The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Best way to leaven bread? Baking powder or yeast?

Breadhead's picture

Best way to leaven bread? Baking powder or yeast?

I have never made bread with baking powder. Sitting here thinking about it though, wouldn't bread made with BP instead of yeast taste better? My thinking is that the yeast are feeding on sugars from the flour, the same sugars the give flavors to the final bread. The less sugar the yeasts eat, the more of it there is for you. Right? Perhaps you can get more flavorful bread if you make it with baking powder?

clazar123's picture

Do a side by side experiment and see what you think.

Sugars are not the primary flavoring in bread. The yeast digesting the sugars releases volatile by products that cause the subtle but delicious flavors in a good loaf of bread.

Have you ever had baking powder biscuits? That is a form of baking powder leavened bread. Generally, baking powder can impart a chemical flavor that is usually hidden by sugar,salt or other flavors in a biscuit,bread or cookie.

MangoChutney's picture

It happens I like the baking soda flavor in baking powder biscuits, but they aren't in the same ballpark with yeast rolls for texture.  Anyway, you can always add more sugar to your yeast bread if you want it to be sweeter.

aytab's picture

Try making Irish Soda Bread and see what you think, I like them all, Soda Bread is different in flavor from yeasted bread just as commercial yeasted breads are different in flavor from sourdoughs. In my opinion they are all good just different.

Colin2's picture

fwiw the yeast (1) breaks down starch in the flour into simple sugar, and (2) eats the sugar.  Starch is not real flavorful.  Additionally, the fact that yeast works steadily rather than providing a one-off chemical reaction allows all kinds of dough development.

But I agree with other folks that soda breads are well worth trying out.  Elizabeth David's _English Bread and Yeast Cookery_ has a bunch of recipes and lots of lore.  

The charm of soda breads is that they are quick - 10-15 minutes from start to going into the oven - and very good right out of the oven.  You need a light, pastry-like technique because you're trying not to get much gluten development.

proth5's picture

Breads raised with yeast and breads (usually called "quick breads") raised with chemical leavening agents (baking powder or baking soda plus an acid) are simply two different things.  Each has its charms, but one cannot simply substitute one leavener for the other.

Amylases in wheat (not the yeast) will break down the starch into simple sugars which the yeast can digest (and they do this even in the absence of yeast).  As others have mentioned, the metabolic process of the yeast creates its set of flavors that normally cannot be produced by chemical leaveners.  It is this complexity of flavors that allow yeast bread formulas to have their relatively simple list of ingredients - at the most basic; flour, salt, yeast, and water.  Omit the yeast and its actions over time and that list of ingredients will be salted paste.  Adding a chemical leavening agent will give risen salted paste.

In general, the breads made with chemical leavens rely on flavoring agents such as sugar and larger amounts of butter than one would find in typical yeast breads (ok, brioche is a happy exception).  They often also rely on eggs as leavening and binding agents.  I have recently been reminded how easy it is to bake delicious things when one can rely on large amounts of sugar, butter, eggs and chocolate (the basic four food groups?) as opposed to taking simple ingredients and nurturing living organisms. Delicious - yes - but different. In general, we don't like to see heavy gluten development in these products (although certainly it can be done...) as they are prized for their delicate textures.  They must be mixed and baked relatively quickly as once the baking powder comes into contact with liquid or the baking soda with acid the leavening begins and will not last long (although double acting baking powder will get a second rise from the heat in the oven).

To make yeasted bread "more flavorful" you can add larger amounts of sugar, eggs, and butter (or even chocolate...) (or you can use different types of grains or use a different process) - but it will still always bear the characteristics of yeasted bread.  To make yeasted bread softer and lighter, you can mix it intensively - but it will still bear the characteristics of yeasted bread.

Pancakes and waffles are examples of the very few products that use similar ingredients when made either with yeast or chemical leaveners.  You might wish to try yeasted and non yeasted versions of these to see the impacts of yeast or chemical leaveners.  To my taste there is nothing to compare with the subtle goodness of a yeasted waffle - I find them to be superior to their chemically leavened cousins.

Hope this helps.