One my favorite baking blogs is King Arthur Flour blog. I would like to share their 5 tips for bread machine that were extremely helpful for me.
All the credits for text below goes to PJ HAMEL
Tip 1: Open the lid and check the dough as it kneads
So many people seem afraid to “interfere” with their bread machine as it works. But honestly, nothing bad will happen if you open the lid and poke at the dough.
Start watching the dough about 10 minutes into its kneading cycle; it shouldn’t be viscous and liquid-like (top), nor dry, stiff, and “gnarly” (bottom). As my fellow blogger Susan Reid says, “If you touch the dough and your finger comes back coated, the dough is too wet. If you touch the dough and it feels like poking a beach ball, it’s too dry.”
The dough should have formed a cohesive unit and, if not “smooth as a baby’s bottom” yet, should be headed in that direction. If it’s not, add more flour (if it’s too soft), or water (if it’s dry).
Tip 2: Once the dough is done kneading, take a paper towel and wipe any excess flour out of the bucket
This will help prevent floury spots on the crust.
Tip 3: To prevent big rips and holes in the bottom of your loaf, take the paddles out of the bucket before the loaf bakes, just before its final rise
The timing for this can be a bit tricky; but once you figure it out, you’re good to go forever.
Get out your kitchen timer, and put it in count up (stopwatch) mode. Start your timer when you press “Start” on your bread machine (even if your machine has a “rest” or “preheat” mode right at the beginning); you’re simply trying to gauge the amount of time between when you press start, and when the final rise begins.
You want to be around when your bread starts its final rise. Most bread machine manuals show a timeline of steps: e.g., preheat 31 minutes, knead 19 minutes, first rise 35 minutes, second rise 20 minutes, etc. A little simple arithmetic will give you an idea when the final rise will start.
Hang around the kitchen when you figure that final rise is imminent. You’ll hear the machine start up momentarily; it’ll be knocking down the dough, which means the final rise is about to begin. When you hear that happen, stop your timer and check the time.
So there you have it: you now know, for the next time you bake bread, that 1 hour, 45 minutes (or whatever) will elapse between the time you press “Start” and when the final rise begins. So whenever you make bread-machine bread, and want to remove the paddles before the loaf bakes – pull out your timer and put it to good use.
Reach into the bucket, move the dough aside, and lift out the paddles.
Tip 4: Reshape the loaf before its final rise
Yes, this is where you prevent those ski-slope loaves. When you open the lid of the machine to remove the bucket’s paddles, check out the shape of the loaf. It might be just fine, filling the pan from end to end.
Or not (top photo). If the dough isn’t in an acceptable loaf shape, take it out of the bucket, shape it into a nice, symmetrical log, and put it back into the bucket (center photo). It will rise nice and evenly (bottom photo)…
Tip 5: Cool the bread in the machine, instead of on a rack on the counter
As soon as your bread is done, remove the bucket from the machine, take out the bread (which will be easy, since the paddles aren’t there to impede its progress), and gently set the loaf back into the machine, sans bucket.
Crack the lid open an inch or so, and let the bread cool right in the turned-off machine. The still-warm (but gradually cooling) air helps prevent moisture from condensing on your loaf’s surface – no wrinkles!
So, what’s the baking science behind this? If your loaf hits the cooler air outside the machine, any moisture migrating from inside reaches the top surface and condenses, forming water droplets that cause the crust to shrink unevenly – in other words, to wrinkle, like the loaf on the right, below.
The double loaf on the left is a tiny bit wrinkled, but not nearly as much.