I use the term world-class bread rather freely throughout this book. It is an arbitrary term—more poetic than actual—an image to differentiate between everyday, run-of-the-mill bread and bread that is good beyond belief. Where the line falls is both subjective and objective.
The subjective aspect depends upon your experience: the extent to which you have known the depth and breadth of bread possibilities. There was a time when tasting a wide variety of breads and encountering exceptional examples was only possible in Europe. In recent years, artisan-style bakeries have appeared in this country, exposing us to better bread and expanding our expectations and imaginations. We may not always knowwhy or how, but we can sense when a bread has moved up to the next rung of wonderfulness.
My bread epiphany occurred a few years before the bread revolution hit full force. I was cooking for the seminary of a Christian order in San Francisco (I am still a lay brother in that order, the Christ the Saviour Brotherhood). One of my friends, a very talented cook named Brother Philip Goodrich, took on the then-practically-unheard-of challenge of following all eight pages of Julia Child's instructions, in From Julia's Kitchen, for making French bread. The results were so spectacular that I followed his example, forcing myself to carry out every little step and consulting with him when I stumbled. The bread was so much better than anything we could buy, even the fabled sourdough of San Francisco, that I began making bread every day. Sometimes the results were disastrous, especially when I strayed too far from what I now know to be common bread sense. However, when the bread came out Right—even accidentally—when the crust crackled and then dissolved into sweet, roasted wheatiness and the interior felt cool and buttery even without butter, I was hooked. This was my subjective initiation.
Objective criteria also cause this passionate reaction. These criteria are especially important as we attempt to bake world-class bread at home because they give us guideposts to assure us we are on the right track. Permit me an analogy: There is a school of thought that says the best way to learn tennis is to identify the sound of the "sweet spot"—the spot that delivers the most power from your swing when the ball hits your racquet—and then keep aiming for that sound. It is difficult, of course, to hit that spot without good fundamentals, repetition, a smooth stroke, and proper hand-eye coordination. But once you know the sound and lock into it, your game will never be the same. Likewise, the objective and subjective characteristics of world-class bread help us lock into the sound of the sweet spot, or more appropriately, the sweet sound of crust.
In general, hearth breads (also called lean breads because they are made without fat or other oils) depend upon great crust. Conditioned, flavored, or enriched breads—that is, breads made with more than the basic flour, water, salt, and leaven—are less dependent on crust and instead should have an exceptional crumb (the inside of the bread), as well as great flavor throughout. In either case the feel of the bread in our mouths is crucial; we want a cool and creamy mouthfeel. Lean breads should have a pleasant burst of flavor, a particular kind of crackle in the crust (again, the sound of crust), and a long, pleasant finish in which the complex, fermented grain flavor lingers on the palate after swallowing. (This brings to mind the old story of the butler who tells a visitor that his master, a famous gourmand, cannot come to the door because he is still enjoying dinner. When the man protests that it is far too late to still be eating, the houseman replies, "I didn't say he was still eating dinner; I said he was still enjoying dinner.")
These qualities are all functions of careful fermentation, proper pH balance, judicious use of steam and high heat, and high-quality ingredients mixed in the right proportion.
A properly baked crust has a sweetness that comes forth the more one chews. The natural sugars inside the wheat grains caramelize from the intense oven heat, a process that makes them turn golden brown and retain their crisp crackle even after the bread cools. (In contrast, mass-produced hearth-style breads are often purposely underbaked so they will stay moist longer, since shelf life is the key to profitability.) Because Europeans prefer a more intense flavor, European village bakeries make their loaves so dark they seem almost burned in comparison to American versions.
When a dough is fermented correctly—slowly, over a long period of time—the starchy interior of the loaf develops a gelatinized sheen, a nutty flavor that is a result of the large, open-holed structure exposing the gluten strands of the dough to the fullest heat, and a creamy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. The bread should taste almost buttery; adding butter, in fact, hides the true flavor.
In flavored and enriched breads much of the taste is provided by enrichment ingredients such as sugar, milk, eggs, oil, and butter, and supplemental ingredients like spices, cheese, and seeds. The most critical components are the flavor burst and the mouthfeel. A moist, light crumb (interior webbing) is also crucial, a result not of extra liquid or fat but of a full final rise that exposes the gluten/protein strands to more heat and the starches to a deeper gelatinization.
Fermentation is trickier when sugars are added to the dough to make flavored breads, because overproofing yields a beery, yeasty aftertaste. When these doughs are mixed properly, however, the protein strands bond and the gluten develops fully, just as in lean breads. After the dough is given its two full rises, flavored breads can be every bit as satisfying as classic French bread, developing not only a long flavor-finish but also a beautifully rich, golden, caramelized crust.
THE BASIC TYPES OF BREAD
Now let's take a closer look at some of the better-known and more distinctive breads of the world, many of which you will learn to make in the subsequent chapters.
French baguette and pain ordinaire, or pain français: Though only about 150 years old, the baguette loaf has become the universal symbol of bread. It is characterized by a thin, crackly crust, diagonal cuts across the top that "bloom" open into crusty flaps called ears, a length of 18 to 36 inches (or longer!), and color varying from light gold to deep gold with tones of reddish brown. The coloring is caused both by caramelization and by the Maillard reaction, two types of sugar—heat reactions that affect all yeasted breads. (The Maillard reaction, which also causes the browning of roasted coffee and cocoa beans, nuts, and meats, occurs when carbohydrates and certain types of amino acids are exposed together to high heat.)
The interior crumb of French bread has irregular holes, some very large and barely connected by strands of gluten and others tighter and smaller. If this webbing is composed of uniform-sized holes, it means the loaves have been shaped too roughly or by mechanical equipment rather than gently by hand, and the flavor of the grain will be less complex.
Baguettes and French breads of other shapes, or pain ordinaire, are leavened by commercial yeast, as are the similar Italian-style breads. This dough can easily be made by the "direct," or single-mixing method, but the best loaves are made using pre-fermented dough techniques, or the "indirect method."
Levain: A levain is a naturally leavened bread made with a pre-fermented starter developed from wild yeast. There are many versions of this bread and numerous ways to build such a loaf. Country levains are made with a small percentage of whole-grain flour, usually wheat or rye, to add complexity and texture. The crust is thicker and chewier than pain ordinaire or other yeasted breads. The flavor usually includes acidic sour tones, though Europeans like their levain minimally sour.
The crumb should have the same irregular hole structure as a baguette. Because levain is often baked in round (boule) or oblong (bâtard) shapes, it has more interior crumb than a baguette. This allows for even larger, more open holes than in a baguette. The mouthfeel should be cool and creamy, not dry. The crumb webbing should have a slightly shiny, almost translucent quality.
Ciabatta and rustic breads: Loaves made from wetter doughs are called rustic breads, of which the best known is the Italian ciabatta. Other Italian versions include pugliese, francese, stirato, pane rustico, and stretch bread. These breads may be made with as much as 80 percent hydration. (Most breads are made with 55 to 66 percent hydration, based on the baker's percentage system in which the flour equals 100 percent and everything else is a percentage of the flour weight. For example, in baguette dough, 100 pounds of flour can be hydrated by 60 pounds of water, for 60 percent hydration.) Rustic bread doughs are sticky and difficult to handle, so it is often necessary to sprinkle additional flour on the dough when shaping it and transferring it to the oven. This accounts for the floury crusts and stretch marks many of these loaves exhibit.
The crumb is extremely open, barely holding the loaf together and sometimes tearing to reveal large holes or tunnels. The gluten is stretched to the maximum, exposing it fully to the heat. This gives the bread a pleasant toasty flavor and a gelatinized, shiny interior. The crust is sweet and nutty from the natural caramelization of the sugars. Rustic breads are often yeasted but may also be naturally leavened.
Pumpernickel and other ryes:There are many versions of rye bread. Pumpernickel is a German/Russian-style bread made with coarse, whole-grain rye flour. Other rye breads use finer, more refined rye flours in various configurations with wheat and other grains.
Rye bread usually has a tighter crumb than wheat bread because, as with all grains other than wheat, there is very little gluten in rye. However, it is possible to make open-crumbed rye breads by following slow-rise techniques and using a high percentage of wheat flour. Rye breads have a distinctive earthy quality and a sweetness from the natural sugars in the rye berry. Some versions are yeasted, but rye bread tastes better when made with natural sourdough starters and is assimilated more easily by the body when fermented with the lactobacillus organisms found in these starters. The use of seeds and flavorings such as caraway, onion, anise, flax, and orange is traditional in various cultures, but it is in no way necessary for a good rye.
White bread (pain de mie): Yeasted white bread—for sandwiches, toast, or as an accompaniment to meals—is as much a European tradition as it is an American one. Dough conditioners such as butter, milk, potato starch (from either cooked or dried potatoes), and sugar are added to soften the crumb and crust.
White breads are baked in loaf pans at a lower heat than hearth breads to prevent early caramelization and a crispy crust. The crumb is uniform in appearance with medium-size holes and a tenderness not found in lean hearth breads. Despite its softness, the mouthfeel is drier than that of hearth breads.
Brioche and enriched breads: The generous addition of butter and eggs pushes some breads into a category called rich or enriched breads. Brioche is the most famous but other yeasted rich breads include kugelhopf (sometimes spelled gugelhopf), savarin, baba, la mouna (a crescent-shaped brioche variation with an orange flavor), and fruited holiday breads like stollen, kulich, and panettone. (Croissants, which are made by a "laminating" method in which the fat is rolled into the dough and folded over many times to create hundreds of layers, are also enriched breads but they belong in their own category because of the special handling required.)
Brioche has a beautiful golden color and a soft-as-satin feel. It practically dissolves in the mouth, filling the palate with rich, buttery flavor. The crumb can range from fairly open to tight, but the crust is always thin and tender. Many enriched breads, such as kugelhopf, function more as coffee cakes or tea breads, because of the richness that comes from the additional ingredients.
Flatbreads and focaccia: International flatbreads, especially focaccia, have become very popular in the recent years. Loosely translated, focaccia means "everything that's left in the oven"—in other words, a good way to use up leftovers. There are both savory and sweet versions of this pizza-like, Genoese flatbread. The finest focaccia is made from a soft, wet dough. A long fermentation with a small amount of yeast and the addition of olive oil gives the crumb a spongy, shiny aspect similar to but softer than that of the rustic breads. Sometimes the extra ingredients, such as olives, herbs, and cheeses, are incorporated into the dough and sometimes they are placed on top. The dough, baked in sheet pans, is often poked all over just before baking, giving it a dimpled appearance. Pizza is simply another type of focaccia that originated in southern Italy, probably Naples (though New Haven, Connecticut, claims to be the place where pizza, as we currently know it, was invented!). The Tuscan version of focaccia is called schiacciata.
Flatbreads like tortillas, naan, crackerbread, matzoh, and chapati are international and universal. They may be either leavened, as in the case of the dozens of versions of naan, or like matzoh and chapati, unleavened. However, the master formulas in this book can be used to make many of these breads, as they are all variations on a simple theme.
Flavored specialty breads: Flavored breads, such as Cajun-style spice breads or cheese-and-herb-filled dinner rolls capture the tastes associated with particular regions and cultures. Their flavor is determined more by added ingredients than by long fermentation, so they are perfectly suited for the direct mixing method and bread machines. They are often, but not always, yeasted rather than naturally leavened, risen once in bulk and then once in the pan. They can be made in four or five hours. The dough texture is determined by the proportion of wheat to nonwheat flours, and by the use of supplementary ingredients such as garlic, raisins, nuts, peppers, and cheese.
Quick breads: Banana bread, corn bread, and other quick breads are not made from fermented doughs, except in rare instances, so their chemistry is very different from that of most breads. Leavening is usually done chemically by neutralizing acid with alkaline ingredients, such as buttermilk with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which creates carbon dioxide. The crumb of quick breads is much tighter than that of yeast-leavened breads, and is always very tender due to the inclusion of high levels of oil or butter. Quick breads are so popular in American folk culture that I have included a chapter of master formulas just for these breads.
Finally, here are a few concepts to keep in mind as you prepare to make world-class bread:
There is a difference between "yeasted" and "leavened" breads. All risen breads are leavened, and whether made with commercial yeast or a wild yeast starter, all leavened breads are leavened by yeast. In this book, however, the term yeasted refers to commercial yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), whether instant (fine and powdery), active dry (coarse and gritty), or fresh (compressed, moist cakes culled from beer vats). The term leavened refers to breads such as sourdough and levain, raised with starters made from a strain of wild yeast (Saccharomyces exiguus) that grows on fruit and grain.
Nearly everything that a professional bakery does can be replicated, to some degree, at home. Great bread is primarily a result of dough technique and only secondarily of oven technique. This means you can make bakery-quality bread at home if you understand proper dough technique and adapt your home oven to replicate a professional oven.
Bread machines are tools that simulate in one device steps done by many machines in professional bakeries. When their use is appropriate, do not hesitate to use them. Bread machines are especially good for making and raising wet doughs because of the containment provided. You can then finish these breads by hand, baking them in your oven, or simply leave them in the bread machine.
There are many ways to make worldclass bread. Where one baker uses a poolish starter, another uses a biga pre-ferment, and yet another uses neither. Some bakers use 20 percent pre-ferment in their doughs, others 50 percent. Only a few guiding principles exist for making worldclass bread, and there are many ways to apply them. Choosing from among these options is the art and the craft of baking.
Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme™ Bread Machine Enjoy the delicious taste of freshly baked breads, cakes and more with a minimum of effort. This versatile baking machine prepares perfect traditionally shaped loaves of bread, fresh fruit jams and cakes. With its 13-hour programmable timer, memory settings for your personal recipes, sourdough starter function and crust control function, the Home Bakery Supreme™ is well worth owning. A large viewing window lets you watch the baking process. Its quick baking cycle prepares a 2-pound loaf of bread in under 2 hours.
Bread Machine Bread Bag Keeps machine-baked bread and rustic loaves fresh for days. Reusable to reduce waste. Liner included. Dishwasher safe, machine washable. Freezer safe. Made is USA. Lifetime warranty. 17 in.
Acacia Wood Bread Boards A handsome and useful service for bread, each of these mitered boards is sturdy enough for daily use. The baguette board is 26'' by 3-1/2''; the French bread board is 29-1/2'' by 5''. Bread knife sold separately.
Bread Pan Sturdy and even-heating, this nonstick pan bakes a loaf with consistent crumb and nicely browned crust. Also great for making pound cake. Safe for the dishwasher and up to 550° oven. 10" x 5" x 2¾" Limited 25-year warranty.
Chicago Metallic Nonstick French Bread Pans Each half-cylinder produces a baguette. Perforations allow air to circulate, resulting in two crisply crusted loaves. Professional gauge.
Bread Dough Tool If you're mixing your doughs by hand, this tool comes in handy for getting your mixture thoroughly blended.
Chicken-Shaped Cutting Board Handcrafted of distressed maple hardwood by J.K. Adams, USA. Hand wash. 11.5 x 12.25 in.
Epicurean Grooved Cutting Surfaces Environmentally friendly board is approved by the National Sanitation Foundation. Wood fiber composite laminate (Richlite®) is extremely durable, with a non-porous surface that safeguards against bacteria and staining. Inventive grooves catch juices. Safe for dishwasher and heat resistant up to 350ºF. Made in USA.
Global Bread Knife, 8¾" To achieve perfect balance, Global knife handles are manufactured hollow and then filled with just enough steel to achieve the desired weight. Unique materials and styling make it a great choice.
Dubost Olive Wood Bread Knife NEW Silky-smooth, beautifully grained olive wood handle feels natural in the hand. The perfect knife for slicing all your favorite breads from a crusty baguette to a chewy sourdough. Stainless steel blade. Hand wash. By Dubost, founded in 1920. Made in France. 10¾".
Rustic Wicker Serving Baskets Great for serving fresh baked bread or muffins. Handmade. Designed in New Hampshire.
Round Bamboo Cutting Board Extremely useful, as well as beautiful. Attractive wood grain from bamboo—a renewable resoure and the fastest-growing woody plant in the world. Thin-grain bamboo with stainless handles makes this a beautiful addition to your entertaining table. One-year warranty. 17 diam. x 3 in.
Chef'n Sleekstor™ Collapsible Measuring Cups NEW Expand for use, collapse for storage. Crafted of heat/stain resistant silicone and nylon with clearly marked measurements. Each set includes four cups: 1, ½, 1/3 and ¼. Top-rack dishwasher safe.
Heart-Shape Measuring Spoons Whimsical measuring spoons feature a feathered bow and arrow design on the handles and heart shaped spoons. 18/10 stainless steel.
Salter 1400 Nutritional Scale The perfect tool for conscious eating. Weigh food and calculate its nutritional value with this stainless steel scale. Provides analysis for over 900 foods, showing calories, carbohydrates, protein, sodium, fiber, cholesterol and fat. Memory button for cumulative nutrition totals. Great for low-carbohydrate diets! Extra large display. Add and weigh feature. Measures in pounds, ounces, kilos and grams, up to 6 pounds or 3 kilos. 9-volt battery included.