The essential basic ingredients of bread are flour, a leavening agent, and a liquid. But there is no need to stop there.
Many other ingredients are often added to alter the flavor and texture of bread resulting in the vast range of different breads from around the world.
Here are just a few of the options.
Salt is not just an extra ingredient. It is essential in most bread recipes, even sweet ones. Bread baked without salt has a strange, bland, sweetish flavor. Even a small amount of salt will counteract this. On average, for a plain loaf, 2 teaspoons salt are added for every 3 to 31/2 cups flour.
Fine salt can be added to the flour before the yeast-and¬water mixture is stirred in. Kosher salt should be dissolved in a little of the water before it is added so it is evenly distributed. Do not, however, dissolve it in the same water that you are using to start off the yeast. Salt will inhibit the action of the yeast, because they should not come into contact until the yeast has at least begun to ferment.
In recipes where a “sponge” is made with the yeast and some of the given amount of flour to act as a starter for the dough, the salt should be added to the second batch of flour.
Water is the main liquid used for most types of bread dough. However, some or all of it can be replaced with another liquid. All liquids should be heated to warm before they are added.
Milk is the most popular substitute for water. A milk loaf will have a soft crumb and a thinner crust than bread made with water. It may, however, become dry and stale more quickly than an ordinary loaf. When milk is the main liquid in soda bread, it should have a little cream of tartar added to counteract the alkalinity of the soda.
Fermented Milk Products, such as plain yogurt, cultured buttermilk, or ordinary sour cream, produce a rich flavor and a soft texture in a yeasted loaf. For quick breads made with baking soda as a leavening agent, one of these ingredients is essential to counteract the alkalinity of the soda.
Cream and Sour Cream. Cream gives a rich texture to yeasted loaves. When making scones, biscuits, or soda bread, use sour cream for the same effect.
Vegetable Juices. When you are making a loaf to go with savory foods, such as soups and salads, a tomato or mixed vegetable juice used instead of water adds a delicious, savory flavor and an orange color. Carrot juice can be too sweet for savory breads, but it can be used when making tea breads, such as the Carrot Tea Bread.
Fruit Juices can also be added to enrich sweet breads, particularly those containing dried fruits. They are suitable in both yeasted breads and quick breads. In yeasted breads fruit juices give a mild, sweet flavor and a subtle color. Pure orange juice is the most suitable.
Beer can be used to make strongly flavored breads with whole-grain flours. It gives a distinctive, slightly bitter flavor. Beer can also be used instead of water to make a sourdough starter.
Eggs enrich and soften all yeasted breads and are best used in combination with other enriching ingredients, such as milk, butter, or oil. If used to replace all or part of the liquid in a recipe, they can produce a loaf which becomes dry after 24 hours. When you are replacing a liquid in a recipe with eggs, take into account their liquid measurement. The best way to ascertain this is to beat them in a measuring jug.
Fats and Oils
Butter gives a moist, flaky texture to dough, and, if used in large quantities, a golden color. Unless otherwise stated, salted butter is used in the recipes in this book.
Margarine enriches a bread dough but does not give as good a flavor as butter. Use it only when small amounts are required, either in yeasted bread or in quick breads.
Butter Substitutes and Spreads. These are not suitable for bread-making.
Olive Oil enriches, softens, and flavors many of the breads of the world, particularly those from Spain, Italy, and France. Often it is added with other liquid, in which case the amount of liquid you use may have to be reduced slightly. Other recipes call for the olive oil to be kneaded into the dough. This may sometimes appear to be an impossible task, but if the oil is added 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time and care is taken to knead it all in before adding the next spoonful, you will find it will all be incorporated.
Sesame Oil gives a rich, nutty flavor to a loaf. It can replace olive oil, but should be used only in small quantities in appropriate recipes, such as Middle Eastern breads.
Sunflower Oil enriches a bread dough in a similar way to olive oil, but does not give a very good flavor. It can, however, be used as a butter substitute in certain quick breads.
Vegetable Shortening is a soft, white fat. It is rarely used in yeasted breads but is sometimes called for in muffins and other quick bread recipes.
Sweeteners can be added to bread doughs in varying amounts. They may make the loaf very dark on the outside. This does not mean the bread is burned.
Brown Sugar adds color and a small amount of flavor to a loaf. It is often used in combination with a whole-wheat flour, when the crusts will not be white.
Granulated Sugar is used in a wide range of bread recipes, and is essential if you want to produce a white-colored crumb. It can be added to the flour with the salt or dissolved in the liquid before it is added.
Honey can be used for quick breads and muffins, as well as some yeasted loaves. It makes a sticky yeasted dough, so is rarely used for yeast breads in large quantities.
Molasses. Small amounts of molasses make interesting yeast breads and quick breads.
Superfine Sugar is not necessary for most bread recipes, but may be specified in some quick-bread recipes because the fine grains dissolve quicker than those of granulated sugar.
For even more variety, different flavorings can be added to doughs, and in most cases only small amounts are needed. Both fresh and dried herbs can be added to savory loaves. Spices added in fairly small quantities give flavor to both sweet and savory loaves. Ripe olives, sun-dried tomatoes, tomato paste, and garlic paste all add extra flavor to dough. Mashed potato makes a soft, moist bread. Dried fruits, candied cherries, candied peel, and chopped nuts are popular additions to enriched yeast breads doughs.