Making your own bread is much more nutritious than buying commercially processed bread. However, I see a lot of people discouraged because it seems that they want to start off with making sourdough or artisan bread.
The truth is that it can be done. If you would like to start your baking career with the most difficult kind of bread making, I take my hat off to you. I’ve to learn a few skills in this kind of “backwards” manner, with some degree of success, but usually that success has come with a lot of frustration.
That’s why I encourage people to start baking bread with store bought bread flour. Get your methods down and then move onto the more artisan type breads.
Some people might argue that doesn’t make sense because baking with whole wheat flour was the norm for thousands of years. This is all true but the thing is, if you lived in this time you would have learned to make bread as a child and your tastes would be a bit simpler. Our ancestors spent a large amount of time cooking and baking. They also had simpler tastes because they did not have the availability (or the variety) of spices, herbs and other taste enhancers that we do.
So all this is to say, if you’re just starting to bake your own bread, set yourself up for success–start with white bread flour. Learn about the process and science that goes on while you’re baking your bread, then move onto the more artisan types of breads that have higher nutrition.
You might even consider going back to white bread flour if you’re having trouble baking whole wheat flour to make sure you’re not missing something in the process.
I’m not saying that baking with whole wheat is difficult, but it might not be what you expect. Also, it’s difficult to convert white flour recipes to whole wheat if you’ve never worked with white flour.
Of course I know there are those that will dive in anyway, and that’s ok. I’ve been there and done that! But for those who want to take it a bit slower or maybe need a refresher about all the choices of yeast and flour at that grocery store, let’s talk.
First let’s make sure we’re all starting on the same page so here’s what I mean when I say flour, yeast and bread.
What is Flour?
Flour is made when you grind up a grain, seed, root, dried vegetable or dried fruit.
What is Yeast?
A single-celled organism that converts sugars or carbohydrates in grain to CO2. The carbon dioxide causes the dough to rise by forming bubbles or air pockets in the dough. When the dough is baked the yeast die but the bubbles are left and that gives the bread its texture.
What is Bread?
Bread is food made from flour, water, and salt. Putting these ingredients together forms a dough which is then baked.
Flour can be made from a wide variety of food but let’s talk about wheat flour which is the most common.
In order to understand the different kinds of flour it’s important to understand the different parts of the wheat berry.
Wheat flour is made from the seeds of a kind of grass that we call wheat. These seeds are called wheat berries. You can actually sprout wheat berries and if you let these seeds grow they would turn into wheat and make more wheat seeds or wheat berries.
Parts of The Wheat Berry
Bran–hard outer shell
Endosperm–middle part – the part that has protein and starch for the seed to get a head start in life
Germ–this part of the seed contains oil and other nutrients and this is where the seed germinates from
Before the commercialization of flour when people wanted to make bread they took these wheat berries and ground them up. However, once people started grinding/making flour in plants with heavy machinery they made some changes to this process. They took off the bran because it was hard and prevented flour from being super fine. Then they took out the germ because it has oil in it and can cause flour to go rancid. So all that was left was the endosperm and this is what white flour is made from.
- All Purpose Flour–All purpose flour was developed, as it’s name suggest, for many purposes. The problem is that it really isn’t the best flour for any of those purposes, but it’ll always do in a pinch. It has a protein content of 11%.
- Bread Flour– was developed for making yeast bread. Because it has a higher protein content (12%) it is better suited for gluten development in making bread.
- Cake flour– is finer than all purpose flour and bread flour and only has a protein content of 8-9%. Because the gluten is less elastic the crumb of cake flour is more delicate.
- Instant flour– is a flour that contains other ingredients that help thicken gravies and sauces.
- Whole wheat flour– includes all the parts of the wheat berry, making it the most nutritious wheat flour. However, it can sometimes be problematic because as I mentioned above the germ does have oil in it and oil is not shelf stable for long periods of time. If you buy whole wheat flour be sure to keep it in your freezer for maximum freshness. Also, it can be tricky to bake with whole wheat flour because a lot of modern recipes don’t take into account the special taste and properties of whole wheat flour.
- Fresh Yeast–Also known as refrigerated or cake yeast. This is a product that is hard to find these days. Actually, it’s only sold seasonally in my area. In the midwest and northeast you might still be able to find it in the refrigerated section of your grocery store. The yeast is suspended in liquid. Then the majority of the water is removed, leaving a cake–like substance. This form of yeast used to be the most used form of commercial yeast and a lot of older recipes call for “cake” yeast.
- Active Dry Yeast–This is the yeast most of us are familiar with. It comes in a dry pellet form and is the most common form of yeast used in bread making. To use this yeast you need to re-hydrate it by dissolving it in water. The water needs to be 90°F-110°F for best results
- Instant Yeast–Sometimes called Rapid Rise, Quick Rise, or Bread Machine yeast. In order to know if these products are exactly the same you need to check the ingredients. In my experience I find that they generally have the same exact ingredients. If they don’t it’s likely that the manufacturer has added enzymes and/or dough enhancers.
- Pizza Dough Yeast–This is instant yeast that has enzymes and dough enhancers added. It also has amino acids. All these additives help the dough to snap back when shaping.
- Brewers Yeast–Some brewers yeast are actually the same species as baker’s yeast, only a different strain. These yeast metabolize carbohydrates in low-oxygen conditions to produce, ethanol making alcoholic beverages.
- Natural Yeast–is sometimes called a sourdough starter. A starter is a strong colony of yeast that are kept active by regular feedings. Extra flour and water are fed (added) to the starter when needed for recipes. Then that extra is added to dough mixtures to make the dough rise.
- Nutritional Yeast–Is a dehydrated inactive (or dead) yeast. It’s high in B-complex vitamins so it’s sold in health food stores and is a favorite among vegans and vegetarians, as it has a nutty or cheesy flavor. It is used in many cheesy vegan recipes. It is harvested from a growth medium, usually some variety of molasses, then killed and dried.
- Distiller’s and Wine Yeast–Is a different species of yeast than the yeast used for either brewer’s yeast or baking. There are actually many species of yeast used for winemaking, each giving the wine different qualities. Even though winemaking is an ancient art, scientist today are still experimenting with different yeast and how they affect the quality and properties of wine.
Beginning Bread Bakers
If you’re just starting to bake bread, it might help to think of bread in terms of these four categories. The methods for making them are slightly different and the dough behaves a bit different as well.
- Simple/Lean Bread–a bread that has no fat added.
- Rich Bread–a bread that has fat added to the dough.
- Artisan Bread–is a bread usually made with some kind of sourdough and might go through an aging process.
- Other Types Of Breads–this would include other breads that need to rise like sweet breads and soft doughs; for example, cinnamon rolls or pizza dough
Note: I’m not saying that cinnamon rolls and pizza dough have the same method or dough texture by putting them in the same category. I’m saying that once you get the first two kinds of bread down then you can venture off into other types of bread. Since artisan bread can be problematic for some I wanted to put it into it’s own category.
Let’s Ferment Together!
Last week April had a great idea about having a Ferment a-long. So let me know in the comments if you’d like to participate and what kind of food you would like to ferment with me?
How this would work is that we would start a ferment together sharing pictures and videos as we go. I would lead by giving instructions to get everyone going. If this sounds like something you would like to do or benefit from, please leave the type of food you’d like to ferment in the comments. Sourdough? Vegetables? Kombucha?
Is there a difference between using Bisquick and all-purpose flour in cooking?
Bisquick has additional leavening agents in it like baking powder. It does not contain yeast.
What about all these new flours? Coconut flour, almond flour, etc, etc?
Coconut flour, almond flour and other nut flours are designed for someone on a special diet. The most common types of diet that they are designed for are people on a low-carb diet, or a gluten free diet. They do not contain gluten.
What is proofing?
Proofing is a term used by bakers that’s refers to a bread’s final rise. This takes place after shaping.
I know there are many many more aspects to bread making, but I hope this clears up some of the confusion and helps you have a base to start actually baking delicious homemade bread.