Cookbook | Recipes | Ingredients | Baking
Bread is a preparation made from a dough of flour and water, often with additional ingredients. It may be leavened or unleavened.
There are many types of bread. Each type has its own history, style, and taste. The more you experiment with different types of bread, the better you will be at creating new and interesting recipes.
Bread originated in prehistoric times, and it was especially significant in ancient Egypt. There, grain was crushed or sometimes chewed to create a flatbread, with several varieties becoming available as the dish grew in popularity. Greece, and later Rome, would come to adopt this method of production and spread the dish across the Western world, adding their own variations. Bread has since become important both within individual families and across entire cultures. It is now an integrated part of most people's lives, as reflected by the vast array of recipes available.
The amount of water and flour used in a bread are the most significant measurements, because these two ingredients affect texture and crumb the most. With regards to measuring ingredients, weight, instead of volume, is used as the measure.
Wheat flour is the most popular flour to use in bread, because wheat has many qualities that contribute to a good loaf. White flour, the refined flour made from wheat, is used more frequently than its unrefined and more nutritious counterpart, whole wheat flour. Other flours that are used include the flours of rye, corn, oat, and barley. Using a mixture of different flours can make an interesting loaf of bread. Taking the amount of flour to be 100 percent, common North American table bread uses approximately 50 percent water, resulting in a finely-textured, light bread. Most artisan bread formulas contain anywhere from 60 to 75 percent water.
Water, or some other liquid, is used to form the flour into a paste or dough. The volume of liquid required varies between recipes, but a ratio of 1 part liquid to 3 parts flour is common for yeast breads, while recipes that use steam as the primary leavening method may have a liquid content in excess of one part liquid to one part flour by volume. In addition to water, other types of liquids that may be used include dairy products, fruit juices, or beer. In addition to the water in each of these, they also contribute additional sweeteners, fats, and/or leavening components.
If milk is being used, it is interesting to note that bakers will often scald the milk first. It is thought that the scalding, by unfolding some of the milk's protein strands, helps to give a better texture, crumb and flavour to the bread.
Leavening is the process of adding gas to a dough before or during baking to produce a lighter, more easily chewed bread. Yeast, baking soda, and baking powder are the most common leavening agents for bread.
The majority of classic Western breads (e.g. baguette, challah, or sandwich breads such as white bread) are leavened by yeast. Most bakers leaven their dough with commercially produced baker's yeast, which produces uniform, quick, and reliable results because it is obtained from a pure culture. Many traditional and artisan bakers produce their own yeast by preparing a "growth culture" or sourdough starter which they then use in the making of bread. Kept in the right conditions, this culture will continue to grow and provide leavening for many years.
Once the basic ingredients have been considered, a lot of the experimentation comes in the extra additions to a loaf.
Adding nuts and seeds can add both extra nutrition and variety in taste and texture. Grinding the nuts or seeds, at least partially, can aid in digestion, provide a smoother consistency to the bread, and allow the dough to hold its form better. Note that flaxseeds especially should be ground, because the human digestion system cannot break them down adequately for maximum nutritional absorption.
Some dried fruit, such as raisins, cranberries, or apricots, may be found enjoyable in a loaf, especially a sweeter loaf. Cheese in bread is popular, and it may be mixed in directly with the dough or rolled in during the final shaping stages. Adding different herbs and spices can change how a loaf is perceived dramatically.
The simplest method to make the dough combines all ingredients at once followed by one mixing or continuous kneading. A variant of this single-mix method uses sequential addition of ingredients. Sometimes the dough is left to autolyse, where the flour and water are combined, and the mixture is covered and left to rest for about 20 minutes to 2 hours. Then, other ingredients are added and the dough is kneaded for 5 to 10 minutes until it feels smooth, well-developed and elastic.
Bread doughs are sometimes made with multiple doughs. Sourdough is refreshed daily with fresh dough to keep its organisms alive. Baker's yeast breads are sometimes made in a two-dough system known as sponge & dough: sponge dough + final dough = total bread dough. In this method, a sponge's ingredients are often optimized to grow yeast—this is called a pre-ferment, and it provides some bread-dough conditioning effects.
Rising or proofing allows pockets of gas to form throughout the dough, producing a lighter, more easily-chewed bread.
The traditional way to rise bread is by placing the dough into a moderately warm environment, with enough space to allow it to double in size. A good environment for rising bread is an oven; turning the oven on to a low setting for a few minutes prior to putting the dough in will encourage better leavening (but remember to turn the oven off for when the dough is in!). The dough should either be covered with a tea towel, or with a light coating of oil, in order to prevent its surface from drying out.
Nowadays, many commercial bread producers have proofer systems. These ensure an optimum environment for bread to rise.
If refrigerated, dough will still rise, but much more slowly than if put in a warm place. Overnight, or up to 18 hours is enough for it to rise enough to bake. If needed, dough can be popped into the refrigerator to delay rising for a few hours. Dough can still become over-proofed while refrigerated if left too long.
Bread can be shaped into a multitude of shapes/styles. The following techniques are used to achieve the desired shape of a loaf: stretching, rolling out (with a rolling pin), rolling up (from a flat shape, to one that looks like a spiral from the side) and/or folding.
The tops of loaves are often scored with a knife to make hash marks prior to baking.
The types of garnishes that can be applied to a loaf are as varied as the options available for ingredients that can go into a loaf; here are a few:
- Sesame seeds: provide visual enhancement, added texture and taste
- Poppy seeds: provide visual enhancement, added texture and taste
- Herbs and spices
- Coarse sea salt
- Diced garlic and/or onion
Some garnishes will stick better by doing the following: after the second rising, and before the bread goes into the oven to bake, paint the top of the bread with oil, milk or an egg white, then carefully apply the desired garnish(es) on top.
Bread is usually baked in an oven with heat ranging from 375–425°F (190–218°C).
Sometimes steam is injected into an oven while bread is baking, and this procedure helps to make a crispy crust. When steam is released into a hot oven, with no place to escape, some of it settles onto the surface of the loaf/loaves and has two interesting effects:
- The surface is kept moist and stretchy at first by the steam, which allows the bread to expand. This will make for a lighter loaf.
- When the steam that has settled on the loaf/loaves re-evaporates, it cools the surface of the bread, which allows enzymes some additional time to keep doing their magic before they deactivate from the heat. The enzymes break down long-chain carbohydrates into simple sugars, and this makes for caramelisation, which means added sweetness, a more complex flavour and a beautiful brown colour.
Because of the darkened colour of the loaf due to the second effect, the bread absorbs more heat, becoming darker still and drying out. Note that this effect is only applicable in the early stages of baking; injecting steam into the oven at later stages would just re-moisten the bread.
Fat is usually the main contributor of flavor in most baked goods. Lean breads, however, only consist of flour, water, a leavening culture that includes yeast, and salt. Flour and water are almost flavorless by themselves. Yet, when they are combined together along with the benefit of a little time, they prove that the whole is greater than its parts. Over 70% of flour content is starch, which is a complex carbohydrate. The rest is mostly protein.
There are two main types of protein that are helpful in bread baking:
- Gluten proteins, gliadin and glutenin, are instrumental in building texture and structure.
- Enzymes are responsible for breaking down starch into simple sugars. Grains produce more of these enzymes if they are allowed to sprout before being ground.
Yeast, a one-cell microorganism, feeds on some of these simple sugars, and releases carbon dioxide along with alcohol. The end result of this reaction is a desirable leavening effect.
Sourdough breads use a culture with lactobacilli (the type of bacteria used to make yogurt), as well as yeast. These bacteria produce enzymes of their own, which help the yeast gain access to the complex carbohydrates in the flour. Aside from aiding fermentation, the bacteria produce acetic acid, which adds a sour taste.
Adjusting the time and temperature of fermentation can give control over the relative amounts of simple sugars, aclohol, and acid in the finished bread. Baking generally browns the crust of the bread, giving it a caramelized taste. These all contribute to the taste, but the most distinctive aromas in bread come from strong-smelling waste products of the yeast.
Active dry yeast is from a strain that has been bred to reliably leaven bread under a wide range of conditions, but different strains can smell very different. The more traditional leavening cultures have often been bred for flavor over the course of hundreds or thousands of years. A huge variety of such cultures exist, since different regions and often individual villages have historically developed their own distinctive tastes in bread.
Flavor development occurs mostly during primary fermentation. This is an adequate amount of resting time. During this time, bread dough also rises as a result of carbon dioxide production from yeast and gluten development from gliadin and glutenin.
Bread going stale is not just a matter of it drying out, although this is a part of the problem. The main reason for staling is the crystallisation of the starch molecules within bread, whereby the molecules lock together. This crystallisation takes time, so the longer the bread sits out, the more that it occurs, and the harder the bread gets.
Moisture in bread sits between the starch molecules, inhibitting the crystallisation process. Evaporation of this moisture therefore contributes to a speedier staling. Evaporation occurs more quickly in loaves with more surface area, which is why baguettes are known for going stale so quickly, and why a big thick loaf can sit on your counter for a day or two and still be edible. Addition of fats to the recipe (butter, shortening, etc.) can delay the staling effect.
There are many ways to recycle bread that has gone stale, including bread puddings, bread porridge, dressing, croutons, and kvas.
For a complete index of bread recipes in the cookbook, see Category:Bread recipes or browse below:
External links and referencesEdit
- Visit , one of many websites dedicated to bread recipes.
- For information on the history of bread visit  or try the books History of Bread by Bernard Dupaigne and Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History by H.E. Jacob.
- Deutsche Welle English: “Baking Bread: What bread reveals about the EU”—a series of articles exploring national bread recipes from across the European Union and how bread relates to cuisine and culture.