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Making Dough & Baking Bread

On to the next step in this series on what makes good bread: making the dough and baking the bread!

If you haven't read them, you can go back and see the previous articles On Soil, Ancient Grains and Milling.

The difference between making bread in a small bakery versus manufacturing bread in a factory is enormous. For this installment in our series on what makes good bread I’m going to do something a little different. Rather than offer you a long essay on the process, I’d like to share a few videos that will demonstrate the difference between factory bread and traditional bakery bread. Of course, I’ll add a little commentary below as well because there is more here than you can see.

Factory Bread

Bakery Bread

It’s pretty astounding isn’t it? Now that you’ve seen the process both ways, it’s worth looking a little deeper at three points: ingredients, time and people.

The ingredient discussion here won’t really cover the flour used (though you can be sure that factory bread is, as a rule, made with commodity wheat rather than ancient grains). Rather, it’s worth looking at what else is added to the dough in the process of manufacturing: preservatives, softeners and gluten.

Factory bread is made to last a long time. After being made it is shipped to a distribution center, sent to the market, sits on a shelf and then finally makes it into your home to sit on the counter for a few days. Bread does not naturally last that long. Sugars, seed oils and other chemicals are often also added in order to make the bread, and especially the crust, as soft as possible.

The other ingredient that you’ll commonly see on the ingredient list for your factory bread is gluten. This does not mean the gluten that develops within the dough as it is kneaded and fermented. Gluten is added to the dough in order to speed up the process. We’ll return to gluten in just a moment.

There is one ingredient omitted in the factory bread: time. Time really is so important to the bread making process that it should be considered an ingredient. The length of time give to the fermentation process is how complexity of flavor is crafted. Time and quantity times that the dough is left to rise and rest is integral to the structure of the bread. Too little rise and the bread will be dense. Too much time and the dough will collapse.

Gluten development is key to this process.

Gluten is a protein bond in dough formed when flour and water are mixed. It is developed through “working the dough” (mixing, kneading and folding) as well as through the rest and rise cycles. Because of the strength given to the dough because of these proteins, the dough becomes stretchy and elastic and traps air bubbles as it cooks. The problem with gluten is that it is difficult for your body to digest unless it is developed correctly. As dough is worked and allowed to rise, gluten develops. When left on it’s own, gluten develops as a tangled web of fibrous protein bonds. The reason for kneading and folding the dough is to order these fibrous bonds into a structure rather than as a tangle. It also continues to develop into a structure as the dough rises.

When gluten is at peak development, it is hardest on your body. If development is pushed just past this peak level, gluten becomes much much easier to break down. In factory bread, not only is bread baked at peak gluten development, there is extra gluten that is added to bread (though it is not naturally occurring on its own it can be extracted from dough and the specific proteins of gliadin and glutenin can be added). Factory bread is quite frankly difficult for everyone to process but rather than find the root cause of the problem that so many suffer from, individuals are labeled as “gluten intolerant” or “gluten sensitive”. While there are **a number of people who do suffer from these conditions, the majority of cases are related to a manufacturing problem rather than a health condition.

The bread you buy at the store was made purposefully in a way that will be hard on your body so that it could be produced more efficiently.

Contrast this with the way the traditional ways of making bread by hand. For my sourdough, I begin the dough 36 hours before I intend to make it. By refrigerating the dough during the rise cycles, I can greatly extend the time without over fermenting. Baguettes and pan de campagne develop for 24 hours before baking.

The last point of discussion in the way bread is made is looking at the people and personal side of bread. As this tip toe a little into the philosophical side of bread making I’ll save it for next week.

I hope this has been informative and interesting! As we get close to wrapping up this first series I’d love to hear from you. Would you like to read more information like this? What else would you be interested in? I would love to be able to answer questions and tailor what I publish here to what you’d like to learn about.

Thanks so much for your continued interest and support.

Until next week!

Or et Labora et Panem Coque!

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