Helpful Yeast and Other Hints:
Don’t be afraid to open your machine to look at and poke the dough as it kneads. This is the only way you’ll be able to tell if the combination of ingredients you’ve used has made a good dough. We don’t recommend poking the dough as it rises, and you shouldn’t open the top when your machine is in its second rise or baking cycle, but before that, feel free to get familiar with your dough, and how your machine works with it; that’s how you’ll learn.
If you’re using your machine’s delayed cycle, where the machine won’t start for several hours, don’t use fresh ingredients such as milk, eggs, cheese, etc. Bacteria likes to grow in these ingredients, and there’s a risk of food poisoning in keeping them at room temperature.
Too little yeast, your bread won’t rise sufficiently; too much, and it will rise and collapse. It’s important to watch your dough as it rises and bakes; dough that has risen and collapsed may look just like dough that never rose at all, once it’s baked. In order to correct the problem, you need to know what went wrong.
Bread that is undercooked and gummy inside is bread that didn’t rise sufficiently
We’ve found that one or more of the following will increase the chances of your getting a successful loaf of sweet bread: doubling the amount of yeast; cutting back the amount of salt; using 1/8 teaspoon of ascorbic acid; using the longest cycle on your machine (the one with the longest rising period); or taking the dough out of the machine, and forming and baking it by hand.
Match the flour to the desired result. A high-protein all-purpose or bread flour will yield high-rising bread. Whole-grain flours will yield denser, heavier, more substantial breads. A combination of flours will yield something in between.
The basic ratio of salt to flour in bread is 1/2 teaspoon salt per cup of flour. Recipes that call for less salt than this may seem “blah”; try increasing the amount of salt to the recommended ratio.
The basic all-purpose flour/liquid ratio is 2 1/2 to 3 cups flour to 1 1/4 cups liquid, depending on the time of year — more flour in the summer, less in the winter.
Bread that rises, then collapses in the middle as it bakes — the infamous “crater bread” — contains too much liquid. Adjust your formula.
Adding a couple of teaspoons of flour along with the raisins/nuts helps the dough in the machine to “open up” and accept whatever you’re adding more easily. If “additives” haven’t kneaded into the dough by the time it goes into its first rise, simply remove the dough from the machine, scoop out the raisins/nuts, knead them in by hand, and return the dough to the machine.