The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A question about Bread Chemistry.

wizarddrummer's picture

A question about Bread Chemistry.

Hello all,

Suppose that a loaf of French bread or Italian bread made with high gluten flour is on the right side of a chart and represents 100%; bread that is typically made with the standard ingredients high gluten flour, water, salt and yeast.

Now suppose that a soft, squishy dinner roll is on the left side of the chart and represents 0%

Using the same high gluten flour, what would I need to do to get a 75%, 50%, 25% all the way down to approximately the texture of a dinner roll at 0%?

I want to learn the effects of other ingredients and how it changes the dynamic making dough more soft. Also temperatures if necessary.

If I can understand the effects of other ingredients then I should be able to picture in my mind what I want and then tailor a recipe accordingly.

I live in Mexico. Good flour is hard to find.

I have a very good high gluten pizza flour that is imported from the USA.

You can't find any Rye, Whole Wheat, All Purpose, Bread Flour or any other special flours that are readily found in the USA. The local flours are tasteless and gritty in texture.

I can make bread all day long, with the high gluten flour that has a nice chewy interior with large holes and a crisp thick crust that has the texture of a good Italian bread.

I'd like to make a sandwich from a 6" roll that is in between a piece of Italian bread and a dinner roll

Thanks very much.

clazar123's picture

To improve flavor:

1.Consider using natural levain (otherwise known as sourdough).A common misconception is that bread made with sourdough starter is sour. It is sour only if you make it that way.All bread was made with "sourdough" before commercial yeast was available and it adds a LOT of flavor to even plain sandwich bread.

2. Use a technique/recipe that includes some form of a pre-ferment (poolish,biga,sponge,etc-it is called many things and all are slightly different). A preferment of some kind is a way to mix some of the flour,water and yeast (pinch or 2) and letting it sit for a period of time to develop flaovrs. It is then mixed in with the rest of the recipe into the final dough.

To soften texture:

1.Make a recipe that allows the dough to sit for a period of time-maybe overnight in the refrigerator(a retardation of the dough). This develops flavor and also allows the flour to fully absorb the water so that in the baked loaf it doesn't become crumbly.Esp. important with whole grain but also soft loaves.

2.Use ingredients that soften crumb texture-milk/buttermilk,egg yolk/eggs,oil/butter,fruit/vegetables such as bananas,squash,potaotes,sweet potatoes. The fruit/vegetables will make it moist but slightly dense-like a good sandwich rye,perhaps.

3.Knead to a windowpane! Use the search box for any unfamiliar terms. I realize I may be throwing a number of them around.

4. Use the water roux method for making a loaf. Definitely use the search box for this one. I've used a roux a few times and it is easy and really softens the final loaf.

5. Use a high hydration recipe that produces a sticky rather than tacky dough. I'm not sure what your comfoprt level will be for handling a high hydration dough but maybe work toward that. It takes time and repetition to get used to handling a sticky dough.

I don't know where you are at in the learning curve of baking. I've been on the path for the last 2 years and have learned a lot just as an amateur,at home baker who bakes bread every weekend. Now I rarely produce a brick but it occasionally happens. I use sourdough or sometimes a hybrid with sourdough and yeast.French-whole wheat-brioche-sandwich-fruited bread. Rye is my next venture. It is a totally different character in the world of dough. This site and all the support has been instrumental to me.

Have delicious fun!

Doc.Dough's picture

The tangzhong (water roux) technique will help soften the interior and a little fat either in the dough or brushed on the crust after baking will soften the exterior.

Try putting 5% (you can go as high as 10%) of the total flour in the tangzhong and count both the water and the flour in the appropriate column when you calculate dough hydration and you will get to where you want to be.

And you might want to go to a little higher hydration than you normally do and not develop the gluten as much as you might otherwise be inclined to do.  This will tenderize the crumb, the tangzhung will soften the crumb, and the fat will tenderize the crust.

To make tangzhong, combine 5:1 by weight water to flour (go ahead and use your high gluten flour), whisk it to fully disburse the flour, and heat it to 65°C (149°F) (AND NO MORE) whisking continuousely. It will just begin to thicken and be at what somebody described as "ribbon stage". Take it off the heat and pour it onto a plate or shallow bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap in full contract with the now gelatinized starch paste (this is to prevent the formation of a skin that is unusable in the bread).  Chill (or at least cool) before using.

I would probably try 7 or 8% fat for starters in the dough. If you are trying to keep the fat level down, just brush some fat on the crust after it comes out of the oven - that might put you at 1-3%.

Adjust as you see fit.



wizarddrummer's picture

I guess that I am not adequate anymore when it comes to the English language.

While I thank each and every one of you for the replies, the replies came no where near what my expecatations were.

Chemestry was the operative word.

I was looknig for something like: (I AM MAKING UP THESE NUMBERS to keep it simple.

your 100%
4 cups of flour
2.5 cups of water
1 T salt
1 tsp yeast

75% (or whatever other ingredients are usually used like oil etc.; please nothing exotic like starters.)
4 cups of flour
1 cup of milk
1 cup of water
1 egg
1 T. Salt
1 tsp yeast

4 cups of flour...

Does this explain what I am lookig for a little better.
I want to design a calculator that can be some what predictive as to the texture so i can make the adjustments automatically.

I just don't know what ratios need to change.

I am hoping someone knows the chemestry enough to give me amounts (weights would be better) so I can look at the relationships using pie or bar graphs.

thank you.

Chuck's picture

You're not going to like hearing this, but the only ingredient thing that really matters -whose effect is on balance with process- is the gluten content of your flour. With a high gluten flour (which is often given the marketing term "bread" flour), some of the process tips in the previous posts will get you to 75% -or maybe even 50%- on your scale, but they won't get you to 0%. You'll need to mix high-gluten and low-gluten flours to get the gluten content you want (that's what "All Purpose" flour is - just a mixture ...and just a marketing term at that).

You already have the high-gluten flour - to mix you'll need a low-gluten flour too. I'd suggest taking another look at the local flours. Finished bread is often much less "coarse" than the flour that went into it would seem to imply, so I suggest actually baking up some bread with the local flour (maybe a mix of the local flour and your high-gluten flour) to see if it really is objectionably coarse. If it isn't, just use that flour as is. If it is, I suggest investigating using a micronizer to "re-mill" the local flour to be finer.

Sorry, in my opinion, the reason you didn't get the answer you were looking for is not that you were misunderstood, but rather that no such answer exists. Different ingredients and their quantities are almost totally irrelevant, and "chemistry" has almost nothing to do with it. Process is the main thing that distinguishes very different breads, most of which have essentially the same ingredient list. There are many good tips above on how to vary your process with the ingredients you've got to get a "softer" bread. (Even after discarding the "sourdough" suggestions that aren't to your liking, a whole lot remain.)


wizarddrummer's picture

Thanks for the reply, but now I am even more confused because chemestry has everything to do with it. Especially with baking.

For example:

I make pizza dough because I like pizza.

flour 100%
water 58%
salt 2%
yeast 1%
suger 2%

If I change the percentage of water to 65% there is a difference.

What I was trying to get accros is that I am curious as to what ratios make doughs behave a certain way. I don't use milk or eggs or some of those other things when I make pizza dough.

Can I use milk to make bread? If so what affect does it have compared to water?

Can I use eggs to make bread? What affect do eggs have? small amount vs large amount etc.

I mentioned that using the high gluten flour that I didn't expect to get to the 0% or and exact replica of a dinner roll; this I know

I was looking for someone that knows this on a similar level like Peter Reinhart. I'm a computer Scientist so I think in terms of ratios, equations etc.

As far as local flours are concerned. I've been here for a few years. They have three brands of flour El Rosal, Selecta and Bonafil. All essentially the same. All, IMHO, taste bad to me.

So if I can't get my sliding scale to work, given the percentages above for pizza dough, what would i have to add to make it more like a dinner roll?

Perpaps this question will be more understandable.

Thanks everyone.

pmccool's picture

Not hard and fast ratios, mind you, but some basic information that will let you start experimenting.

A real-life example: I'm making a challah today that calls for 5 eggs (250-270g) to 800g of flour.  It also includes some oil and some honey.  All of those have a tenderizing and moisturizing effect on the dough.

Fats, for instance, make the dough more tender by interfering with development of the gluten.  At the far upper end of the scale you might find a brioche with 50% butter to 100% flour, by weight.  Fats commonly used in breads include vegetable oils, butter, lard, eggs, vegetable shortening, margarine, milk, cream, etc.  Even though only a few of those are a significant source of water, we perceive that breads made with fats are "moister" than breads made without fats.

Sugars have differing effects, based on the chemical makeup of the sugar.  Some are hygroscopic, which tend to keep the bread moister by absorbing water from the air.  All of them provide sweetness and contribute to browning of the crust.  In addition to the usual suspects (table sugar, brown sugar, honey), sugars show up in other forms: maple syrup, agave nectar, milk, malt powder, malt syrup, cane juice, etc.  And don't forget the sugar lurking in the flour itself.  Some formulae call for an extended, slow fermentation in the refrigerator, referred to as retarding.  Part of the reason for retarding is that the enzymes in the flour are being given time to convert some of the starches into sugars.  Other enzymes are also at work during the retarding process, producing chemicals that enhance the flavor of the finished bread.

If you start looking at formulae for pain de mie, or for dinner rolls, you will find that they contain fats (usually milk, butter, eggs) and sugars that produce a softer, moister finished bread.  Other breads based on lean doughs tend to have a drier crumb (unless the water content is quite high) because they usually only contain flour, water, yeast and salt.  As you look at those formulae, you can start to get an idea of what proportions of ingredients produce those results.

I'm not sure that there is a sliding scale, such as you mention, to describe the effects of ingredients.  More accurately, if there is, I haven't seen it.  I think that most bakers develop a general knowledge of how things work, like I have pointed out for fats and sugars above, and proceed to develop a working knowledge of the specific ingredients that are available to them.

When I moved from the U.S. to South Africa in 2009, one of the things that I had to do was run a series of test bakes to understand how the local flours behaved.  They are neither better nor worse than the flours I used before, just different.  Once I understood how the flours behaved (I was focused primarily on hydration levels), things began improve.  It wouldn't surprise me if I have a similar adjustment period when I move back to the States later this year.


Doc.Dough's picture


clazar123's picture

The interesting thing about bread is that you can have as tight a formula as you can make it and there will still be differences in the outcome. You are assuming that all ingredients are standardized and behave exactly the same way at any given moment. My food chemist sister is constantly frustrated by this. The reality is that, when it comes to breadmaking, there are no absolutes in regards to formulas because the ingredients have too much varialbility of behaviour  due to their inherent characteristics and also the environment at the time of assembly and interaction of ingredients. That is where the experience of the baker and the "art" of baking comes in. You can develop a table that gets you towards what you are seeking but not close enough to develop formulas with a consistent outcome. And when someone else in another part of the world attempts using it, it will be greatly affected by the inherent nature of their local ingredients, as PMcCool states in his experience.

This is an interesting site and I believe an engineer there devised a table that could predict what a product outcome was (cake,bread,cookie,etc) based on the ratio of the ingredients.He wanted to use it to predict how to develop new products. He did post it here on TFL but it was a while ago-it will take some digging. He may have developed it further since he was a bread baker and he was on a similar mission, as I recall. Looked like it had a rather complicated algorithm.

It is in your nature (as a chemist) to want formulas but some of the best outcomes are achieved by recipes used as guidelines rather than formulas.

HAve delicious fun experimenting!


Book recommendation:

Bread Science by Emily Buehler



clazar123's picture

This is someone you may want to contact. He may have done some further development in the predicting process that may coincide with what you are looking for.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

You may find that when various fruits ferment, and develop their own yeast, concentrated and allowed to grow, this yeast water tends to soften and flavor bread flour giving a texture like soft dinner rolls. 

Search under  yeast water

wizarddrummer's picture

btw - I'm not a chemist I am a computer scientist. It's natural for me to think in absolutes sometimes.

However, that being said, I am also a musician so there is an artistic side as well. I know for a fact that when I make pizza dough I can do better by feel and taste than I can working with measurements. But it took some precise measurements so I could get a benchmark or or standard from which to work with and deviate from.

I am grateful for the respones... I will check out the links that have been provided.

Again thanks for taking the time to provide the information on such a peculiarly worded topic :)

I've gained a great new understanding.