When it comes to baking bread, selecting the right ingredients is paramount. Each ingredient plays a crucial role in the final product’s texture, flavor, and overall quality. Whether you’re a seasoned baker or just starting, understanding the importance of ingredient selection is essential. This article will guide you through the key elements to consider when choosing ingredients for baking delicious, homemade bread. Baking bread is most successfully completed with the freshest, highest quality ingredients available. The basis of most bread recipes is a mixture of flour, water, yeast, and salt. Everything else enhances the flavor and differentiates between one delectable loaf and another. When baking a loaf of bread, every ingredient is important. You must always be aware of the quality of each ingredient and how it will affect your recipe.
Flour is the basis of bread. There are breads without yeast, sugar, and even salt, but there is not bread without flour. Flour is any milled cereal grain (or occasionally ground nut meal), but the most common flour used in bread baking is wheat flour. Wheat flour comes in many different varieties such as all-purpose flour, bread flour, and whole wheat flour.
Always use the type of flour that the recipe calls for. Every type of flour behaves differently when combined with different ingredients and under different circumstances. Do not pack the flour into the measuring cup. Spoon the flour into the cup and scrape the top with a butter knife or spatula to level the flour. If you use the cup as a scoop it will pack the flour causing you to use more flour than the recipe intended. Too much flour creates hard, dense cookies.
All-purpose flour is a finely milled flour made from the internal part of the kernel which contains neither the bran nor the germ. It is a blend of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat. All-purpose flour is the most common flour used in bread baking. It is easily manipulated and incorporated. It comes in two varieties: bleached ad unbleached. The choice to use one or the other is generally up to the personal preference of the baker as they tend to act the same in recipes. Flour can be bleached naturally over time or chemically.
Some recipes call for a special flour known as bread flour. Bread flour is over 99% hard-wheat flour with a small amount of malted barley flour and Vitamin C or potassium bromate.
Whole Wheat Flour:
Whole wheat flour contains the wheat germ which gives it a fuller flavor and a higher nutritional and fat content. Many delicious breads are made with whole wheat flour.
Yeast and Yeast Storage:
Baker’s yeast is made up on many tiny living organisms that convert fermentable sugars in the dough into carbon dioxide and ethanol. It is a common leavening agent used in bread baking and causes the dough to rise and become more airy and less dense; therefore, it is crucial that yeast is fresh or it will not work. In other words, if the yeast has died it will no longer activate the sugars and cause the dough to rise. There are two types of yeast used for bread baking. These are dry yeast and cake yeast.
Dry yeast generally has a “Best if Used By” date stamped on the package that is two years from the time it was originally packaged. Do not use yeast if this date has passed. Unopened dry yeast should be stored in in a cool, dark place but does not have to be refrigerated or frozen. After opening, dry yeast can last up to four months in a refrigerator or 6 months if frozen.
Cake yeast is sold in moist blocks and is much more perishable than dry yeast. Cake yeast is also stamped with a “Best if Used by Date” and must be stored in a refrigerator that is set below 45* F. it should always tightly sealed and never frozen.
Again, like flour, use the sugar that is called for. Sugar helps to activate the yeast. When the yeast is added to warm water and mixed with sugar, it devours the sugars and converts them into ethanol and carbon dioxide which allows for the yeast to activate and rise. Honey can also be used to the same purpose in some recipes.
Always use fresh eggs. Look at the expiration date before each use. If the recipe calls for large eggs, do not use small eggs. The difference in size will disrupt the balance between dry ingredients and wet ingredients. Generally, it is a good idea to place the eggs that you will use in your recipe in a bowl on the counter an hour or two before use so they reach room temperature. Not as much air will be allowed into the mixture if you beat cold eggs.
Honey acts as a yeast activator in the same way that sugar does. As with the other ingredients, always use the honey specified in the recipe. If no particular kind is specified, then there are many options to choose from. Some honeys, such as those gathered from bees feeding from particular wildflowers or fruits, will have a very strong flavor. These can either add or detract from the final flavor of a loaf of bread.
Use unsalted or salted depending on the recipe instructions. If it does not specify, use unsalted butter, but do not remove any of the extra salt from the recipe. Never place your butter in the microwave as it will heat unevenly and will, most likely, melt more than desired. If you do not have an hour lead time to place butter on the counter, then cut it into small cubes or use a cheese grated to grate it into small pieces before allowing it to sit on the counter to warm. Most recipes will specify the texture and warmth of the butter desired.
Room Temperature Butter – This butter will leave a finger indentation when pressed. It is pliable but easily picked up and moved. Allow cold butter to sit out of the refrigerator for at least one hour to achieve this butter texture and temperature.
Softened Butter – This type of butter is softer than room temperature butter: more slick and greasy. You will still be able to move it with your hands.
Soft Butter –This type is too soft to move with your hands, but it will not be fully melted.
Melted Butter – Fully melted butter (in liquid state) is relatively rare for cookie baking. In order to achieve fully melted butter, it is fine to use the microwave or sauce pan.
Salt is an important ingredient in bread baking.Never remove the salt from the recipe. The salt helps to bring out the other flavors in the recipe and works with the baking soda (in quick breads) for proper rise.
If you can afford the organic, local variety then go with it. This is especially true with eggs, butter, and honey. Local and organic choices are generally fresher; therefore, they improve the overall flavor and texture of the bread. They are also less processed and tend to have fuller flavor and body.