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Culinary Lesson #3 - Yeast Breads

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Q5:  Some recipes I've seen for yeast breads call for all-purpose flour, while others call for bread flour.  What's the difference between the two?

A5:  Whether you're making baguettes, pizza dough, bagels, or a classic white bread, there are three primary ingredients that are always used:  water, yeast, and flour.  Since water and yeast don't have much room for variation, the type of flour you use is thus largely responsible for the structure, texture, and flavor of the bread.  When contrasting the two most common types of flour, the main difference lies within the amount of gluten.  Bread flour is made from milled hard wheat, resulting in a high amount of gluten.  All-purpose flour is made from a fairly equal combination of hard and soft wheat, resulting in a lower amount of gluten due to the use of soft wheat.

When combined with yeast and water, gluten begins to form into an elastic web that traps the gasses given off by the yeast.  The stronger the 'gluten web', the larger the air pockets are able to get.  Thus, breads made from bread flour take on a lighter and more porous texture, whereas breads made from all-purpose flour tend to have a denser quality.

Q6:  After you let a yeast-based dough rise, most recipes tell you to press out all of the trapped gas, and let the dough rise for a second time.  Isn't this defeating the purpose of the first rise?

A6:  Although there are some people that will only carry out a single rising, the majority of bakers live by the second rising for a variety of reasons:
  • During the first rising, the dough will often create air pockets that vary in size.  By gently pressing down on the dough, the larger pockets will deflate and create a more uniform texture after a second rising is carried out.
  • Pressing out excess gas ensures that the gluten isn't overworked as the yeast continues its fermentation process.
  • By increasing the rising time potential, the flavor profile becomes more developed. 

Q7:  What's the best way to store homemade yeast-based breads?

A7:  Due to the fact that homemade breads don't have the preservatives that most store-bought breads do, they tend to lose their freshness after just one day.  Obviously, the best way to enjoy a yeast bread is to eat it the day it was baked, but if that's out of the question, freeze it rather than storing in the refrigerator.  Storing in the refrigerator quickly dries out any moisture in the bread, whereas freezing and then properly defrosting will lock in the moisture and flavors that a fresh loaf originally has.  To freeze, let the bread come to room temperature after baking, wrap in plastic wrap, and store in a zip-lock bag with any excess air pressed out.  I use this method anytime I make a dozen fresh bagels or homemade soft pretzels and have stored them up to two months or so without any issues.

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