I know what you're thinking. Bread machines are those things that were popular for a few years and are now collecting dust somewhere in your home. When you first got it, you were super excited. Fresh bread in a few hours and I don't have to do anything. How awesome is that? Then, you realized that the loaves were small, often misshapen and sometimes with pockets of flour in them. The most annoying part was trying to dig that paddle out of the middle of the baked loaf of bread which left you with a big hole in the middle of it. For a while, you told yourself it was no big deal because, hey, fresh bread. Then, you realized that you were eating a loaf a day, your pants were getting tight, and let's face it, it was getting annoying and it wasn't nearly as good as a fresh loaf from the bakery.
I did the same thing. I wanted my kids to be able to eat bread without a bunch of chemicals in them. I used to make fresh loaves twice a week when I was a stay-at-home mom, but let me tell you unless you enjoy spending the entire day baking and have that kind of time on your hands, it gets old. SO, I asked my darling husband to buy me this bread machine. I knew it wouldn't be as good, but that my bread monsters would at least have a healthy option. If you're curious how the first few months went, then please reread the first paragraph.
Now, it's not that bread machines are a horrible and cruel invention for bread lovers everywhere. It's just that you really need a basic understanding of how bread is made. You need to know that humidity, temperature, type of flour used, type or fat, if any that's used, leavening, sugar, salt and everything else in the known universe affects how the bread is going to develop. It is a live beasty that interacts with its environment. If you have too much flour, it will be crumbly. Too much water, it won't rise correctly and be super dense. If the room's too hot it will proof faster than if it's cold. Too much yeast and you get giant holes in the bread. Too much salt, kills the yeast. You get the idea, right?
Now, I can get into why the bread machine is setup to fail, but that's not why you're here. You are here to find out why you should be dusting that bread machine off and giving it another try.
There is a really great feature about the bread machine that I love, the dough function. On this setting, it mixes and kneads continuously throughout the first part of the cycle, then it becomes a proof box. So, I can dump all my ingredients in (more on the trick for this later), turn on the dough cycle and walk away. I only have to check on it once to see if I need to add more water or flour depending on the relative humidity in the room and my ability to measure properly.
I use my machine anytime that I am making pizza, pita bread, naan bread, kolaches, beirocks, and basic rolls. If I am making baguettes or brioche, then I go old school because I really enjoy the process and I spend the entire day baking bread. There are a few different recipes that I use in my bread machine, but I will give you my basic pizza crust recipe because it also happens to make great flatbreads. The order in which you add ingredients is what makes this recipe fool proof. It's important so pay attention.
The yeast goes in first. Ignore that little container on top of the machine that says to put your yeast in there. Just put it directly into the bowl. Then, add warm water on top of that. Cold water will prevent the yeast from rising properly, and hot water will kill it. Don't kill the yeast, it makes fluffy bread. Next, you'll add any sugar you want in the recipe. This is not necessary, but a little sugar gives a nice texture and chewiness to the bread. The flour goes in next. I prefer unbleached all-purpose flour, but you can use whole wheat or bread flour. Just know that the heavier the flour, the more water it will need. So, you'll have to play around with the water ratios if you want a whole grain crust. After the flour, I add my salt/seasonings. For a plain flatbread, I use salt, but you can do SO much with seasonings. The last ingredient is the fat. For pizza crust or flatbread, I always go with olive oil. I love the crisp yet chewy texture olive oil gives it. That's it. You can now hit the dough feature and walk away. In 20 minutes, come back and check on it once. Open the lid and look at the dough. Did it combine thoroughly? Is there a nice stretch in the dough? Touch it. How sticky is it? If it isn't sticky, you won't need much flour to roll it out. You might even need a spritz of water on the dough. If it's too sticky, you'll need to pull it out sooner and hand-knead it with extra flour. For the most part though, if you follow the amounts listed in the recipe below, you'll have it near perfect every time.
Gourmet Flatbread in the Bread Machine
- 2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 Tbsp honey/sugar (optional)
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt or 1 tsp The Spice & Tea Exchange™ seasonings: Try Tuscany, Greek, Pesto, Pizza Seasoning, or Everything Bagel
- 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
- Put all ingredients (in order listed) into the bread machine. Set to dough function. Turn on. Walk away.
- In 20 minutes, check on your dough. You want it to be well incorporated with a stretch to the dough. If it is too sticky, you can add a bit more flour. If it is too dry, add 1 tsp of water.
- After the dough cycle is done, turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead into a ball and cut into 4 to 8 even pieces. For pizzas, I go with 4 pieces to get a personal pizza of about 10 - 12 in. For flatbread, I go with 8 pieces that I roll thin. I don't worry so much about shape and size because that's what gives it character and a homemade, rustic feel.
- Roll out dough to 1/4 to 1/2 inch height. Let rest while you prep your cooking method.
- I like to use a panini press to make these because it is super quick and flattens the bread to an even consistency. My Cuisinart Griddler Deluxe is my all-time favorite kitchen gadget! If you don't have a press, then you can still make these in the oven, on a grill, or in a cast iron skillet. Just remember a hot surface of about 450ºF.
- On a panini grill or compression grill, place one of your rolled out pieces of dough onto the hot grill and close. For pizzas, I only put them in there long enough to form a crust because they will finish cooking in the oven later when I make the pizza. For flatbreads, I close the lid for about 2 minutes, then flip it over and cook until the crust begins to brown. Once done, remove and place on a large plate to cool.
- In a hot cast iron skillet, place dough in skillet and cook for 3-5 minutes. It will puff up and start to turn golden brown around the edges. Flip over and finish cooking another 2-3 minutes. This method is great for pita bread since it puffs up in the pan.
- In the oven, preheat oven to 450ºF with a pizza stone or cookie sheet in the oven. Place dough on hot pizza stone and cook for 7-10 minutes or until crust is formed, but before it turns brown. You only want it par-cooked for pizzas. For flatbread, pull it out of the oven, turn it over and deflate before placing back in for additional 5-7 minutes.