They activate the yeast, and they combine with gluten to form the elastic strands that help bread to rise.
Basically, for flavor. Small loaf machines generally use about 2 cups of flour, while large loaf machines use 3 cups.
Most bread machine manuals and cookbooks call for bread flour rather than all-purpose flour.
No one kind of sugar is better for you, nutritionally, than another kind. Proofing the yeast first will add effort, but it won't make your bread taste better. Consider that most manual bread recipes make two loaves and can be divided in half to make a recipe that is roughly the right size for a bread machine.
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It's also very important that you measure ingredients correctly. Water is a common ingredient, but since many people use the timer on their bread machines, most recipes call for non-fat dry milk or powdered buttermilk.
You can also try adding some pure gluten to the mixture. A flour high in gluten will produce a nicely risen loaf, while a low-gluten flour such as pastry flour, cake flour or self-rising flour will not.
But if you really should eat more fiber every day, then use whole wheat flour. Then, adjust the ingredient amounts from the manual bread recipe, being careful not to exceed your machine's capacity. Gradually increase the whole grain and decrease the all-purpose, at the same time increasing the yeast a bit and perhaps adding gluten, till you get the combination of taste and texture you enjoy.
King Arthur also makes an extra-strong bread flour, King Arthur Unbleached Special Bread Flour, which is especially good in sweet breads and breads containing whole grains, which may have difficulty rising sufficiently. They provide flavor cheese or maple syrup, for example ; structure eggs -- whole protein contributes to the strength of the loaf as it bakes ; nutrition dairy products and eggs and texture and freshness fat, which gives bread a finer, softer texture, and keeps it fresh longer.
This is particularly important when using the timed mixing function on your machine. But what about whole wheat bread?
If you want to add more stability to your bread, you can add a product called vital wheat gluten. Try adding herbs, spices or seeds for a delicious change of pace, or even cheese which should be considered a wet ingredient because it melts with heat.
Be aware, however, that the higher the protein level of the flour you use, the more liquid it will absorb; be sure to check your dough during the kneading cycle, and add more liquid if necessary. We prefer using instant yeast; either regular instant or instant gold for all-purpose bread baking, or special instant for sourdough or sweet breads.