in your dough. Next time, look at your dough after it’s been kneading for the few minutes. It should be a smooth, rounded ball. At this stage, you can add flour (if it’s too wet) or water (if it’s too dry) by the teaspoonful until it achieves the right consistency.
If your dough looks right and you’ve eliminated the other options, it may be that you’ve added too much yeast. Too much yeast makes a loaf rise too early and then collapse.
Finally, try adding a quarter of a teaspoon more salt.
The loaf didn’t rise
Again, check your measurements and that your yeast is still active. If you used flour with a low-gluten content, such as rye flour or whole wheat, substitute part of it for strong white flour.
If the problem is none of the above, try warming your liquids before adding them to the mix. Don’t use cold water (or very hot) as it can affect the action of the yeast.
The bread is coarse or full of holes
If you didn't forget salt altogether, or add too little, then the problem was likely that too much yeast or liquid was added. Next time, try reducing the amount of yeast (by a teaspoonful) or water (by a tablespoonful).
The loaf is mushroom-shaped
The problem is too much water or too much yeast. Next time, try reducing the amounts by a spoonful.
The bread is too dense and heavy
Check that you used strong white flour. Certain kinds of flour (such as rye and wholewheat) create more dense breads. If your recipe calls for other kinds of flour (as in a rye bread), you may need to swap out part of that flour for strong white.
Check the consistency of your dough before baking. If it seems too dry, add more water at a tablespoonful at a time.
The top of the loaf appears lumpy or gnarled
This is likely to be a problem in the ratio of flour to water. There’s not enough liquid or too much flour.
The loaf hasn’t browned on top
If the volume of ingredients is correct for the size of the pan, then the recipe probably needs more sugar.
The crust is too dark
If you don’t have the option to change your settings to adjust the crust colour, then take your bread out of the machine five minutes earlier.
The loaf is undercooked in the middle
If your bread has come out doughy in the middle, there’s a very simple fix. Just put it in your oven to finish baking. You can even do this once the loaf has cooled.
The problem is likely to be to do with the volume of ingredients used on a particular baking cycle, but whatever the issue, it’s the easiest mistake to sort out.
Buying a breadmaker
Last year, breadmakers were selling out all over the place but most retailers now have a good selection. Here are some of the most budget-friendly buys, all for under £100.
Amazon is selling the Morphy Richards Fastbake for £59, while Argos has the same model for £59.99. It has 12 programmes including white bread, French bread, whole-wheat, gluten-free, rye bread, speciality, pizza base, dessert, rolls and brioche. It has a 12-hour delay timer for overnight baking and can also make jams and cakes.
The Russell Hobbs 23620 Compact Breadmaker is available from Very for £64.99 - that's the same price as it was last March. Its specs are very similar to the Morphy Richards, above. It also has 12 programmes, a delay timer and can also make cakes and jam.
Amazon is also selling the Tower T11003 2lb Digital Bread Maker for £84. The price has gone up since we last checked, thanks to lockdown, but it's still a good buy. It has the standard functions for a small breadmaker, with 12 settings and an overnight programme.
The Morphy Richards Homebake Breadmaker 502001 is now on sale from Amazon for £85, which is down from £100 at its peak price. It has 14 programmes and what’s nice about this model is that it has a viewing window, which should help you to avoid the temptation to open the lid to peek inside and ruin your loaf.