Sunday, May 25, 2008

Science of Bread Baking

Every ingredients in the bread recipe are essential. To ensure success each time, do follow the recipe and all the measurements to a T cos baking is a SCIENCE!

If you are like me who seek to understand what each ingredients do in the recipe, this post is for you. Otherwise, just skip and go right to the recipe.

Yeast - This is the ONE essential ingredient that makes the dough rise and gives home-baked bread its wonderful taste and aroma. Other ingredients added to a bread recipe also add flavor.

Flour - When flour is mixed with water or milk, it forms gluten strands. How much gluten can be formed depends on the amount of protein level in the flour. Bread flour has the highest gluten-forming proteins but plain flour works just as well if you do not want to get a new bag of flour for a sudden baking urge.

Recipes with whole wheat flour have less gluten and make denser loaves. That’s why these recipes generally require some bread or all-purpose flour which increases the gluten and makes lighter, taller loaves.

Salt - Salt in a yeast bread recipe slow down the action of yeast and allows it to produce carbon dioxide at a reasonable rate, resulting in a finer textured bread with smaller air cells. This in turn allows for the flavor of the yeast to develop, as well as enhancing it.

Omitting or reducing the amount of salt in yeast dough can cause the dough to rise too quickly, adversely affecting the shape and flavor of bread, as well -- breads without salt tend to have paler crusts and a flat, dull taste.

Salt also adds structure to the dough by strengthening the gluten, which keeps the carbon dioxide bubbles from expanding too rapidly.

Liquid - A typical bread recipe will call for water and/or milk. Liquid stimulates the growth of both the yeast and the development of gluten. It dissolves and activates the yeast, it activates the protein in the wheat flour and blends with it to create a sticky and elastic dough. Some recipes call for liquid to be heated to a certain temperature; this is is to activate yeast. A too-cool liquid will slow or stop yeast action while a too-hot liquid will destroy the yeast and prevent it from rising - so follow instructions!
I usually use instant yeast which does not require activation.

Milk gives bread a more tender crust than water. You can also use milk powder. I like to use fresh milk because I alway have it readily in my fridge for the impromtu yoghurt-making. Whole milk naturally contains both sugar and more fat than other milks and the bread's crust tends to brown more quickly and the loaf has more flavor.

Sugar : Sugar adds flavor and rich brown color to a bread’s crust. Do not use sugar free sweeteners, unless the recipe is written to specifically include them. Sugar free sweeteners contain chemicals that can damage or kill the yeast.

Sugar also add sweetness and helps to create a fine texture and crumb ("tenderizes").

Higher sugar amounts increase the keeping qualities of the bread. This is why commercial products with higher amounts of sugar last longer on the shelf than do homemade breads which have a lower amount.

If too much sugar is added, it slows yeast fermentation. Yeast competes with the sugar for the moisture in the recipe, with the sugar always succeeding taking it away from the yeast. This leaves the yeast cells without sufficient moisture to grow properly. The yeast action becomes sluggish and slow, and the dough doesn't rise as it should. Therefore, sweet breads are usually dense and not as large as sandwich breads.

Eggs : They help make the crumb fine and the crust tender. Eggs also add richness and protein.

Fats : Butter, olive oil and margarine are just some of the fats you can use to make a bread tender and moist; known as shorteners, they help to prevent the formation of excess gluten and increase the keeping qualities of a bread loaf, preventing it from drying out too quickly.

Fats also add flavor and helps to increase loaf volume. Do not use light or tub margarines; if the first ingredient is water they will not work. Do not substitute oil for margarine/shortening unless the recipe calls for it.


monsterbaby said...

Hi Happy Cup, I see u are an expert in bread making. May I ask you a question? Why in some recipes of bread they call for plain flour and other don't? Does the plain flour make the bread more or less dense? Thanks

Cookie said...

Hi Monsterbaby,

I am certainly not an expert... I have my fair share of failures too!

If you refer to the asian recipe, the mixture of 2 flours (bread+ plain) are intended to create a fluffier and lighter texture. Some recipe uses bread + cake flour too.


monsterbaby said...

Hi Cookie,

Thank you, I really appreciate your sharing. No wonder... I keep having those "ang mo" texture kind of bread. I will try making it with the mixture of plain and bread flour. Is that also the reason why bread remain soft even till the next day? My bread turn abit hard the next day (I use total bread flour)

I miss those bread from the neighbourhood shop. I wonder if they use only plain flour. :)

Cookie said...


Bread making is a simple yet complex process. There are many factor to contribute to a soft bread. Having different types of flour is but just 1 small factor. It is also affected by the proofing time, ambient, liquid content, kneading time etc. For an example, using milk instead of water can made the bread softer .

Some recipe that I use will turn hard once it was cold, I mean the same day (like Haha, talk about next day! In those cases, I just blame the recipe =p

Those bread from the shop contains bread improver, emulsifier and stabilization to achieve the texture.

If you like soft bread, try to refer to asian recipe books. Generally, the european prefers chewy bread, so the books are tailored to suit them eating habits. It is also difficult to customise their recipe to suit us.

To make life easier, start with the asian books. Chef Alex Goh is good. Look out for those recipe which uses sponge and dough method (try If you have a stand mixer and dun mind the extra steps, use the recipe here:
- it uses porridge method which yield a much softer texture.

Do not attempt to use more cake/plain flour than it is stated on the book. The bread needs to have sufficient gluten to be good.
You will be surprised that some recipe using 100% bread flour yield really good results!.

You can also try the bread improver (avail from Sun Lik and Phoon Huat). It was meant to make the bread softer too.

Thanks for your patience in going thru my long reply. I am eager to know how your next loave turn out!

Good luck.

monsterbaby said...

hi Happy Cup, Thank you so much for given me such a great insight to the science of making bread. I have yet to try using the mixture of bread and plain flour. I try on that and let you see my work. :) probably this weekend. Once again, thanks so much. :)