The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Science of Baking ....

vja4Him's picture

Science of Baking ....

I'm interested in the technical aspects of the Science of Baking .... 

Please share your own knowledge and expertise, and any online sources (articles, books or videos) that explain the science behind baking, like things that make the dough sticky, or not so sticky, hold the dough together, or on the other hand, things that cause problems, bringing out the flavor of a particular ingredient or spice .... 

My main interest right now is different kinds of breads, mostly breads with fruit, or yams/sweet potatoes, potatoes, and nuts.

I like to use Whole Wheat Flour, and also mix different kinds of grains (Corn Grits, Corn Meal, Oatmeal, Granola, Wheat Flour). I'm also thinking of experimenting with Scottish Oats, Barley, Quinoa, Millet .... 

I'd like to learn some of the basic science of baking, so I can experiment more .... searching for those perfect recipes .... !!!

-- Jim

mwilson's picture

Well. There are so many aspects it might be a good idea to pick a starting subject e.g. yeast fermentation, dough strength etc.

I would recommend reading the newsletters over at sfbi. There's a world of information covering many subjects.

MIchael_O's picture


    The most concise explanation is here: CookingForEngineers

To actually design a recipe takes much more work. I built a Random Baking Recipe Generator  that creates recipes and includes whole wheat flour, potatoes, etc.    

     Many online sources will talk about molecules and such, but all that is irrelevant. There's no reason to explain why there is butter in cookies or what happens when you add sugar to cookies, it only helps to explain how much you should add.  I might create a post about this.



cmafram's picture

I recently received Cooking For Geeks as a christmas gift and it covers the gammet on cooking and the science behind it.  There chapter on baking it why I started making breads.  As a bonus, it's just a good read and not very expensive.

pmccool's picture

Shirley Corriher's Cookwise.  Although not focused solely on baking, it does a lot to explain how different ingredients and techniques affect the finished food.


richkaimd's picture

There's a short paperback called Bread Science.  It's available free as a pdf file online.  Use your favorite search engine.  It's there.

cypy's picture

Very good idea opening a discussion about baking, I will save this on my favorites. Sometimes you don’t need to have any health care administration degree to know that the best way to keep your family’s health is to cook healthy meals at home using only products that are obtained without an industrial process. That’s why I love coconut raisin cookies with milk, or gingerbread pizzelle with eggnog buttercream filling or even the common bread baked at home.

Mark W's picture
Mark W

A while ago I was asked about bread staling.  This is what came out of it:

Why Does Bread Go Stale?

(It’s not just drying out!)

Normal white bread contains a lot of starch – in the order of 45-50%.  Whilst bread contains many other nutrients (e.g. protein) and fibre, it’s the starch content that is important in bread staling.


Starch is a very long chain of almost circular glucose molecules joined together.  The number of glucose molecules (called “residues” in labs) in the chain varies but in bread wheat it’s in the thousands, 15,000 being on the low side.

In the grain, these long chains lie more or less parallel for long stretches and are attracted to each other.  This attraction, although not always a full chemical bond, is still moderately strong.

When we add water to starch and then heat it, the chains tend to break away from their straight-line format and form curves and waves.  They are still attached to each other, but not nearly as much, and molecules of water often lie between the chains for much of their length.  This allows bread to have its “fluffy” consistency.

Firming Up

The bending and curving of the chains is brought about by heat of the oven and is kept that way, to an extent, by the water from the dough.  Chains of protein, also in the wheat, behave in much the same way though not to the same extent.  This is why a still-warm loaf is not very firm and tears easily.

As the bread cools and some more of the water evaporates, the chains pull a little closer together and the bread gets its normal firmness.


Whilst the starch can’t move much once the bread is cool, it can still move to a small extent.  It is not held in rigid lines, so the bread remains flexible.  However, the starch “wants” to get back into its original shape with the long chains parallel and attached to each other.  It can do this only gradually and the water molecules, which are strongly attracted to the starch chains, get in the way.

However, over time the starch can get some of what it wants.  Some parts of the chains can get parallel again firming up the bread a bit more.  Eventually, given enough time, lots of the chains go back (“retrograde” if you listen to food scientists) to their original state.  The bread becomes firmer, and as it is no longer closely attached to the starch, water will evaporate and the bread will become dry and firm.

This is what we call “staling”.

Preventing Staling

In most bread recipes, there is some fat – oil, lard, butter or something similar.  This stops the water moving around so much, leaving it attached to the starch chains, and gets in the way of the starch chains when they try to come back together.  This is what prevents immediate staling.

The fat also stops, or at least slows down, the movement of the water that is attracted to the starch chains.  The water also helps stop the chains coming back together.  However, as the bread dries out, there is less water to keep the chains apart.  This makes it easier for the chains to meet up again.  You don’t need to lose much water to allow your bread to become stale.  It will manage to do this eventually, but the less water the easier it is for the starch to retrograde.

What To Do With Stale Bread

The usual thing to do is to chuck it out.  However, if it’s your last cob and you’re starving, just heat it up a little – a microwave will do the job well.  The heating causes the chains to flex out of their parallel state and the bread becomes edible again.  However, you don’t get all that long, as you’ll lose some water when you re-heat the bread, thus allowing it to go stale that much quicker.

You can also use it for toast (and many people say that slightly stale bread makes better toast) or as a “trencher[i]” – a warmed “slab” of bread that has some kind of moist, hot food on top, such as a casserole.

Mark S Whitehead BSc Hons                                          (C) M Whitehead Jan 2012

[i]  A “trencher” was originally seen as a sort of disposable plate; it was simply stale or low-quality bread.  It was not really meant to be eaten, or at least not by the better-off people.  However, some men (in particular) became very hungry in the field and would eat the trencher too.  This is the origin of the word “trencherman” for someone with a huge appetite.