Learn the science behind:
The Science of Bread
You can spend a life time studying the science behind bread, if not several lifetimes. From optimizing a sourdough, to understanding gluten, and perfecting your grain mix. There are so many different aspects to bread that will keep you going for some time to come.
Not willing to dedicate your whole life to bread? But do want an overview of the science behind bread? Then you’re in the right spot. Here we’ve gathered all of our bread science related articles, giving you a pretty decent picture of the science of bread.
Bread starts out as simple ingredients that transform in a hearty loaf, or buttery flatbread once they’ve been put together. The choice of ingredients can be overwhelming, so we’ve grouped them, giving you the chance to learn about each one one by one.
The role of flour, water, yeast, and salt in lean breads
To make a fluffy bread all you need are flour, water, yeast and salt. Together, they can be made into a wide range of breads. Flour adds structure, water enables interaction between all ingredients, yeast gives a bread its lift and salt adds flavor and more.
Choosing the right type of flour
Even within the world of just wheat flours there are countless of products to choose from. They differ in how they’ve been processed but also in the type of wheat they’ve been made from. Generally speaking, breads require flours with higher protein content. Both white as well as whole wheat flours will work well.
Why whole wheat bread can be hard to make
White flour tends to be the easiest and most forgiving wheat flour to work with. However, bread made with whole wheat flour have a more complex flavor profile and contain more fibers. They do have a tendency to make stiff, dry breads, so may need a little extra practice to get perfect.
Even though wheat flour is the most commonly used flour to make bread, it surely isn’t the only one! There are countless other flours that can be used, either by themselves or in tandem with wheat flour. Buckwheat is just one example. It adds a nutty flavor to the bread, but still needs the help of wheat flour to create a light and airy structure.
Creating a gluten network for airness
One of the reasons wheat flours work so well in bread is the ability of its proteins to form a flexible gluten network. Thus allows a dough to expand during proofing and hold onto gas bubbles, which again provide airiness to the bread. Controlling and managing gluten is crucial for making many breads.
The role of fat, eggs, milk and sugar in enriched breads
Make fancier breads by expanding your ingredient range. Fat especially has a big impact on bread, making it softer and more tender. Sugar sweetens a bread but too much can kill yeast or burn your bread.
Using enzymes to bake batter bread
Enzymes are naturally present in flour and they help convert starch into sugars for the yeast. However, you can help your bread along by adding some extra enzymes yourselves.
Using (non)diastatic malt powder
Most home bakers might not use pure enzymes in their bread. However, diastatic malt powder is more commonly used. This powder also uses the power of enzymes to add flavor and color to your bread.
But just ingredients don’t make a bread. It’s all about putting them together in the right way to actually make delicious bread. Again, there are countless ways to do so. Here we’ll highlight some commonly used steps and processes.
Overview of steps to make bread
Most breads are made with a very similar series of steps. Sometimes you may leave some out and add others. But once you get the hang of these core steps, you’re good to go.
One of those extra steps you can add is to make a poolish. To make a poolish you simply mix water, flour and yeast and leave it to rest for some time before adding it to the rest of the dough. It can improve the texture and flavor of bread.
A simple way to bake bread: the LoafNest
Bread making can be very simple, requiring just a bowl and a pan to bake it in, no fancy mixing equipment.
Making and maintaining a sourdough starter
Up for a challenge? Making sourdough breads definitely requires some more practice and patience than one using ‘regular’ yeast. However, it does allow for making a more complex range of breads with deeper flavor profiles. The key to making sourdough is to get that starter going.
Storing a sourdough starter for months
Maintaining a sourdough starter requires regular care and feeding. If you don’t want to loose your starter, but simply don’t have the time to maintain it now, there is a simple way to dry and store your starter for months. Whenever you’re ready to bake sourdough again, you’ll simply have to revive and you’re set to go!
A special step: boiling the bread before baking to make bagels
Most breads are simply baked in the oven. However, to make bagels an additional step is introduced. Bagels are boiled before baking. This is a crucial step to make that chewy texture bagels are known for.
Most breads aren’t just a hump of dough baked on a hot surface. They might be delicately braided, folded, rounded, or shaped in anothe rway. Shaping helps a dough proof evenly and gives breads a nice visual appeal.
To add to the complexity of bread, you can add a wide range of fillings. How you add that filling can again influence you’d want to shape the bread, to showcase and highlight the ingredients.
If you can find a way to keep freshly made bread fresh, crunchy and moist for days, if not weeks, you’ll have found a holy grail many of us have been looking for. Storing bread is not easy. By its nature, it quickly turns stale or even moldy, unless preservatives or other additional ingredients are added. The best way for now: store your bread in the freezer, it maintains the quality of bread best.
Right after leaving the oven, bread starts turning less fresh. Starch granules in the bread will retrograde, causing the bread to turn stale. Additional loss of moisture can make the bread turn dry, worsening the quality. The good news: a little bit of heat can reverse the process
Stale bread works great in French toast
Stale bread is generally still safe to eat, and a little extra moisture and heat can upgrade it into something delicious. French toast as a matter of fact is best made with slightly stale bread, it will absorb the egg mix better.
Even though stale bread can be made fresh (or used in another preparation) there’s no saving moldy bread. So, best to prevent it from happening altogether. Don’t store bread in a plastic bag in hot humid weather.
Bread styles & recipes
Let’s bring all of this bread science knowledge together to start baking bread. Here you’ll find a collection of recipes on a variety of different types of bread.
Pita Bread – a fluffy flat bread
A simple, but delicious flatbread, with origins in Greece and the Middle East.
Made with just two ingredients, wheat flour and water this bread is a staple in major parts of the world.
Not unsimilar to pita, but with a few little twists that make it yet again different.
another flatbread style bread, baked on a griddle.
A filled, enriched bread with a rich history and a lot of freedom in the types of fillings you’d like to use.
Dutch sausage rolls (worstenbroodjes)
A staple in the south of the Netherlands and northern Belgium: worstenbroodjes. These rolls filled with a minced meat mixture can be found at every local bakery.
One of my all time favorite breads to eat, but a little bit of an effort to make: paratha. This layered, buttery flatbread is delicious, just by itself.
A layered thin flatbread from Morocco, scrumptious as well!
Looking for books on bread or want to look at bread through the lens of history? Then we’ve got a few additional recommendations for you!
A great book to start out with if you’re relatively new to the world of bread baking.
Cereal scientists have published facts backed by research suggesting that timing and ordering in which ingredients are mixed, do have an effect on the end results when making bread. It is claimed that, for example, dough optimum mixing time could be reduced when ingredients such as fat and salt are added at a particular time when the gluten would have developed most optimally. On the net, however, this is a fact rarely being given serious thought in the kitchen. What’s FoidCrumbles position on the matter?
I think that in most kitchens, these minor differences are ‘hidden’ by bigger uncontrolled fluctuations in other parameters. I do think that under well controlled, highly consistent circumstances you will see differences, but that’s not the reality for most smaller scale bakers. What do you think?