Dec 23 2007

If cooking is an art, baking is a science..

…quote from a King Arthur Flour catalog

The quote fit, since here’s where I get into the geeky, fun part of baking. The tweaking of the forumla that creates a basic bread to get what you want. Any loaf of bread can be made out of simply water, flour and salt, if you have enough time. The fun comes in turning those basic ingredients into the best loaf of bread ever, and understanding the science behind why each ingredient does what it does. I’ll leave the science out, but here are some good ingredient tips for any baker who wants to start playing with bread.

Don’t play until you are satisfied with a basic white and a basic wheat. Only then should you mess with ingredients, primarily by replacing one at a time to see what changes. Once you have THAT down – go nuts. :)

Part one of two of BamBam’s Bread tips. This had been intended for one entry, but, well, I rambled. Fancy that, me rambling.

– Yeast: Bread will not rise without something to start the process. Quick breads (carrot bread, etc) use baking soda and salt for this, but what I call “real” bread – the sandwich stuff, the rolls, etc – use yeast. Storebought yeast will never, ever be able to produce the same type of bread that a true starter can, but it is fine to use. Active dry yeast can be stored in the freezer, and if you have the time, it should be proofed – soaked in warm water for 10-15 minutes before you start mixing (unless using a bread machine). Take note, a typical yeast packet contains about 1/2 tsp more yeast then most recipes require.

A starter is live yeast (the frozen stuff is just the live stuff frozen, hence the “active”) that needs to be fed and maintained. It can be fun dealing with a starter, but also requires committment – an out of control starter can overflow a refrigerator, and a dead one can be the stinkiest thing you’ve ever smelled.

Bread can also be made without any starter – my two week amazing bread is an example – but it is using wild yeast picked up in the kitchen. ..and before you say “ew” to that, yeast is naturally in the air, everywhere. San Francisco Sourdough tastes, and acts like San Francisco sourdough because of the natural yeast in the region. One person making the same recipe with a homemade starter in two different parts of the world can end up with a very different bread. I think that’s neat. :)

To answer Dossy’s question from my last entry…I use storebought yeast (Red Star Active Dry) about 75% of the time, and a starter or do the two week thing with the rest. My starter is based on a SF Sourdough freeze-dried thing I reconstituted. I’d had my own back in Virginia, creating a starter really only involves mixing flour and water daily (fairly smelly and sticky flour and water), but it does take a while to get started, and I don’t feel like doing it yet.

– Flour: Another required ingredient. If making sandwiches, use unbleached all-purpose flour, it’ll make the bread a little denser. Use bread flour for fluffier bread. Wheat flour adds flavor, but also density. My favorite wheat bread recipe uses 2 1/2 cups whole wheat to 1/2 cup white bread flour. Nearly every whole wheat bread you buy in the store has some white flour in it, all whole wheat is tricky to do without a massive amount of everything else to make up for it. I’ll get it down some day.

– Sweetener: Not at all required. White sugar and honey are the standard options, but you can use fruit juice, brown sugar, sweetened condensed milk…anything you can think of. You’ll notice the difference in both the taste and crust. If you use real sugar, watch the top, can get very dark and can burn. Splenda is the only artificial sweetener that can be baked, and has no effect on the crust.

– Oil: Not at all required, but unless making french or sourdough bread, it’s probably best to use something, bread without some oil can get a little dense and tough. Oil also adds flavor and fluffiness – use lots of butter in dinner rolls.

– Liquids: Without a doubt, the trickiest part of baking bread is getting the liquid to flour ratio down right. You want your dough to be slightly tacky, but not sticky, and form a ball with a skin over the top that you can stretch, but not rip (the top “skin” helps the dough maintain its shape as it bakes). Bread should always be mixed, kneaded, then checked for consistency before the first rise – if necessary, add flour or water to get the dough to the right state. It is VERY easy to go too far in either direction, but just as easy to fix the problem – add more!

Any liquid added to the bread should be included in the calculation for how much water to use. So, if using an egg, just crack the egg into the measuring cup before measuring the rest of the liquid.

Not sure what’s inspired this need to share baking knowledge, but, it is definately something I enjoy blabbing about.

On to part two!

  • By Alex, August 15, 2008 @ 2:41 am

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

Other Links to this Post

  1. If cooking is an art baking is a science StephanieBamBam net | Cast Iron Cookware — May 26, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

  2. On Serious Baking, and a Whole Wheat-ish Bread Recipe | — March 21, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

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