Taste of Bread: The Impact of Breadmaking Methods
It is commonly acknowledged that bread has to taste good, but the idea of how it should taste varies from one consumer to another, or even for the same consumer at different times. In a world where there’s a huge variety of foods, all bread cannot be expected to have the same taste. There are a considerable number of possible techniques to choose from in breadmaking, and it is up to each individual to decide which he prefers. Like other craftsmen making food products, the baker has to get into the habit of tasting his bread, either to create new flavors or to make any corrections that may be necessary with each batch to maintain the standards expected by his clients.
Over sixty years ago, Henri Nuret, an eminent professor of flour milling, who cannot be accused of partiality because of his job, said that good bread depends 15 percent on the wheat, 10 percent on the miller and 75 percent on the baker. This emphasizes the importance of breadmaking technique. With this in mind, Gérard Brochoire, Director of the Institut National de la Boulangerie et de la Pâtisserie (INBP) [The National Institute of Bread and Pastry Making], summarizes the importance of fermentation and of kneading in the taste creation process.
Kneading–a fair compromise
Intensive kneading was used in the fifties and sixties to produce white bread with good volume but little taste. We now know that intensive kneading produces three times as many volatile organic acids which are often perceived as having an unpleasant smell as does slow-kneading. However, slow-kneading produces a dough with limited volume that is unsuitable for production of the small items that are most popular today, such as baguettes and rolls.
Proofing is an important stage for successful breadmaking. During this stage flavors develop fully.
Improved kneading allows a compromise between these two preceding methods, producing a correctly developed bread with good taste and improved shelf-life. Given an equal amount of energy, speed is less important than duration. In other words, it is better to knead at a slightly higher speed for a shorter period than at a slower speed for a longer period. This better preserves the carotenoid pigments responsible for taste. The proportional length between the 1st speed and 2nd speed is variable, depending on wheat and hydration. An approximate duration can be established but the important thing is to stop kneading before the dough becomes white.
The order in which the ingredients are added has some effect on the taste. The inclusion of salt right at the start of the kneading process has a positive effect, as the salt will be perfectly distributed in the dough and can effectively limit oxidation.
Fermentation—a taste factory
Fermentation is evidence of the second major taste factor. We know that this type of alcoholic fermentation breaks down preexisting sugars and a very small part of the starch in the flour. This alteration, while modest in quantity, completely changes the nature of the dough, by developing specific flavors and modifying its alveolar structure. It is possible to play around with a number of parameters, such as the type and quantity of the fermenting agent, the ambient temperature, the length of fermentation and the contribution of various ingredients.
There are two main types of fermentation in baking:
- Fermentation with raising agents: this encourages the development of yeasts and bacteria naturally present in the flour and in the atmosphere, which assist in the natural
fermentation of the dough.
- Fermentation with yeast: industrially cultivated yeast is made up of billions of cells of the same strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Fermentation with selected strains will produce exactly the same results from one batch to the next.
The aromatic molecules really come out in the course of baking.
Three techniques are normally used with yeast
The Direct Method: This is the simplest method in which the yeast is added directly to the kneading machine. To allow the development of flavors it is essential to use the correct quantity of yeast and to control the length of the fermentation program. The minimum period of proofing is one hour. It is also possible to practice retarded proofing. At the end of the kneading process, the dough is put into a tub and stored at +10ºC for 6 to 12 hours. The time, temperature and quantity of yeast must be carefully controlled to obtain optimum fermentation. This technique is similar to slow proofing, where the formed dough is stored at 10ºC However, although the fermentation times are similar for the two techniques, slow proofing often produces larger loaves with a less intense flavor.
Fermented Dough: Working with fermented dough consists of adding dough from a previously kneaded batch in a quantity varying from 100 to 500 g per liter of mixture. The previously kneaded paste should be added half way through the kneading process, in order to avoid spoiling the taste by over-kneading. This technique has the advantage of reducing waiting time while obtaining similar flavors to those from a long proofing period. It can add a slightly acid note depending on the degree of maturity of the fermented dough. However, this is not a raising agent as the fermentation is carried out entirely by the bakery’s own yeast. Using a raising agent must not be confused with working with fermented dough, especially in the product description at the point of sale.
Poolish: This method has been recognized since around 1870 when yeast was first used in French bakeries. As the yeast was of unequal quality it was safer to pre-ferment it. This method had fallen out of favor but reappeared about twenty years ago. The poolish method gives a slight acidity. It produces soft bread, somewhat like brioche, and is particularly chewy. However, when both techniques are properly used there is little difference with directly made bread.