Appreciating Bread

When I was a child the world was much different in many ways. For one thing, we lived in a neighborhood that had a corner grocery store, a fresh poultry shop, a butcher, and a scratch bakery all within a four-block radius. In the early morning the smell of baking bread would blanket the neighborhood like an invisible fog of what heaven might smell like. To this day that smell of freshly baked bread brings a smile to my face. And like Dudley Do Right’s Faithful Dog, Muttley, I feel as if I am levitating after getting a whiff of that smell.

Bread has been a basic food staple that has sustained mankind for centuries. Bread is made from four basic ingredients, flour, water, yeast, and salt. Yet how any different types of bread can you think of off the top of your head? Plenty. Why? Because in order to produce a nice loaf of bread there are complex and precise processes that are at work.

As simple as it may seem there are so many elements involved in making bread. To master it, you would have to spend most, if not all, of your time exploring it. But to enjoy it just takes a little effort and a bit of time.

I thought it would be better to break down the elements of making bread into smaller segments to make it easier to refer to and to understand. You can click on the bread link in the tag section on the blog to see all posts on bread making. Just check in from time to time for updates. Your feedback is much appreciated.

Lets begin by getting some of the science down first. There are two major reactions that take place in making bread. Yeast production and gluten development.

Yeast is a naturally occurring single celled fungus. Its primary function is gas production. This is the process of fermentation. As the yeast consumes the sugars in the flour, it generates alcohol, and releases carbon dioxide. The gas released acts as the leavening agent that causes the dough to rise and expand. It also adds flavor to the bread. We know this by smelling the fermenting dough. It is also good to note that the longer the dough is allowed to proof the more flavor it will develop. Retarding the dough by proofing it in a cooler environment will slow down the process allowing it to develop for a longer time. You can experiment with this, but by follow the formula for the first time you make it will give you a base product to compare to. The dough temperature, moisture, and sugar (food) need to be controlled to maintain the prober balance needed for yeast production. In a warmer temperatures between (29°C/85°F to 35°C/95°F) the faster it multiplies. In cooler temperatures below (16°C/60°F) it slows down. It will die in temperatures above (46°C/145°F).

There are hundreds of yeast species. But the most common yeast used in baking is Saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker’s or brewer’s yeast) because productivity in the formation of gas. It is available in several forms for the home baker for specific uses. Always use the yeast listed in the formula for best results.

Gluten gives strength and structure. Gluten development occurs during hydration. Gluten is a protein found in flour made up of two partial proteins called glutenin and gliadin. Water acts as a catalyst in joining them to form strong unified links that become gluten. Kneading and folding helps increase the gluten by maximizing hydration and distribution of water throughout the mixture. Glutenin gives the dough its elastic properties while gliadin affects the dough’s volume. Because of gluten, the dough becomes pliable enough to trap the escaping gasses produced by fermentation. This causes the dough to rise giving bread some of its qualities.

Salt is added for several reasons. It helps control gluten development by strengthening the gluten structure making it more elastic. It aids in restraining yeast growth regulating fermentation and preventing the development of unfavorable wild yeast present in the environment. And it adds flavor.

Now that we have a basic understanding some of the processes that are involved in bread making we can take a look at the twelve steps in the bread making process and the seven steps in baking.

Remember, “Life is as sweet as you make it.”

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