The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Interesting experience-what is good bread?

clazar123's picture

Interesting experience-what is good bread?

Every year I attend a Soup and Bread luncheon given at a local church. There is an accompanying bake and produce sale and all proceeds go to support programs. It is in a lovely setting in a 19th century chirch in the county. All the soups,breads and baked goods are homemade by church members-no mixes allowed. Some of these ladies have been baking bread for decades and there was a wide variety available-Grandma's Oatmeal, Honey Wheat, Rye, African Coriander, White, French, Beer, and biscuits.  2 cups of soup-2 slices of bread-drink (Rhubarb tea-was my fav) -all for $5. Truly enjoyable.

So what is the interesting part? All the different flavored breads tasted similar. The breads I sampled had good texture and seemed to be properly proofed and baked but most of them lacked much in the way of flavor, all had about the same texture and all were sweet-even the rye. This was good bread in everyone's eyes and the wonderment was in the successful making of a homemade loaf and appreciation of the effort. I think it was a great illustration of the variety of expectation of what a good bread actually is. I am saying this with full appreciation of the fact that everyone has different opinions and I hope I never become a bread snob.

Which brings me to the question:  What is bread to you? 

Since this is an international forum, I really hope to hear what bread is in your part of the world. Since we have all level of skills here-novice to pro- I hope we hear differences as a result of that, as well as differences from different ages.   

SO is your bread flat-round-salty-no salt-sweet-fermented-no leavening-spiced-baked-steamed-boiled, etc,etc,etc. There are so many.

What grain/starch is you bread made with? Is your bread always made with wheat? How is it served? Butter? Covered in liquid (like Idlys in Indian cookery?) Served with every meal? By itself?  

What tradition is especially memorable or important to you in regards to bread?

I bet we can hear some interesting stories. Attach links and images, if it is helpful.

So what is bread?

DavidRDupont's picture

A good bread is one that is true in taste & texture to the ingredients & textures used. Simple as that; as hard as that.

Janetcook's picture

Hi Clazar,

Good thought provoking question.

I found your comments on how the loaves were all similar in taste at the luncheon you attended and my first thoughts were that probably none of the breads were made with any kind of preferment and were simply baked the way I learned to bake before I discovered TFL.  

My baking was revolutionized when I took up baking bread after a hiatus of many years that were filled with child rearing.  The change for me was in the discovery of Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads.  I bake using only freshly milled whole grains and his epoxy method opened up an entire new vista for me.  A far cry from my usual loaves baked from Laurel Robertsons first bread book.

Because of his work I soon discovered how easy it is to bake using wy rather than iy as a leavening agent.  Somehow I found TFL and the rest is history.  Here I learned about bakers math and have been a scale fanatic ever since.  WIth the help of Debra Wink I learned how to manage my whole grain starters.  Txfarmer's method of baking with whole wheat topped it all off for me and is now my standard procedure for mixing, fermenting and baking my loaves.  

I bake a mix of lean, enriched, seeded, nutted and fruited loaves.  Anything that catches my fancy and I think that the people I bake for will like.  I never could do what I do if it weren't for the people here sharing how they bake.  I never would have ventured into using spelt or rye in the manner that I do now.  Because of what people post here I have learned how to step out of my comfort zone and try combinations I never would have dreamed of. 99.9% of the loaves I bake are leavened with my WY.  

For me good bread is a loaf baked out of passion, love and appreciation for the person or people for whom the loaves are being baked.  Everything after that is simply icing on the cake.  My personal preferences are that my breads are wholesome which means I use whole grains and fresh ingredients in my breads. 

Enough said : )

Thanks for the topic!

Take Care,


dmsnyder's picture

First, I would acknowledge that answers to this question are conditioned by cultural experience.

I grew up eating "real bread." That is to say, as a child, industrial bread was not in my home. I divide my childhood breads into two groups: Traditional, eastern-European, Jewish breads (rye, pumpernickel, challah, some rolls, bagels) and San Francisco Sourdough. And I started baking bread because I couldn't get those breads locally, although we have a really superb French  bakery that also makes Danish-style pastries.

The breads I most wanted to bake were San Francisco-style Sourdough and Jewish Sour Rye. I make these, and many other types of breads now. I think my idea of "real bread," though, means bread made with  wild yeast in a sourdough starter or rye sour. I make challah occasionally. (I'd make it more often if my wife liked it.) I make bagels, and would make them more often, but I forget about them. "Making bread" starts with feeding my starter. (I've not yet made sourdough bagels. Hmmmm .....) The breads I do make with commercial yeast are all enriched breads. I seem to have a resistance to making lean breads with commercial yeast.

I think the most important development in my choice of breads to bake is a growing preference for multi-grain breads and breads with higher proportions of whole grains. But, even so, I have also come to appreciate the wonderful flavors that good technique can bring out in a white flour-based pain au levain. 

Ah, technique! While I happen to enjoy eating good bread, and I share Janet's feelings about the importance of nurturance and nutrition, I also enjoy bread making as a craft. I don't know that an "ugly bread" (whatever that would be) is any less "real," but a loaf the appearance of which reflects care and skill in shaping, scoring and baking is certainly more enjoyable to me. 

Lastly, I would return to the cultural diversity issue. One of my other avocations is calligraphy. Recently, I have been reading books written in the early years of the last century that were both responsible for and reflective of a revival of interest in good ("real") penmanship and lettering. Much of this came out of the "Arts and Crafts Movement" of the late 19th century in England associated with Ruskin and Morris. One of the values expressed was that "beauty" resides in a product that serves its purpose most perfectly. I think this standard can be applied to bread. I suppose all breads should "taste good" and be nutritious. Beyond that, a bread meant to sop up soup or sauce must be different from one meant to be eaten with a hunk of cheese. If it has to last in an edible condition for a week or more, because that is how often the baker has access to the community oven, it has to be made differently from a bread meant to be made fresh for each meal. If it is meant to be used as an eating utensil, to pick up food with, it has to be different.  Anyway, that is something else to consider.


gerhard's picture

I agree with you and it applies to food in general.  In the '70s and '80s we probably reached the low point as far as valuing real food over convenience.  Today we are smoking a pork shoulder for over 10 hours and serving it on home made sourdough cheese bread.  The process to make the bread started Thursday evening, so I guess it is part of the slow food revolution.  If somebody did that 30 years ago it would have been really unusual but today I know many people that want and put effort into real food.


proth5's picture

No sourdough bagels?  You shock me... :>)


CeciC's picture

Culture would have considerable influence on bread preference.

i grow up in Hong Kong where we tend to have chao XIao bun or sth airy enriched bun like fluffy dinner roll, therefore they all give the same texture with minimal wheaty taste!

ever since I had a sourdough from one of the best bakery in town, I'm in love. Like gerhard  I think we are going back in time to bake our own bread with the purist ingridient. 


clazar123's picture

Such interesting viewpoints and such similarity in values.

Take a look at the similarity:

  • "A good bread is one that is true in taste & texture to the ingredients & textures used. Simple as that; as hard as that."  DavidRDupon 
  • "One of the values expressed was that "beauty" resides in a product that serves its purpose most perfectly"  dmsnyder
  • "For me good bread is a loaf baked out of passion, love and appreciation for the person or people for whom the loaves are being baked.  Everything after that is simply icing on the cake."  Janetcook

Very thought-provoking sentiments.

I started wanting to bake bread to try and discover how my grandmother would feed 12 people on pennies a day and without commercial yeast available.  Unfortunately, I didn't know my Grandmother and my mother was a terrible bread baker. My mom made great biscuits and cakes but her bread was definitely hit or miss. She tried often enough that I did have an appreciation for it and esp the love it was baked with.   My Grandmother , on the other hand, had legendary bread baking skills. Her "dough mixer" (large covered pot with a paddle built in) was the size of a washing machine tub!  Mine has a 6 quart bowl and a motor. I didn't rule out ALL technology in my quest.

Also,  I felt like there were skills being lost!  The "slow food" movement is not really a revolutionary idea, in my eyes, but it made me think about how we make our food and what good food is. The "slow food" or "clean eating" idea is just a repeat of something we used to do and have forgotten about. Take a look through old newspapers, cookbooks and even archeological baking sites. All the different cultures are in different states of remembrance and skill level in regards to these things. Every time I learn something "new" I wonder where in the world this has been done for hundreds of years. I am often humbled when I find the answer to that. Taking 30 hours to smoke meat? I just visited an 1880's log cabin that had a smoke chamber built right into the kitchen behind the fireplace. Since they constantly had a fire going for cooking and heat, they would use the smoke/chimney to  cure as they went. Multitasking and conservation of resources is also not a new concept. Why cut extra firewood and build another building to smoke/preserve the meats?

For me bread is nurturing but especially homemade bread of ANY kind. I can connect with Janet's statement about bread is good if it is made out of passion and appreciation for the person. I feel the love.

As for the  form or ingredients in  "my" bread -that idea has expanded a lot in the last few years. Floyd has brought together a global community and my idea has ballooned outward! A few years ago, I would have said white flour was the main ingredient-any would do and I would turn my nose up at any other-esp if it was BROWN! Now I have experienced some of my German heritage and really appreciate it. Hanseata's latest multigrain challenge is mouthwatering to me!  I used to have an elderly neighbor, Freida, that would tell my mother to feed us (the kids) good brown bread because "The whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead!"(this was 55 years ago!) .She would bring a loaf of rye bread over(bakery) and I'm sure my mom loved every bite because we had nothing  to do with it! We still ate Wonderbread-it was cheap and we were trained to love it from the crib on.

Now, I am eating  Japanese Milk Bread, idlys made with rice flour, sorghum bread, teff flour pancakes (haven't tried injera yet), kvass (liquid bread), Potatoe Rye and Eric's Fav Rye (thanks,Eric) and I salivate over the eye candy every time I "tune in" to TFL. (Does "tune in" mean anything to anyone under 30 yrs old?)

Locationally, my bread is in the Midwest USA and is usually wheat based. The trendy bread is either whole grain or an "artisan" white and is usually an accompaniment or used for sandwiches. It can cost $4-$10 per loaf here. Making good bread is viewed as a craft that only a few people can accomplish with special skills and training. Sad.  Wonderbread (actually its equivalent) is still the mainstay of young families as it is the cheapest stomach filler around, though brown "wonderbread" makes people think they are getting good nutrition. I wonder what Freida would say about that? Other plain, good food that is stomach filling doesn't have enough taste (added sugar or salt) for modern palates or I hear it takes "too long' to make on a daily basis.

So my plan is to keep baking-for myself and for others. I also want to have an open mind on exploring new ingredients and new (to me) techniques on making what someone else calls "bread". It is delicious and encourages great dialogue.



proth5's picture

Unlike so many of the folks on these pages, I have no childhood memories at all of entering a bakery and buying a treat.  This may account for the fact that my heart is two sizes too small, but we had goods baked at home – or (more likely) nothing.

I’m of 100% Pennsylvania Dutch heritage and I spent my youth in the PA Dutch country (Southeastern PA, USA) – home of the potato.  Potato breads, potato filling, and even potato candy (Daht’s vonderful goot!)

I grew up on commercial bread – I knew nothing more except for the occasional loaf baked by a home baker – who was not some burn-out IT professional looking for a satisfying hobby, but most likely a busy farm woman who baked to feed her hungry family.  It was soft and white.  I don’t think I even knew about rye as a child. Bread was served with margarine – or butter if we had some.

Although my grandmother baked all manner of other things, she never baked bread.  I should have asked her why, but we all have lost opportunities to deplore.  I baked cakes, cookies, pies, etc. from a very tender age.  I was recently reminded just how easy they are to do. She left detailed recipes. I had no lost tastes from my youth that I desired to re-create.

Since leaving the region of my birth, I have traveled the world.  Having long ago dropped the notion that I “must” have a certain thing to eat or drink, bread is whatever thing they are serving wherever I am.  If I’m in Malaysia though, I will seek out mee goreng.  Noodles.  Not bread at all. Nothing wakes a gal up in the morning like a big old dish of spicy noodles.  They are best when they have some kind of tentacles mixed in.

So why bread, why me?

I was reading about the origins of the Bread Baker’s Guild of America (Y’all knew I’d get that plug in, right?) and one of the things that they focused on was: Intention.

The intention to craft bread that was under the control of the baker, had a specific reason to be, and respected the ingredients was quite important to the people who founded the Guild.

And so I add intention to this discussion of “good” bread. With intention we write our formulas, tend our levain, mill our grains, and grow the best grains we can.

But technique or craft is what intrigues me the most. Because I find pastry so easy and natural, the amount of technique to learn in bread making is what drew me in. A cookie can always be enhanced with sugar or chocolate – with bread there is nowhere to hide.

In my mind technique goes well beyond a beautifully shaped loaf (although we want that, too).  It speaks to understanding the fundamental tools of the baker and being able to apply them.  This is what keeps my interest.

The simple, yet profound discovery that there are two distinct zones on a traditional German pretzel – the soft belly and the crunchy arms that make the same dough, handled in the same way taste night and day different.

It is discovering that shaping must not only be done right, but that the right shape is so important.  We can shape any dough into a baguette shape, but not all flavor profiles benefit from the high crust to crumb ratio.  It is the surprise of working on a formula for bread with a very high corn content and realizing that, yes, it gained its full potential in an epi de ble shape. That the exposed surfaces on the cuts showed off the rich yellow crumb to its best advantage and the little “rolls” formed by the cut made a heavy bread more manageable to eat.

Technique is knowing the fundamentals, so one does not focus on the amount of hours it took from start to finish or the specific type of leavening.  It is having the ability to determine the limitations inside which one must work and coming up with food that is good to eat. It is the basis of all we think of as regional cuisine – people taking what they had, be it ingredients, be it time, be it terroir, and over many years of refining technique making delicious food.

After having baked exclusively with sourdough for a number of years, I am rediscovering the joys of commercial yeast.  Not good, not bad. Just another tool in the box.

I’ve hand mixed, I’ve used a hand cranked dough mixer and I’ve used spiral mixers both small and large. The tool is not the craft.

This Labor Day weekend, after negotiations were concluded with the HR Department, I was allowed back into the Helen of Troy Executive Kitchen to bake.  We were bringing a system live and I had my paid job to do, but my other job was to - with limited ingredients (because I don’t poach the real chef’s ingredients) - bake treats all day long for a hungry project team.  Because I have relentlessly focused on technique, I could figure out a number of completely different breads to make with a small set of ingredients.  I could get the timings right for snacks through the day.  I could judge which breads not to make as the oven did not have steam. (Oh, yes, one can throw a cup of water in an oven to make steam, but one would like it to be one’s own oven – not a generously lent one…)

If I had “needed” sourdough or yeast water, long amounts of time, or numerous ingredients to bake, no baking would have been done.  Instead, because I could apply the fundamentals, people who really should have been at home with their families but were working instead, at least got treats to eat.  That is good bread, indeed.

When presented with abundance, though, it is technique that sets me free. But never in a careless, random way.  It is a craft, after all.  The end of the pretzel arms must be shaped like bulbs – civilization could fall over such a detail.

Even this anomalous romance I have with the bread machine is the love of the technique – of the craft, if you will.  I am given some crazy limitations.  Within those limitations I use whatever other techniques I know to produce good bread.  While not claiming it to be the pinnacle of the baker’s craft, I’ve produced nice products that have literally sustained me over one tough damn summer. And I have learned a few things about grains and preferments. That’s good bread.

My grain of obsession is triticale.  Why?  Because “everybody” says you can’t make bread with it.  But then I read one little article where they do it.  I’ll get it someday.  But for now, you would find very few breads produced in my house that do not contain at least some triticale. In small quantities, it makes good bread.

Good bread is ultimately the bread you like to eat. There are actually adults who have otherwise productive lives who really think that generic store bought bread is the best ever. So to them it is good.  But it is not well crafted (It has been meticulously designed, but it is not well crafted – quite a difference – think of Ikea and then think of Thomas Moser).  I think well-crafted bread (and the more I work with talented bakers, the more I come to understand that there are objective measures for the craft) based on good technique is worth striving for and is ultimately what I think of as good bread.

There is one last thing.  I like the company of bakers.  “My teacher” cracks me up (really, I live for those snippets of snarky, yet well informed opinion). Even when we disagree, and we do, often, and in big ways, I come away a better human being for that type of interaction.  There is something ineffable that I gain each time I talk with someone passionate about the craft.  In contrast to the high tech world that seems to have small devices held in our hands command an ever larger share of attention, it is nourishing to interact with people who use those hands to produce sustenance. And that is good bread.

Theresse's picture

As a very green newbie here I just want to say how much I'm enjoying how intelligent, articulate, thoughtful/reflective and passionate you all are!  This seems to be a pretty wonderful place.  Two thumbs up! :)