Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins ...
This is a line from Our Lord's Prayer that we all are familiar with. It is a prayer that has been passed down to us by our forefathers. But when was this prayer written, and by whom? No one can tell us that but what we know for sure is that it is being recited since times immemorial. It is believed that bread is the oldest food that man developed.
Probably, they just crushed wheat grains with stones, mixed it water and baked it in fire to make the first types of bread. However, over time, the ingredients increased from just flour, yeast, water, and salt to dried fruits, jams, and spices. Today, a lot more ingredients are added to modify the flavor, nutrition, or texture.
Flour is the primary ingredient of any bread recipe. It is the bread that we see. Flour contains gluten, a protein that provides for the elasticity, and the basic structure of bread. As the mixture is heated, the starch in bread sets, and adds to the structure. Wheat flour can be made from whole wheat, or it can be made only from the endosperm, without the bran and germ.
Although this allows the bread to rise higher, stay fresh longer, and give it a lighter texture, bread made from flour that does not have the germ or bran has lesser nutrients and fiber. (Fiber is present in the bran). Although wheat flour is the most commonly used flour for making bread, non-wheat flour like millet and rye can also be used. However, since the latter types do not have gluten, they must be mixed with large amounts of wheat flour.
In presence of water, yeast makes use of the sugar present in the flour and releases carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, being a gas, rises within the dough. The gluten present in flour makes the dough elastic. So, as the carbon dioxide bubbles are formed in the dough, instead of making holes and escaping, the gas bubbles make the dough rise.
Although yeast is a naturally occurring leavening agent, there are many individuals who follow a yeast free diet. For them, chemical leavening agents like baking soda or baking powder can be used instead of yeast.
Salt allows the baker a control over the rising of bread. This it does by strengthening gluten in flour. As it slows down the rising process of bread, salt allows the dough to develop flavor.
Water helps to combine all the ingredients together. It also aids in activating yeast that releases carbon dioxide.
» Bread Sweeteners
If included in bread recipe, the major role of sugar is to provide food for yeast. However, this does not necessitate addition of sugar to the dough, as flour itself has enough sugar for the yeast to produce carbon dioxide. Hence, sugar is primarily used to add a sweet flavor to the bread. It also contributes to browning of the bread. Other sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, maple sugar, jams, and dried fresh fruits.
When lots of eggs are used, they add a distinct flavor to bread. Other than that, they also act as a leavening agent. Fat in the yolk increases the tenderness, and lightens texture of bread. It also gives a smooth texture to the finished product.
Emulsifiers prevent bread from tasting stale and dry. This, they do by combining with starch and helping them to spread evenly throughout the dough. This prevents the starch from recrystallizing which makes the bread dry and stale. Common emulsifiers used in baked products are lecithin, glycerol monostearate, diglycerides, etc.
» Dough Conditioners
Dough conditioners like calcium dioxide, potassium iodate, ascorbic acid, etc., are used by bakers for greater control over the baking process.
With the great variety of breads available, ingredients today, include a vast array of products. Keeping the basic ingredients constant, the list of ingredients of bread is seeing a lot modifications to suit not only the flavor, but also the dietary requirements of specific groups of people.