Cookbook:Flavor in Lean Breads

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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.

  1. Gluten proteins, gliadin and glutenin, are instrumental in building texture and structure.
  2. 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.

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