The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Is it cheating to use a dough conditioner?

mikehartigan's picture
mikehartigan

Is it cheating to use a dough conditioner?

I struggled with bread for years.  Generally speaking, I enjoyed what I was making, but it seemed every loaf was a crap shoot.  While I had far more successes than failures, many of the successes had, for lack of a better term, a 'novice' quality.  The flavors were there, the crust usually impressed, but I always had issues with the crumb.  Either it was dense and flat (I used to have a big problem with oven spring.  I don't know what I changed, but one day, that problem just went away), or just plain uninteresting.  Inconsistency ruled.  I could never commit to bringing a fresh loaf for our dinner host, because I never knew what was going to come out of the oven that day.  While I enjoy a crusty, chewy French loaf, I longed for the light, fluffy, airy texture of a particular in-store bakery bread in a city I visit, maybe, twice a year.  And PB&J just needs a certain 'Wonder Bread' character.  I wanted to be able to make these things deliberately.

I researched the hell out of it and, reluctantly, decided to try a commercial dough conditioner.  I bought a can of the Honeyville brand (I didn't realize it was a #10 can.  At 1 tsp per cup of flour, this is a lifetime supply!  I'll likely be sharing this.).  

Holy Mother of Pearl!  I've been using this for two weeks, during which time I've baked a half dozen loaves of various types.  This is great stuff!  The bread now does what I want it to!  My technique didn't improve that dramatically overnight, so it can only be the dough conditioner.  Light, fluffy, and airy interior is now at my whim, not the bread gods!

But it's almost embarassing.  My son's first reaction was a sarcastic "so now you can make ...store bought bread at home?"  Yeah, I guess that's what I'm doing.  But I love store bought bread (actually, store baked bread.  Big difference, depending on the store, obviously.)

Am I wrong?  Is there something inherently dishonest about using a commercially produced dough conditioner?  I mean, it's not like making a home made cake from a box.  (or is it?)

embth's picture
embth

If "store bread" texture is your goal, then you have found what you need to achieve it.  You sound happy as a lark with your results.   Most home bakers do not like that "wonder bread mouth-feel", so we use unbleached flour, whole grains, avoid chemical additives, and let time build flavor in the dough to achieve the results we are after.   Homemade bread is comfort food….what you find comforting is different from what others like.     Happy baking!   

mikehartigan's picture
mikehartigan

I realize I'm making bread for me, but I was wondering ('paranoid' may be a better term) whether I would be ostracized by other, more serious bread makers by using something like this.  I mean, one of the reasons I started making my own bread was to avoid the tongue twisters in the ingredients list.  I now feel like I've sold my soul to the devil.  Am I overthinking this?

My 'Wonder Bread' comment was meant as a more-or-less generic reference to commercial sandwich bread.  I'm not particularly fond of Wonder Bread, specifically.

BTW, I just re-read my original comment.  I want to be clear that I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in the product I mentioned.  I see how it could be easily interpreted that way, and I apologize if anyone was offended by it.  And I also don't want to break any forum rules.

embth's picture
embth

yes, you are probably over thinking.   Just relax and invite the "devil" to enjoy a few PB&J "wonderbread" sandwiches with you!   ; )

Arjon's picture
Arjon

If you're getting the result you want, it doesn't matter one iota if some people think you should be aiming for something else. They're not you. 

DivingDancer's picture
DivingDancer

Just because you add a dough conditioner doesn't mean you sold your soul. 

Some people advocate using the water left over from boiling potatoes for the water in their sourdough bread.  The starch does make for a slightly lighter, softer, loaf.  Technically that starch is a "dough conditioner".  Some people avoid using "hard" water in their sourdough because the basic pH changes the consistency of the dough.  Is that a dough conditioner?  Where do you draw the line?

I've spent many hundreds of hours trying to perfect my sourdough bread.  I enjoy the process.  Those eating my bread probably sometimes wish I'd focus less on the process than on the result.  Nobody is right or wrong.  Make bread that you enjoy.  If anybody takes exception to that, take comfort in the fact that the rational crowd amongst us thinks they are idiots ;-)

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

you bake for - so no worries here.  As a libertarian about most all things, including bread, I say anything goes. Wonder bread is the hardest bread to copy in my book.  Not only the texture but the keeping quality as well.  The stuff they put in it to make it keep are harder to get.  More Wonder style bread is made and consumed by more people than all the other ones combined - by a wide margin.

There are no rules when it comes to bread except don't over mix, don't over knead, don't over salt, don't over ferment, don't over proof and don't over bake:-)  Same thing goes for under......

Happy  baking 

drogon's picture
drogon

and if you're happy with them, then carry on. Do google L-Cysteine though. You may be somewhat surprised where some of it comes from... The key ones in the mix are Ascorbic Acid (aka vitamin C) which strengthens the gluten and the enzymes - which help in the conversion of starch to sugar which makes more food for the yeasts to feed on.

One question I might ask though - what about the flour you use? Why does it need this conditioner? Might it be worthwhile changing flour brands (if you feel at all guilty of using these products)

-Gordon

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

"Am I wrong?"

Yes, if you're using this stuff to compensate for lack of bread making knowledge. Even plain white bread with a suitable slow fermentation should produce bread that is very flavorful and interesting, nothing at all like Wonder Bread.

Ditch this stuff and go back to basics.

mikehartigan's picture
mikehartigan

There is, indeed, a lack of bread making knowledge.  Otherwise I wouldn't be here asking for advice and opinions from people who, presumably, are more experienced than I.  I'm working on developing a knowledge at least sufficient to make a more predictable loaf in the styles that I want, even something akin to Wonder Bread, if that's what I have a hankerin' for.

Regarding going 'back to basics', where is that?  Flour, water, salt, and yeast?  Arguably, anything beyond those 4 ingredients is a dough conditioner - an ingredient whose purpose is to modify, in some predictable way, the flavor and/or texture and/or shelf life of the bread.  Many of the recommendations I've seen here over the years mention all sorts of dough conditioners - eggs, sugar, oil, etc.  The product I bought simply combines the essence of some of those ingredients into a consistent, convenient, and, perhaps most importantly, very effective form.  Sure, I can make flavorful and interesting breads with just the Big 4.  I've done it many, many times, just not consistently.  But I want to do more than what I can do with just those 4.  There's no way in hell you're going to coax those 4 ingredients into a soft, airy, white, easy slicing sandwich bread that the kids love (what I generically refer to as "Wonder Bread") without adding something else to make those 4 ingredients behave differently.

This dough conditioner got me where I want to be.  Now it's time to break it down into its component parts and figure out what each brought to the party, partly with an eye toward replacing it with, perhaps, a more PC ingredient to reach the same end.  There's a whole lot of learnin' to do.  That's one of the reasons I'm here.

KathyF's picture
KathyF

King Arthur flour has a bread improver that has vital wheat gluten and ascorbic acid in it. Diastatic malt powder also helps with a soft, fluffy rise.

DivingDancer's picture
DivingDancer

But I think you are wrong on this.  Even with a lack of experience or technique, if various dough conditioners produce the desired product then what is the difference?  It's meaningless to say "it's right to produce the desired product through years of practice and technique, but wrong to produce that same product through a different technique that happens to use a different recipe". 

It's about the goal.  If the product that comes out the other end is what I'm looking for, does it matter how I got there?  Is it wrong for me to build the beautiful house of my dreams by buying the lumber instead of growing the trees, milling my own lumber, and mining the pigments that go into the paint? 

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

Better analogy is buying a manufactured home vs an actual house. It takes a degree of education before someone understands that one is vastly superior to the other.

It doesn't take years of practice to produce a good sandwich loaf. Lots of people succeed their first time. Consistency, of course, will improve with experience.

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

Nobody prefers Wonder Bread. It has no taste. The dough conditioner is not a substitute for eggs, butter, etc. Just follow a good recipe...any bread baking book has one. Rose Levy Beranbaum quotes a reviewer of her white sandwich loaf: "Hmmmmm...This is what Wonder Bread, in its soul, really always wanted to be."

Back to basics means learning to recognize when your dough is ready. From your description, it sounds like you've had problems with under/over proofing.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

conditioner into this weeks bake.  I bought ti to try to make Wonder Bread without, what I would call, total success.  I have done this several times before though and added VWG many times too - even did a series of experiments using both.  Whole grain breads really benefit from both when it comes to lofty and airy crumb even when using the best ingredients, methods and techniques otherwise.  

When you have more gluten to develop and additives that strengthen it, then you get more of it and it is better gluten too.   There are limits of course, but generally speaking within reason, this is true.  That doesn't mean you have to use them to get a very nice loaf of bread either.......  but purist bakers don't want to use them any more than they want their whole grain breads compared to ones that are pumped up and conditioned to be what they are - more lofty, light and airy.

Some bakers only use organic flour, some only FWS&Y. Some only SD, some only make enriched dough, some only use bread machines and some make Wonder Bread.  There is plenty of room for everyone.  You just have ti decide what kind if baker you want to be   - there is no right or wrong... just different bakers.   I do it all ...and am better for it but,  could so much more depending on what recipe Lucy cooks up:-)  

chapstick's picture
chapstick

I am unashamedly a massive fan of Dan Lepard, and he has lots of "tricks" that you might be interested in trying, to see how much you can replicate the success of baking using the "improver" you've purchased. I suspect that commercial, packaged bread improver is chemically similar to an amalgam of these, but some people are more comfortable using more familiar ingredients. Orange juice is a classic example as suggested by drogon's comment. As a substitute for some of the liquid it can give the same effect as using crushed vitamin C tablets.

I often refer to this Guardian article from a few years back: "And adding a tablespoon of vinegar to the dough mix will help the crumb stay soft after baking, as will a tablespoon of soya flour. Half a small vitamin C tablet, or the juice of an orange, will help loaves rise better, especially if they contain a portion of wholemeal flour. And if your loaf smells of yeast, reduce the amount you use by a quarter next time. Replacing half the water in a recipe with yoghurt will give more flavour to white bread without it tasting milky."

DivingDancer's picture
DivingDancer

Is use of a dough conditioner "cheating"?  Of course not!  It really comes down to answering the question "Why am I making bread in the first place, and what do I want to get out of it?".

If your goal is to make airy fluffy consistent bread, a dough conditioner can't be beat.  Personally I absolutely love this kind of bread, even if I don't make my bread this way.  Warm it, slather some butter on it, and dig in.  It's wonderful and will be enjoyed by nearly anyone.

But there are also good reasons to steer clear of dough conditioners.  I started making sourdough because I have a fascination with learning "how it used to be done".  This is true not just in bread but in all of my culinary endeavors.  I never use prepared ingredients.  I make everything from scratch, simply because I want to know how food is created in its most basic form.  That doesn't make my sourdough, without benefit of a dough conditioner, any better.  Or any worse.  Lots of people would try my very best sourdough and conclude that "the good old days weren't necessarily so good", and that there's a reason that things progress.  That's the way it is.  I recently told somebody that making sourdough "the hard way" is a very Zen experience for me.  That's my reason for doing it that way.  But it isn't everyone's.

I say make what you enjoy.  If the bread that you and your family enjoy is created with a dough conditioner in the mix, then so be it!  If you want to be a purist, and enjoy the process more than the result, then so be it.  It's all good!