What really goes in bread making?

Baking a basic bread is fairly simple. You need some flour, some water, some yeast, and optionally..

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What really goes in bread making

Baking a basic bread is fairly simple. You need some flour, some water, some yeast, and optionally some sugar or honey, salt, and oil, butter, or some other fat. But they all play a synergistic role….read on! 

What do those ingredients do, and how much of each do you need? The flour provides the gluten precursors, starch, flavor, and bulk of the bread. Water is necessary to make the gluten and allow the yeast to multiply and produce carbon dioxide gas. The yeast is there to make the carbon dioxide gas so you get a foam instead of a brick.

All the other ingredients are optional. The salt is not there just as a seasoning; it's there to slow down the yeast. If the yeast produces too much gas too fast, faster than the gluten forms, the gas will simply escape as the bubbles pop. But many recipes omit salt. Some of the gas will escape, but these recipes usually call for the size of the bread to double, which will eventually happen with or without salt.

Sugar or honey is often added to feed the yeast. But the yeast will find enough food in the flour without it. It will just grown a little more slowly, which can be a good thing. But if you are making a lot of bread, and start with a small amount of yeast, you can grow the yeast you need in a little sugar water. The amount of sugar or honey is generally so small that it makes little difference to the taste of the bread.

Adding fats like oil, butter, margarine, shortening, lard etc will prevent the gluten from forming large sheets. The fat gets in the way of small sheets joining up, it shortens the strands and sheets of gluten, hence the word shortening. Adding shortening makes the result more cake like and less bread like. Some recipes ask you to oil the outside of a dough to keep it from sticking to pan, fingers and bread boards. Others ask you to paint melted butter on top of the baked loaf to keep the crust from getting dry and hard. Neither of this uses has much or any effect on the interior of the loaf.