You’ve mixed, you’ve kneaded, you’ve proofed (twice!) and finally, you’ve baked your bread. Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for – that first taste. You expect heaven and get blah. What happened? Despite our best intentions, homemade bread can fall below our expectations and end up plain and bland. Why, and more importantly, how can you avoid bland bread and make it more flavorful?
Your bland homemade bread could be the result of something as simple as not enough salt. If, however, you dig a little deeper you’ll find that choosing the right ingredients and giving the right amount of time to each stage of the process bares a larger impact than simply disregarding a bland loaf of bread with not enough salt.
Grandma’s (or whomever the legendary bread baker in your family or social network is) bread advice with instructions like, “a dash of this” and “a sprinkle of that” or even “when it looks ready”, may seem uninformative, however, they likely know their bread-making process so well, it has become second nature. They are likely not even aware of how much they know. They just know it, and their bread always turns out amazing.
While experience will get you further and further along with your bread-making goals, a little know-how along the way cannot hurt.
Did I Put Enough Salt?
First and foremost, how does salt affect the flavor of food? Salt acts as an amplifier, basically enhancing the food being prepared. Salt is fairly important for flavoring bread, considering the other two basic ingredients are water and flour.
When it comes to salt being an issue with bread-making, there are two possibilities where things can go wrong:
- Did you remember to mix salt in? No matter how many times you’ve attempted whatever bread recipe, it is within the realm of possibility to have simply forgotten. Happens to the best of us, and so it doesn’t hurt to taste your dough to make sure you’ve added the salt.
- There is an ideal amount of salt to use when it comes to making bread – the rule of thumb is anywhere from 1.8 to 2% of the weight in flour being used. It may sound complicated, but it is a fairly simple form of math that bakers use to maintain consistency. You set the weight of the flour you are using as “100%” and every other ingredient used is a percentage of that. So, for example, if you are using 500 grams of flour, then you will aim to use anywhere from 9 to 10 grams of salt.
If you are really into bread-making, investing in a scale is a good idea. It helps maintain consistency, and can even help keep you in check. The other day I was making bread and found that it was stickier than I was used to. I quickly re-weighed the total and found I was missing 100 grams of flour. Without a scale, it would not have been so quick and easy to remedy the situation.
Making bread is fundamentally simple. Even the ingredients (of the most basic bread) are simple and basic – plain old flour and water. Choosing quality ingredients and being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the options available to you will make a difference in the resulting flavor of your baked bread.
Flour, I think, is the most prevalent ingredient when it comes to bread making. So, it’s a great starting point in terms of quality affecting the flavor. It makes sense that the type and quality of flour used would impact the flavor. A few key notes to keep in mind next time you are out buying your flour:
- Choosing from a variety of flours can add a great depth of flavor. You can try using different types of grains and even mixing them. Grains like rye, spelt, or whole wheat takes the flavor of bread to a whole new level.
- Look for bread flour, it is your best bet as has more gluten and is thereby able to hold more and withstand the pressure of the gasses being produced.
- Check the protein content and aim for one that is between 11 and 13%
- If you find the quality of flour available in your local grocery store is sub-par, try a store specializing in organic foods. You may also want to buy directly from a local mill.
Changing the flour your use can make a world of difference when it comes to the resulting flavor of your bread.
The impact of water is minimal concerning the flavor of your bread, however, there is a slight difference between using tap water and filtered or bottled water. Tap water often has higher amounts of chlorine which can have a minor impact on fermentation, which as previously mentioned has a heck of a lot to do with flavor. That being said, unless you know the quality of water in your area is highly chlorinated, then you may want to opt for bottled or filtered water. The only other benefit to using bottled water, or more specifically mineral water, is that there may be a slight increase in fermentation.
Time Makes a Difference
When it comes to good bread, time is a factor you don’t want to mess with. It takes time to develop gluten strength. It takes time for the yeast, whether commercial or sourdough starter, to do its job. It takes time for the flavors to develop. So, bearing this in mind you want to make sure you are allocating the right amount of time for each step of the bread-making process.
Time, when you’re talking about bread, doesn’t necessarily mean endless waiting. Rather, it means that you are neither going over or under the advised amount of time for the type of bread you are preparing.
Flavor, for example, comes predominantly from the fermentation process. Yes, salt has a little bit to do with flavor, but the flavor you are aiming for and want to develop in your bread comes more from fermentation than salt – it comes from the yeast activity.
Yeast activity contributes to the flavor by eating up the carbohydrates found in the flour and producing gas (carbon dioxide) and alcohol. This is what gives bread its classic “bread” flavor. Wild yeasts do not necessarily deliver a better flavor but, they certainly add more complexity and depth. Though quick and can produce tasty bread, using commercial yeast doesn’t allow for a long enough fermentation to break down all of the proteins found in wheat that some people find difficult to digest.
If you are using commercial yeast, the first rise (the bulk ferment) should be a minimum of 1 to 2 hours at room temperature, ideally until it rises to double its original size. After shaping, it should be allowed to rest for at least half an hour, but ideally, an hour at room temperature would work best before baking. Prolonging fermentation and thereby retarding it by placing your dough in the refrigerator enables the flavors to intensify that much more.
So, when it comes to bread and ensuring excellent flavor, the main thing to keep in mind is to allow the right amount of time for every step of the process. Each step, including but not limited to kneading, bulk fermentation, and the final proof, has its set of time, making for better bread. Oh, and do not forget the salt!
make sure to link to add in/salt/ or other relevant articles