Breadmaking – The Art of Cooking a Mixture of Flour and Leavening Agents

Breadmaking is the art of cooking a mixture of flour and leavening agents. It s a simple process that makes an incredible product.

Start with 3 cups of flour – use plain or bread flour, unbleached and organic, if possible. Add a pinch of sugar and yeast to warm water. Allow to sit until frothy and bubbly – this is called proofing.

Yeast

Bread rises when yeast metabolizes starches in flour to produce carbon dioxide and other gases. The air bubbles trapped in elastic gluten are what gives bread its soft texture and characteristic fermentation flavor.

Yeast has been used by humans for thousands of years, with grinding stones and baking chambers found in Egyptian ruins. It wasn’t until 1680 that Anton van Leeuwenhoek looked at yeast under a microscope and recognized it as a living organism.

Yeast also gets involved in other chemical reactions during baking, such as the Maillard reaction between sugars and amino acids, which produces a spectrum of flavors that contribute to bread’s distinctive aroma. Yeast also contains vitamin B and phytosterols, which help lower cholesterol and strengthen the immune system.

Flour

Flour is a key ingredient in bread making. When the flour is mixed and kneaded, gluten strands are elongated to create a network that gives structure to dough.

Different types of flour are available, each with different protein content and characteristics. High-protein wheats provide stronger doughs that can hold their shape, which is desirable for bread and yeasted products but undesirable for tender crumb products such as muffins or biscuits.

Flour can also be made from other grains such as rye, corn or rice. However recipes that call for these specialty flours usually still use a significant amount of wheat flour in the recipe.

Water

Water is a key ingredient in breadmaking. Its functions in breadmaking range from hydration and dough development to final product eating and keeping quality. Yet bakers sometimes underestimate its role in their products.

It hydrates starch particles to begin dough formation and binds them to proteins, forming gluten, which gives bread its structure. It also helps to dissolve salt and other ingredients. However, it is important that it does not contain minerals that interfere with yeast activity or alter the dough’s elasticity. Ideally, bakers should use medium-hard water that has 100 to 150 parts per million of minerals. It is best if this water is cold and non-chlorinated.

Salt

Salt tightens the gluten structure, which gives strength to the dough and allows it to efficiently hold carbon dioxide created during yeast fermentation. Without this the dough would be slack and sticky, work-up difficult, and bread volume poor.

Salt also helps to control the yeast fermentation by drawing water from the cells of the yeast through a process called osmosis. This slows down the fermentation and prevents it from over fermenting and destroying the enzymes that are essential for good bread.

Salt also contributes to the crumb colour by promoting the Maillard reaction and the caramelisation of sugars that produce dark crusts. This is important for breads made with high proportions of grains and seeds.

Sugar

Sugar is a key ingredient in most baked goods and plays many important roles. From enhancing shelf life and texture to browning and taste, it adds more than just sweetness to foods.

Sugar binds to water molecules, slowing the loss of moisture from baked products. This helps bread stay soft and pliable longer, preventing staleness.

Sugar also enables yeast to feed and produce carbon dioxide more quickly, contributing to a faster rise. This is because sugar provides an easier food source for the yeast, allowing them to work more efficiently. However, adding too much sugar can actually slow down fermentation by drawing too much water from the yeast cells.

Heat

Bakers typically make bread with a mix of wheat flour, rye flour or other finely ground meal, water, and leavening agent. Many recipes also include add-ins like fruit, nuts and seeds for flavor, heft, and texture.

During the dough mixing process, it is very important that the temperature of the water is controlled to within a range that suits bakers’ needs. A water temperature that is too hot or too cold can have consequences downstream in the dough’s fermentation and rheological properties.

Baking at optimal temperatures helps achieve an attractive crust and good oven spring. Injecting steam into the oven helps to maintain these characteristics during baking.

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