How Bread Is Made
You may not realize of appreciate all the science that goes into how bread is made, but you'll better understand how dough, yeast, flour, and temperature creates this spongy delicacy we call bread.
The Inner Workings and Subtle Chemistry of Baked Bread
Bread is a staple for most diets, something we eat almost every day. Ever noticed the tiny holes in a slice of bread? It sort of resembles Swiss cheese gone wrong, doesn’t it? You might not have understood the whole process behind making bread, but this chewy treat takes a considerable amount of chemistry to create the delicacy we call bread.
Certain bakers could even be considered experts in organic chemistry, making the science behind a perfect loaf of bread an impressive “wonder of the world.”
A number of chemical reactions go on beneath the surface of bread dough, and these impressive natural feats keep loaves of bread from either falling flat or exploding during the leavening process. Here’s a quick look at some simple facts of life bakers use to create moist, delicious loaves of bread.
In truth, bakers actually have their own mini gas refineries in the kitchen, using yeast as the leavening agent. Yeast is a single-cell fungi that attacks sugars, then breaks them down into carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The fungi in yeast has a serious sweet tooth, and easily breaks down more sugar per pound than a kids eating gobs of candy at Halloween.
The carbon dioxide produced by this process gives bread its light, airy texture, and the alcohol in yeast adds complexity to the flavor of the bread dough before burning off in the oven. These organisms are a mass production engine that gives bread the wonderful smell, look, and feel we all know and love.
Flour, especially wheat flour, becomes a super-elastic material to rival any balloon or rubber band when mixed with water and kneaded. The catalyst behind this stretchy consistency for bread is a protein called gluten. Gluten is actually two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, that combine to produce this incredibly stretchy substance which can then be baked.
The proteins in gluten, combined with water, gives bread dough the ability to capture carbon dioxide produced by yeast, which produces those little flour compartments you see in a finished slice of bread. The flour traps the gas long enough to allow the dough to begin to rise. What follows is a series of punching, poking, and prodding, enabling the dough to double and triple in size, a process that gets repeated two or three more times.
The radical changes that turns dough into bread in the oven is similar to toasting a slice of bread in a toaster. The pockets and strands of dough between air bubbles caused by this chemical reaction is what gives bread its finished shape. The alcohol in yeast bakes off and produces the spongy finished product we use for sandwiches or as a tasty snack with butter and jam.
The duration of the baking process slows the chemical reactions that occur less often as bread rises and bakes. After all of the gas has been released, a solid crust forms and the bread settles into its more familiar shape. It is the ingenuity and patience of the experienced yet scientific baker that makes a finished loaf of bread possible. Who knew bread could be such a fun and exciting food for discussion?