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.