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Editor's note: Still trying to figure out that new bread machine? To help you, we asked the advice of folks who own one _ or two _ or more.

According to letters from Tampa Bay bakers, this appliance has won a sure place in many kitchens and hearts. But there is general agreement that while bread machines make baking much easier, the process still requires patience and precision, in measuring and instruction-following. The payoff is worth it, however: the wonderful smells and tastes of fresh-baked bread.

On this page, Maurine Welch of Clearwater shares her bread-making secrets. Inside, other readers do the same.

I have two bread machines: a 4-year-old DAK and a 2-year-old Panasonic, and I made 38 loaves of bread in December 1995.

Bread machines are my hobby. I love the healthful attributes of bread; the endless creative applications; and the sense of accomplishment that bread baking provides. I love the fragrance of bread coming out of the oven.

I have learned the hard way how temperamental bread machines can be. They are programed to do things their way.

Accurate measurements are critical, especially the balance of flour and water. The yeast must be fresh and active. Measurement errors are usually to blame for poor volume, bread too coarse or open, and other poor results.

Here's how to succeed:

Bread flour is a must for bread baking. The gluten content of bread flour is higher than that in all-purpose flour. It supports the structure of the bread. Kneading develops the gluten and results in elastic, springy, lively dough and light, fine-textured bread.

Compared to bread flour, whole wheat flour needs a little more kneading to develop its gluten. Only a few bread machines on the market can handle recipes calling for 100 percent whole wheat flour. (My Panasonic machine is one of them.)

Bread machines without the whole wheat mode can do whole wheat bread with a double knead. After the machine has finished the kneading, just stop it and restart it at the beginning to go through the kneading process a second time. Then let it complete the cycle.

Oatmeal has no natural gluten, so I add Vital gluten, purchased in a health food store.

I use 1 tablespoon of gluten powder for a 1-pound loaf, or 2 tablespoons of gluten for a 1{-pound-loaf recipe. I use the gluten as a part of the flour measure, by putting the gluten in the cup and then filling the cup with flour. I sift the gluten with the flour for better dispersal.

Nuts, raisins and other fruits tend to cut the gluten strands, so additional gluten improves variety breads.

With a new machine, it is wise to use only the recipes that come with that machine. After the user becomes familiar with how the recipes turn out, how the dough looks in early kneading, how to adjust the moisture and flour content, then you can try recipes from other bread machine recipe books.

Bread machines come in two basic sizes: 1-pound loaf and 1{-pound loaf. A few new models are coming out now for a 2-pound loaf.

Why anyone would want such a large loaf, I can't imagine. It would be difficult to slice and store. It might be appropriate for a large family who would tear it up and eat it quickly.

There can be a problem making a smaller recipe in a larger bread machine. Best results are obtained when a machine is used for the capacity for which it was designed. The small loaf in the larger machine tends to land in the end of the bread pan after the final kneading and bake in an odd shape.

Wheat flour is very absorbent. Weather and humidity make it necessary to adjust the water-flour ration. Check the dough in the bread machine after five minutes of kneading. The ingredients should come together in a soft, smooth ball around the paddle. If the dough appears too dry and stiff, add liquid, 1 tablespoon at a time. If the dough is too soft or more like a batter than a dough, add bread flour a tablespoon at a time. If in doubt about your problem, go back to your bread machine's manual and re-read it for the 17th time.

Walking bread machines can vibrate off the kitchen counter and splatter on the floor. My DAK did that once. I removed the bread dough and finished it conventionally. I picked up the pieces of the machine and put them in the original carton. I thought my DAK was finished.

Later, my computer-knowledgeable son came to visit. He checked the bread machine, pushed the wiring back into the machine, returned the front panel, and said, "If the circuit board is not broken, it should be okay. Try it out."

I baked a loaf of bread in it, and it worked! And continues to work, 2{ years later.

Another problem I have had that is worth mentioning: The bread does not rise as much as it should and the center is doughy and heavy. Too much sugar!

Natural sugars are found in fruits. Too many dried or fresh fruits inhibit the rising of bread and inhibit baking.

Too much butter or fat can cause a similar problem. While this may happen with any machine, it seems to happen more often with the glass-domed machines, like my DAK. It helps to cover the glass dome with aluminum foil to reflect heat down on the top of the loaf.

My 4-year-old DAK is getting scarred inside the pan and on the paddle, making the bread stick and refuse to let go. I ordered a replacement pan and paddle from a 2-year-old price list. My letter was returned with the P.O. stamp: "Moved, left no address." It looks like DAK has gone out of business.

(Welch is right; DAK parts are hard, if not impossible, to come by. However, parts for many bread machines and other kitchen appliances can be found through Culinary Parts Unlimited by calling (800) 543-7549)

Now, I limp along with the scarred pan and paddle by applying olive oil Pam before putting in the ingredients. That helps release the bread.

I have dozens of favorite recipes that I have gleaned from two manuals, five bread machine recipe books, and magazine articles. Two of my favorite books are Electric Bread by Susan Nightingale ($29.95, Innovative Cooking Enterprises, Anchorage, available by calling (800) 541-2733), which has an excellent trouble-shooting section and inspirational photography; and Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway ($11.95, paperback, St. Martin's Press).

Recipes in the Bread Machine Magic book of 139 recipes have one feature that I've not seen in any other book: directions to increase the liquid by 2 tablespoons for Welbilt/DAK machines. That adjustment does seem to make these recipes work better in my DAK.

Here is a composite recipe I developed for Fiber One Date Pecan Bread, using Fiber One cereal:

Fiber One Date Pecan Bread

(1-pound size)

1 cup Fiber One cereal

2 cups bread flour

1 tablespoon gluten included in flour measure

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon peanut oil

1 cup water

1{ teaspoons Rapid Rise yeast

8 dates, quartered

cup toasted pecans, coarsely broken

Place all ingredients, except dates and nuts, in bread pan in order recommended by the bread machine manual.

Select sweet bread mode or basic white bread cycle and light color setting.

After the first kneading, add dates and nuts. At completion of baking, remove from pan and cool on a wire rack.

Source: Maurine Welch, Clearwater

Fiber One Date Pecan Bread

(1{-pound size)

1{ cups Fiber One cereal

3 cups bread flour

2 tablespoons gluten included in flour measure

1{ teaspoons salt

\ cup honey

2 tablespoons peanut oil

1\ cups water

cup dates, quartered (9 or 10 dates)

{ cup toasted pecans, coarsely broken

2 teaspoons Rapid Rise yeast

Place all ingredients, except dates and nuts, in bread pan in the order recommended by the bread machine manual.

Select the sweet bread mode or the basic white bread cycle and light color setting.

After the first kneading, add dates and nuts.

At completion of baking, remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Cool one hour before slicing.

Tip: Toast pecans to bring out flavor and to keep nuts crisper in the bread. Spread the pecans in a single layer on a shallow baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or until lightly toasted. Check frequently and stir nuts during baking. Cool before adding to bread dough.

Source: Maurine Welch, Clearwater