Bread is prepared by baking a dough made of flour (ground grain) and water, and often other ingredients. It may be leavened or unleavened. Salt, fat and a leavening agent such as yeast are common ingredients, though breads may contain a range of other ingredients.
The term "bread" is generally assumed to mean a bread made with yeast. Other times it refers to quickbreads (raised with something other than yeast, commonly baking powder) and flatbreads (not raised at all).
There are many types of bread. Each type of bread has its own history, style, and of course taste. The more you experiment with different types of bread, the better you will be at creating new and interesting recipes.
For a list of bread recipes, see WikiBooks' Bread Recipes.
- 1 History
- 2 Composition
- 3 Preparation
- 4 Going Stale
- 5 See Also
- 6 External Links and References
Bread originated in ancient Egypt where grain was crushed, or sometimes chewed, to create a flat-bread with several varieties becoming available as the dish grew in popularity. Greece, and later Rome, Italy, would come to adopt this method of production and spread the dish across the Western world, adding their own variations. Bread has become important both within individual families and across entire cultures. It is now an integrated part of most people's lives, as reflected by the vast array of recipes becoming available.
The amount of water and flour used in a bread are the most significant measurements, because these two ingredients affect texture and crumb the most. With regards to measuring ingredients, weight, instead of volume, is used as the measure. Taking the amount of flour to be 100 percent, common North American table bread uses approximately 50 percent water, resulting in a finely-textured, light bread. Most artisan bread formulas contain anywhere from 60 to 75 percent water. In yeast breads, the higher water percentages result in more CO2 bubbles, and a coarser bread crumb. One pound (500 g) of flour will yield a standard loaf of bread, or two French loaves.
Water, or some other liquid, is used to form the flour into a paste or dough. The volume of liquid required varies between recipes, but a ratio of 1 part liquid to 3 parts flour is common for yeast breads, while recipes that use steam as the primary leavening method may have a liquid content in excess of one part liquid to one part flour by volume. In addition to water, other types of liquids that may be used include dairy products, fruit juices, or beer. In addition to the water in each of these, they also contribute additional sweeteners, fats, and/or leavening components.
Types of flour
Wheat flour is the most popular flour to use in bread, because wheat has many qualities that contribute to a good loaf. White flour, the refined flour made from wheat, is used more frequently than its unrefined and more nutritious counterpart, whole wheat flour.
Using a mixture of different flours can make an interesting loaf of bread.
Sometimes liquids other than water, or in addition to water, are used to form the flour into a paste or dough. These other liquids include dairy products (milk or cream), fruit juices, and beer. In addition to the water in each of these, these other liquids can alter or add sweetness, fat and/or leavening to the bread.
Leavening is the process of adding gas to a dough before or during baking to produce a lighter, more easily chewed bread. Yeast, baking soda an acidic ingredient like buttermilk to activate the soda), baking powder, steam and beer are the most common leavening agents for bread.
The majority of breads are leavened by yeast. Most bakers in North America leaven their dough with commercially produced baker's yeast. Baker's yeast has the advantage of producing uniform, quick, and reliable results, because it is obtained from a pure culture. Many artisan bakers produce their own yeast by preparing a "growth culture" which they then use in the making of bread. This culture kept in the right conditions will continue to grow and provide leavening for many years.
Yeast and sourdough breads follow the same method of production. First the liquid is mixed with the flour, salt and the leavening agent (baker's yeast or sourdough starter). Other additions (spices, herbs, fats, seeds, fruit, etc.) are not necessary to bake bread, but often used to enhance flavors. The mixed dough is then allowed to rise one or more times, because a longer rising time results in more flavor. So, bakers often punch down the dough and let it rise again. Then loaves are formed, and then the loaves are allowed time to rise a final time. Finally,the bread is baked in an oven.
Once the basic ingredients have been considered for a loaf, a lot of the experimentation comes in the extra additions to a loaf. There is a variety of different types of food to consider adding.
Nuts and Seeds
Adding nuts and seeds can instill into your loaf both extra nutrition and variety in taste and texture.
Grinding the nuts or seeds, at least partially, can aid in digestion, provide a smoother consistency to the bread, and allow the dough to hold its form better. Note that flaxseeds especially should be ground, because the human digestion system cannot break them down adequately for maximum nutritional absorption.
Some fruit, such as raisins, cranberries or dried apricots, may be found enjoyable in a loaf, especially a sweeter loaf.
Cheese in bread is a popular addition. The cheese may be mixed in directly with the dough, or rolled in during the final shaping stages.
Herbs and Spices
Adding different herbs and spices can change how a loaf is perceived dramatically. Consider the difference between a loaf with fresh oregano versus a loaf with fennel seed.
Creating the Dough
The basic procedure for creating bread dough is mixing the flour, water and any other ingredients together until a smooth dough is formed. The dough is then usually left to rest for 20 or 30 minutes; this period is called the autolyse. Then the dough is kneaded for 5 to 10 minutes, until the dough feels well-developed and elastic (knowing when it is done comes with practice).
If milk is being used as one of the 'other ingredients' in the bread dough, it is interesting to note that bakers will often scald the milk first. It is thought that the scalding, by unfolding some of the milk's protein strands, helps to give a better texture, crumb and flavour to the bread.
Bread can be shaped into a multitude of shapes/styles. The following techniques are used to achieve the desired shape of a loaf: stretching, rolling out (with a rolling pin), rolling up (from a flat shape, to one that looks like a spiral from the side) and/or folding.
The tops of loaves are often scored with a knife to make hash marks prior to baking.
Rising bread allows pockets of gas to form throughout, producing a lighter, more easily-chewed bread.
The traditional way to rise bread is by placing the dough into a moderately warm environment, with enough space to allow it to double in size. A good environment for rising bread is an oven; turning the oven on to a low setting for a few minutes prior to putting the dough in will encourage better leavening (but remember to turn the oven off for when the dough is in!). The dough should either be covered with a tea towel, or with a light coating of oil, in order to prevent its surface from drying out.
Nowadays, many commercial bread producers have proofer systems. These ensure an optimum environment for bread to rise.
The types of garnishes that can be applied to a loaf are as varied as the options available for ingredients that can go into a loaf; here are a few:
- Sesame seeds: provide visual enhancement, added texture and taste
- Poppy seeds: provide visual enhancement, added texture and taste
- Herbs and spices
- Coarse sea salt
- Diced garlic and/or onion
Some garnishes will stick better by doing the following: after the second rising, and before the bread goes into the oven to bake, paint the top of the bread with oil, milk or an egg white, then carefully apply the desired garnish(es) on top.
Bread is usually baked in an oven with heat ranging from 375°F to 425°F (190 - 218°C).
Sometimes steam is injected into an oven while bread is baking, most notably in the making of baguettes. Rather counter-intuitively, this procedure helps to make a bread crust crispy. When steam is released into a hot oven, with no place to escape, some of it settles onto the surface of the loaf/loaves and has two interesting effects:
- The surface is kept moist and stretchy at first by the steam, which allows the bread to expand. This will make for a lighter loaf.
- When the steam that has settled on the loaf/loaves re-evaporates, it cools the surface of the bread, which allows enzymes some additional time to keep doing their magic before they deactivate from the heat. The enzymes break down long-chain carbohydrates into simple sugars, and this makes for caramelisation, which means added sweetness, a more complex flavour and a beautiful brown colour.
Because of the darkened colour of the loaf due to the second effect, the bread absorbs more heat, becoming darker still and drying out. So, finally we have the answer to how steam makes a crust crisp. Note though that this effect is only applicable in the early stages of baking. Injecting steam into the oven at later stages would re-moisten the bread.
Bread going stale is not just a matter of it drying out, although this is a part of the problem. The main reason for staling is the crystallisation of the starch molecules within bread, whereby the molecules lock together. This crystallisation takes time, so the longer the bread sits out, the more that it occurs, and the harder the bread gets.
Moisture in bread sits between the starch molecules, inhibitting the crystallisation process. Evaporation of this moisture therefore contributes to a speedier staling. Evaporation occurs more quickly in loaves with more surface area, which is why baguettes are known for going stale so quickly, and why a big thick loaf can sit on your counter for a day or two and still be edible.
Addition of fats to the recipe (butter, shortening, etc.) can delay the staling effect.
External Links and References
Visit , one of many websites dedicated to bread recipes.
For information on the history of bread visit  or try the books History of Bread by Bernard Dupaigne and Six Thousand Years of Bread: Its Holy and Unholy History by H.E. Jacob.