Preparation of bread
Doughs are usually baked, but in some cuisines breads are steamed (e.g., mantou), fried (e.g., puri), or baked on an unoiled frying pan (e.g., tortillas). It may be leavened or unleavened (e.g. matzo). Salt, fat and leavening agents such as yeast and baking soda are common ingredients, though bread may contain other ingredients, such as milk, egg, sugar, spice, fruit (such as raisins), vegetables (such as onion), nuts (such as walnut) or seeds (such as poppy).
Professional bread recipes are stated using the baker's percentage notation. The amount of flour is denoted to be 100%, and the other ingredients are expressed as a percentage of that amount by weight. Measurement by weight is more accurate and consistent than measurement by volume, particularly for dry ingredients. The proportion of water to flour is the most important measurement in a bread recipe, as it affects texture and crumb the most. Hard wheat flours absorb about 62% water, while softer wheat flours absorb about 56%. Common table breads made from these doughs result in a finely textured, light bread. Most artisan bread formulas contain anywhere from 60 to 75% water. In yeast breads, the higher water percentages result in more CO2 bubbles and a coarser bread crumb. 500 grams (1 pound) of flour yields a standard loaf of bread or two baguettes.
Flour is grain ground to a powdery consistency. Flour provides the primary structure, starch and protein to the final baked bread. The protein content of the flour is the best indicator of the quality of the bread dough and the finished bread. While bread can be made from all-purpose wheat flour, a specialty bread flour, containing more protein (12–14%), is recommended for high-quality bread. If one uses a flour with a lower protein content (9–11%) to produce bread, a shorter mixing time is required to develop gluten strength properly. An extended mixing time leads to oxidization of the dough, which gives the finished product a whiter crumb, instead of the cream color preferred by most artisan bakers.
Water, or some other liquid, is used to form the flour into a paste or dough. The weight of liquid required varies between recipes, but a ratio of 3 parts liquid to 5 parts flour is common for yeast breads. Recipes that use steam as the primary leavening method may have a liquid content in excess of 1 part liquid to 1 part flour. Instead of water, recipes may use liquids such as milk or other dairy products (including buttermilk or yoghurt), fruit juice, or eggs. These contribute additional sweeteners, fats, or leavening components, as well as water.
Fats, such as butter, vegetable oils, lard, or that contained in eggs, affect the development of gluten in breads by coating and lubricating the individual strands of protein. They also help to hold the structure together. If too much fat is included in a bread dough, the lubrication effect causes the protein structures to divide. A fat content of approximately 3% by weight is the concentration that produces the greatest leavening action. In addition to their effects on leavening, fats also serve to tenderize breads and preserve freshness.
Bread improvers and dough conditioners are often used in producing commercial breads to reduce the time needed for rising and to improve texture and volume. The substances used may be oxidising agents to strengthen the dough or reducing agents to develop gluten and reduce mixing time, emulsifiers to strengthen the dough or to provide other properties such as making slicing easier, or enzymes to increase gas production.