Ask Amma

Make good bread better

In How on 26 August 2014 at 12:00 pm
Voila! Whole wheat bread.

Voila! Whole wheat bread.

Mostly for the sake of bread aficionados in India who pine for a loaf of really whole grain bread every time they see the third-rate impostors in the market, I posted Baking Bread at Home, which you can do either in a bread machine or in an ordinary oven.  You can also use a convection oven, adjusting time and temperature.   Note:  Do not try this in a microwave oven, even if it claims to have a convection setting.

Please.  Just don’t.

Friends in Mozda tell me that they get delicious bread out of their solar oven and I take their word for it.  Everything tastes better out of those solar ovens.

For those who have no solar ovens, here is a interesting development: I recently learned that someone is selling bread machines in India,

which means that these are no longer limited to bread lovers who are able to bring them from abroad or request friends in 220-volt-using Asian and European countries to carry them over.    Instead they are available for a cool Rs. 10K. <whistle>  Now doesn’t that really make you appreciate fresh chapatis!  No ovens, no special machines, just flour and water, really and maybe a pinch of salt.  And a stove of course.


Bread on the other hand, requires an oven or a bread machine.  If you are kneading the dough and baking the bread in a regular oven, your hands will get to know the feeling of the bread and with experience you will get to know what makes your bread better.  But what about when you are making it in the machine?

Tips for improving bread from the machine

You can take the throw-it-all-in-the-machine-and-turn-it-on approach and without lifting a finger, come back (or wake up) hours later for the finished loaf of bread*.  When you really want a better loaf, however, prepare to be present at various points throughout the process.  Here is what can turn a good loaf into a better one:

1.  Soak your flour.  In Cooked, Michael Pollan talks about soaking flour and even catching yeast form the air.  Even if you don’t do all that, a few hours of soaking makes a difference in the smoothness of the dough that results.  In fact, I find that when I soak my flour I don’t even need to add gluten to get a good rise.   All I do is measure in the flour and water first, let it sit for a few hours and then come back to add the rest of the ingredients.  I haven’t experimented enough to know the minimum number of hours of soaking that will yield the benefit because I usually soak in the morning to make bread in the evening or soak in the evening to make bread that will be ready by the next morning (using the timer on the bread machine and setting it to start in the wee hours of the morning.  (Today I actually made bread without soaking the flour  and without using additional gluten, and it came out dense.  I wanted to include a picture for comparison but I didn’t get a chance to take the picture before people polished off half of it.  That’s fresh bread for you.)

2.  Add oatmeal.  You can throw some room-temperature or warm oatmeal on top of the soaked flour shortly before you are ready to start the machine.  You can also add rolled oats at the beginning, if you use hot water, allowing the oats to get slowly cooked while the wheat flour soaks, and to cool to lukewarm by time you are ready to start the machine.  If you add oatmeal on top of the soaked flour, then it should be warm but not hot.  If it is hot then allow it to cool before starting the machine.

If you are weighing your ingredients you can precisely adjust the water based on how much oatmeal you use.   (See Baking Bread at Home).  Otherwise, just throw in a handful and check back once the kneading has begun to make sure your dough is not too wet or too dry.   Usually it  all works out but while you are getting the hang of it, just check to make sure.  Actually even if you weigh ingredients, it is not a bad idea to do this.  Hence the next tip.

3.  Check the machine 5-10 minutes after it starts kneading.  Using a spoon or rubber spatula, wipe in any dough or flour that has clung to the sides of the pan.   If the dough looks too dry, sprinkle a little water.  If it is too wet, sprinkle a little flour.  Add flour gradually so that its gets kneaded in. Otherwise it will create a slippery layer on the bottom of the pan, making the dough spin instead of get kneaded.  Once kneaded, the dough should look smooth and silky.


Actually this part usually works out more or less on its own, but I mention this tip for those who want a beautiful loaf every time.

4.  Remove the kneading paddle after the machine finishes the final punch-down.  This way the bread comes out of the pan more easily and more importantly, has a smaller hole at the bottom.


In fact, I found that I could make the hole even smaller by replacing the kneading paddle with a little butter or oil.   See the third picture above.

But let me let you in on a little secret – last night I set the machine to bake the bread overnight and I did not wake up in time to remove the paddle.  I was going to take a picture of the large hole in the bottom of the bread that resulted, but before I even saw the bread it was half eaten.  So you can see that when it comes to freshly baked bread, the aroma draws the folks to the hearth and the taste enraptures them.

  1. Thanks for all these tips Aravinda, now will start baking bread right away!


  2. Thanks for this very informative tips. I will try this soon.


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