First of all, every bread machine, from one brand to another, can be a little (or a lot) different. For even a BASIC loaf of bread, there could be a 10 to 20 minute baking variance from one brand of machine to another. The mixing times and the rise times may also greatly vary, too. As a result, recipes will need to be adjusted accordingly. For example, if you are using a recipe that was created for one machine, but the machine you are using has a shorter rise time, then you would need to add a sprinkle more yeast than the recipe calls for to account for the shortened rise time.
Even with identical brands and identical models of Bread Machines, there can be some differences. When the machines are manufactured, they try to produce them as identical as possible, but they ARE manufactured by humans and slight differences are a given. Even though the timers may be set the same, there could still be slight variations in the speed of mixing/kneading and/or in the temperature of the machine (rising temp and/or cooking temp). It may take a few loaves of bread to get the 'feel' of your machine before you turn out that perfect loaf. I have had some bread machines where the first loaf, and every loaf thereafter, turned out perfectly. But then I have also had bread machines that got very frustrating when it took 6 or 7 loaves to turn out a loaf that was 'acceptable' and a couple more to finally get it right. (chickens sure were happy, though). But once I got the 'feel' of that darned machine, it was smooth sailing.
Then there are the CRUST settings on the bread machines. One machine's DARK setting might be much darker than another's. One bread machine set to medium may be equivalent to another bread machine set on dark. One bread machine set on light might be absolutely perfect for you, while another one set to light might be way too light for you.
Your ingredients make a HUGE difference, too. The moisture content of your ingredients not only will vary from brand to brand, but can also greatly vary from one shipment to another, or even change while it is setting in your cabinet (it can dry out or absorb moisture, depending on your weather, climate and humidity levels in the air). Thicker liquids (such as juices and pulp) used in your recipe may also have a great variance as to the amount of moisture in them, along with egg size. A larger egg will add more moisture than a smaller egg, and even a tablespoon of moisture can make a huge difference. I absolutely cannot express how much difference the moisture content of your ingredients can affect the outcome of your finished loaf of bread! This is a variable that is usually completely beyond your control, but completely within your control to be able to make necessary adjustments for a great finished product. Most bread still comes out pretty tasty, regardless of the resulting texture.
Because there can be so many variables to a great loaf of bread in a bread machine, recipes ARE NOT set in stone. Don't be afraid to play around with them and adjust them to what you like! Each time you make a loaf of bread, check your dough after it has mixed for a bit. Check it's appearance and give it a poke to see how it 'feels' (very carefully so as not to get your fingers in the paddle - DO NOT let kids do this!) Make sharp mental notes of this and, after a time, you will know exactly what your dough for a great loaf of bread is suppose to look and feel like so that you can make adjustments as necessary.
Make adjustments? Yes, you can make adjustments, even after all ingredients are in and it has begun mixing. On most bread machines, there is a 'bell' (okay, mine beeps) that goes off part way into the cycle to let you know it is time to add other ingredients, such as nuts, raisins, and any other things that you didn't want beat to death during the entire mixing process. All the way up to and including when this little bell goes off, you can add/adjust your ingredients. After you have learned what to watch for, if you think your dough is too dry, you can add a sprinkle more water (or liquid ingredient used). But be careful! A little bit of moisture will go a looooong way! The same holds true for your flour (dry ingredients). If your dough is looking to soft, or sticky, you can, during this same time frame, add a bit more flour (or dry ingredient). But once again, a little goes a long way. And even if it looks a bit sticky at this point, it will usually smooth out a bit after it mixes a little longer.
It really isn't complicated, though. It's just that, when you purchase a bread machine, you also need to add into your initial costs a big round of ingredients for testing purposes, understand that that is part of the process for beginning to learn to use a bread machine, and don't worry about a few lost loaves. Now, I said that, at times, I had some pretty happy chickens, but I wasn't always allowed to give those 'failed' loaves to the chickens. You see, even though I sometimes got (and still do when I get a new machine) frustrated because those first few loaves weren't coming out right, my family and friends around me WOULD NOT let me toss them out!!! They said that they were still MUCH BETTER than the store bought stuff and gobbled it all up, thoroughly enjoying it!!!
Don't be afraid of your machine, take notes each time you use it for awhile (and keep them handy for future use), and by all means, don't be afraid to experiment. Don't be too hard on yourself. And don't be afraid to deviate from, or play around with, your bread recipes. It's just bread. Regardless of how it turns out, your home is still going to be filled with the scrumptious aroma of baking bread, and that alone is worth the try! Even if the end result isn't what you were trying to achieve, chances are, it is still going to be pretty darned good bread! Stay tuned for future Bread Machine Tips.