Making Bread at Home II
When we last visited this subject, I showed you how to bake whole wheat bread at home. Today, as promised, we will be visiting some of the science behind baking. It'll hold you over for the Homemade Corn Bread and Earl Grey bread being featured this Saturday. Warning: CONTAINS SCIENCE
I'd like to take a moment to talk about baking ratios. I, embarrassingly, first became aware of baking ratios only a couple of years ago when I stumbled across another blog: A Tuscan foodie in America. After becoming aware, however, I found myself in a seemingly endless expanse of possibilities and found a nifty new foodie high: being free from strict recipes.
For my purposes though, this chart perfectly demonstrates the science (chemistry) that baking is. The difference in how you combine your ingredients can give a variety of results- as best seen here in creating a pound cake vs. a sponge cake. To create the light, soft texture of a sponge cake we whip our eggs and sugar first before adding other ingredients. We are using identical ingredients, but using alternate ratios and adding ingredients at alternate times creates elementary reactions which influence the final result.
Although the basics are correct: you can certainly create a bread from bread, water, salt and yeast using yeast as your only leavening (an ingredient which is used to add softness and 'fluff') agent, you may not be planning on baking a dense bread or an un-leavened bread such as matzah.
For best results, additional leavening agents should be added. The foremost example I can think of is baking powder. Baking powder uses moisture and heat to react and create gas ie: bubbles. You can achieve a similar effect by beating your egg whites (superficially adding bubbles) and adding them separately rather as a whole egg.. but this effect will likely not last through the process of kneading and rise time indicative of most breads.
A common, and incorrect, inclusion to leavening agents is vital wheat gluten. This additive can help your bread to rise, but cannot do so on its own. Were we to only use this alone, we will likely bake a very chewy loaf of bread. As an example: when I make whole wheat bread, I use both baking powder and vital wheat gluten to improve the overall texture and reduce density.
So let go of your cherished recipe box for a moment and allow yourself the freedom of experimentation. Remember, it's OK to fail, that's the only way we learn to do better next time.
Questions? Send an email or leave a comment in the section below.
~DIY Spice ~
*You can also purchase a rather elegant version of the ratio chart for $20 from Ruhlman's website.