The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Chemistry and Culture of Bread

Yundah's picture

Chemistry and Culture of Bread

I posted about two months ago looking for books to use in a class a colleague and I will be teaching in April/May.  My thanks to everyone for great suggestions.  We have decided to go with Emily Buehler's Bread Science: the Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread and Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.  We'll be augmenting the readings with materials from journals and other literature (I'm currently researching discussions of bread in cultural context in literature.) We will start the students off with a no knead bread, followed on successive days by a sourdough bread, a soda bread and a flat bread.  I've got the no knead recipe chosen, we'll use the recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I've been testing it and getting very consistent results with it.  I've got a good sourdough starter, I'm now feeding several jars in preparation for the class, but I haven 't settled on recipes for the flat, soda or sourdough breads yet.  We're going with simple as it is turning out that none of our students have ever made bread and the majority of them have never seen it made.  If you have a favorite, easy, recipe, feel free to suggest it.  

We're breaking the class day up into two sections.  We'll start any bread that needs rising in the morning session then finish in the afternoon.  With the no-knead, we'll start it the first day of class and bake it the second.  We're developing a lab kit our students will need and cleaning out the local Goodwill, Salvation Army and Volunteers of America stores for 5 or 6 quart bowls and Ikea for measuring cups and spoons.  We each have our own scales and thermometers and will bring them in to use and we are scrounging baking stones to augment ours,but may have the students get King Arthur's bread whisk.  It is very useful.  

My colleague is going to handle the chemistry (thank heavens!) and I'm presenting on the culture.  I'm looking at how bread is a part of cultures across the world.  I've got some articles dealing with the role of bread ovens in communities and am in search of more.  We'll be visiting one of Michigan's mills and on the way home we'll stop for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant so they can experience Injera, that delicious, spongy bread that I have not been able to produce in a consistent manner.  I'm not that great with pancakes either so there may be a link there.  A local church is letting us use their kitchen during the day so we have a place to bake. 

The class is coming together and I appreciate the suggestions you all made.  I'll let you know how it goes.  

Triticum's picture

The following recipe from this site is the first bread I baked and it is both easy and tasty.  I have baked it as a boule and in a bread pan with equally good results.

My Pain Sur Poolish (Daily Bread)

1 cup flour
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Final Dough
1 pound flour
10-12 ounces water
1 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
all of the poolish


If you are near a college that teaches economic botany, they usually have a nice summary of the role that wheat played in developing our current civilization.  It is quite intriguing.

Good luck with your class.

nbicomputers's picture


Just out of interest

Since you are teaching this class what is your degree of expertise on the subject

Yundah's picture

Thanks for the recipe, Tritcum, I'll give it a try. It looks like a good basic formula. 

Nbicomputers; My expertise is more in the line of my interest in the anthropology of food, I'd really consider myself only a middle level baker. (I teach anthropology at a small liberal arts college.)  I do a lot of "plain" baking, experimenting with different flours, grains, seeds, etc. and I do a pretty good job of it.  I've taught a number of friends and family how to bake bread and I approach fairly scientifically, I take notes, adjust, try out new things (which sometimes fail spectacularly.)  My friend and I just really like baking bread and decided to try the class out when I made some Rye bread and some baguettes for a combined Russian and French film festival we were having.  We have a three and a half week intensive term at the end of the spring term that is perfect for special topics like this.  The class idea just grew out that conversation we had about breads and different flours and how they reacted, and the different breads you see in different cultures  and...

The main focus of the class is the chemistry and the cultural aspect.  The bread is the benefit.  I mean, really, how can you spend thirty six hours talking about bread and never eat any??!!  The students who've enrolled are really excited which is, from my point of view as an instructor, a good start to things.  I hope they learn more about food and what it means, my partner wants them to understand how it happens, and we all just want to have a good time learning something a little out of the usual canon.  

nbicomputers's picture

since i am a retired pro i just wanted to know that if i offered my help i would not be offending anybody

well if you need help in formulas  and other baking chenistry just call search for nbicomputers if you need the phone number.


Yundah's picture

No offense taken, ever!  I know enough to know that I don't always know enough.  I will keep your offer on hand.  Thank you very much. 


Triticum's picture

It sounds like your course will be both informative and great fun.  You should look at the complete recipe and instructions for the Daily Loaf.  It calls for a long fermentation on the poolish-18-24 hours as I recall.

I have had the best results with an overnight fermentation, but good results with as little as 90 minutes.

It might be informative to try baking it both fermentation times and examining the characteristics of the bread.  Your chemist might be able to measure the difference in the outcome of the different fermentation times.  Also I found the texture and flavor of the bread to be best with a fairly hight hydration rate, when it was very difficult to handle the dough at the start of kneading or folding and stretching which gives me the best results.

It sound to me like you will conduct a great class.  Be sure to post the products.



deblacksmith's picture

"have the students get King Arthur's bread whisk.  It is very useful."  You can get the same whisk from

for $ 6.99 each.  You may want to make a group purchase.  Look under Tools  Bakery Smallwares

I have no connection with the above folks.  In fact I love KA flour and have purchased a lot of equipment items from them.   On the other hand they seem to have gone through the roof with prices lately.