There are 4 basic steps to making bread
mix flour, water, salt, and yeast
knead the mixture to develop a network of gluten
give the yeast time to fill the dough with gas
bake to set the structure and flavor
Within this simple process, there are more than a baker’s dozen of possible variation. In each step there are several options that will change the finished product. Will the bread be soft of chewy, hearty with whole grain or smooth and pale? Will it be sweet or tangy, crisp or crumbly, flat or bulbous? The following investigates each step and shows how different elements create different breads.
mixing – flour influences the texture, flavor and nutrition of bread – the chemical composition of the water and the amount of water used can have a marked influence on the texture of the bread – salt does more than just flavor bread, it tightens the gluten and improves the volume of the baked loaf.
as soon as flour gets wet its starch and protein begin to absorb water, activating enzymes. Enzymes start converting starch molecules from the flour, turning them into sugar. Yeast feed on the sugar, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol. Protein in the flour absorbs some water and sprawls out into springy strings that bond with their neighboring proteins, and gluten starts to form during kneading.
kneading – stretches, folds, and compresses gluten strands. As more connections form among the proteins, the dough takes on a smoother texture and a springy, satiny feel. In addition, during kneading air gets trapped in the dough. The more you knead, the more that air is dispersed.
fermentation – yeast continues to produce carbon dioxide, which filters into the air pockets formed by kneading, causing them to inflate and raise the dough. The gentle stretching continues to develop the gluten, so even barely kneaded dough will become stretchier and more cohesive during fermentation.
baking – once the dough heats up, gases trapped in the loaf expand and the loaf rises. This dramatic oven spring is caused by alcohol and water in the dough vaporizing, filling the gas cells and expanding the dough by as much as 50%. Oven spring is over within the first eight minutes of baking when the crust hardens enough to resist the rise and when the interior of the loaf gets hot enough to start coagulating the gluten and gelatinizing the starch.