A Beginner’s Guide To Bread Making

15th August 2016

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There’s something about having warm, fresh bread from the oven – the smell, the soft inside, the crunchy crust! And when your hands made it, it tastes that much better. It’s the best!

The beauty of bread is that you don’t need that much to get started. In my pastry course, we made every bread by hand. Sure, a mixer and dough hook make things easier, but it’s just as simple to make by hand. All you really need are your ingredients, scale, a bowl, baking sheet, and a scraper (both plastic and metal are helpful in their own ways!). 

We recommend starting your bread journey with a reputable recipe. But here’s some info to help you understand the components: Let’s start with flour. A strong white flour (bread flour) has 12-17% protein content, a medium flour has 11% (your typical all purpose flour has 10-12%), soft/cake flour has between 7-9% and wholemeal flour has 11-15% protein content. The protein content of the flour contributes to the mixing time, dough hydration and the final characteristics of the product.

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Since strong white flour has a higher protein content than soft white flour, it also has a higher gluten content. Gluten helps trap gas generated by the fermentation process and holds it in giving the dough structure and causing it to rise.

Next up, yeast. For fermentation to occur, yeast needs glucose. Simple sugars and carbohydrates are converted to glucose by enzymes found naturally in flour. Yeast requires four elements – time, warmth, moisture and food. The optimum fermentation range is 21-27 degrees Celsius / 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Salt has a number of functions in bread. It helps with flavour, increases the colour of the crust, retains moisture in the dough, strengthens the gluten and prevents excess tearing and helps control the rate of yeast fermentation. The activity of yeast is retarded by salt. Salt is usually added to dough at a 1.5-2% ratio to the weight of flour.

Finally, we have water. Water is the second most important ingredient, after flour, as it creates a humid environment for development. Water hydrates insoluble wheat proteins that form gluten. Water also dissolves salt, sugar, and other soluble proteins that help create an elastic and soft dough. The water content will vary based on the flour absorption rate.

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Outside of the big four, we’ve got other enriching ingredients (fat, milk, eggs, spices) that can be added to increase the food value, add flavour, create a softer crumb and improves shelf life. When you have an enriched dough, the fermentation process is slower and the resulting dough will be softer.

Making the Dough:

First Kneading, #1: the first kneading dough helps unwind the gluten proteins by breaking the bonds, which line up to form a strong network. The goal is strong, elastic dough so it can trap the air bubbles without breaking due to its strength and allow bubbles to expand during baking due to elasticity. During the initial kneading, some of the intramolecular loops are preserved to help give the dough elasticity, and intramolecular loops are unique to gluten, which makes gluten-free bread more challenging (cakes are much easier for GF due to the proteins in eggs).

First Kneading, #2: the addition of salt helps protein network by using it’s charged ions to favour the attraction of proteins to each other to form a protein network.

Fermentation: once elastic, dough is left in a bowl (covered) to double in size. This increase in size as yeast produces CO2 and the bubbles remain trapped in the protein network.

The most effective fermentation temperature is 27 degrees Celsius, as the volume is increased faster, but the best flavour is produced in cooler temps.

Second Kneading: this step allows the incorporation and even distribution of air into the dough, helping to distribute the yeast cells evenly. This is when the dough is divided to make a loaf (the recipe I use yields two loaves, or shaped to make rolls).

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Second Fermentation: this is the final step before baking. Once shaped, the dough will again double in size.

Baking: In the first 10 minutes of baking, the dough will expand greatly and high temperatures strengthen the protein network from kneading making temperature very important for the baking of bread. 

The crust of the bread gets its nice colour from non-enzymatic browning, otherwise known as the Maillard reaction. This reaction begins to occur at temperatures greater than 100 degrees Celsius.

Learning more about the science and molecular structures behind bread baking can create some unique and interesting combinations. Maybe if we all do it together, it’ll be less confusing, eh? 😉

Check out Beth’s super simple recipes for Pain de Mie and White Rolls on her SORTEDfood profile! 

Beth, originally from Atlanta GA, quit her job to follow her dream. She took a year-long round the world trip with her best friend then decided to pursue her passion for baking and attend culinary school in London. Now a pastry chef in Los Angeles and a food writer, her travels are focused on exploring pastries around the world which she documents on her blog: Recipe For Adventures. Catch her on Instagram, Facebook and SORTEDfood.

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