How Stuff Works: Bread!

By: Justine Nicole Dator

Bread is one of the most basic food that man consumes. Bread has also been one of the first pastries, ranging from ring donuts to loaves. Exactly what causes the creation of this versatile and well-loved food? How does it rise from a piece of dough? These will all be answered in this article.

We can divide the bread making process into four: mixing the ingredients, kneading the dough, leaving the bread to ferment, and baking the bread. In the first step, the basic ingredients used for making bread are flour, water, salt, and yeast. Flour contains a lot of protein, which is essential in bread-making. The protein in flour is inactive at first, but once it’s mixed with water, they activate and begin to line up, forming bonds between their chains, creating a huge gluten network within the dough.

The second step, kneading the dough, strengthens the bonds, because the proteins uncoil and interact with each other more strongly. The purpose of salt is to strengthen the gluten, and make the dough more elastic. The third step involves the yeast is what helps the bread to rise. The enzymes in yeast break down starch (found in flour) into sugar. The sugars metabolize and release carbon dioxide and ethanol, which help the bread to rise.

The final step in making bread is the baking of the bread. Have you noticed how bread begins to go stale after a while? This is because the starch in the bread is beginning to crystallize. Keeping bread in the fridge can actually accelerate the crystallization process of bread.

You can also include other ingredients when baking bread. Adding baking soda can help with the rising of the bread, because when added to water, it produces carbon dioxide. Baking powder is actually baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) with cream of tartar, which is an acid ingredient that helps activate the sodium bicarbonate. Ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) helps strengthen the gluten network of the bread. Adding more fats weakens the gluten network, softening the bread, and stabilizing the gas bubbles, which increases the loaf volume.

Other ingredients in bread affect the bread in different ways. What has been discussed in this article so far is just the basics of bread making. Next time you’re going to bake bread, now you’ll know what ingredients are the priority, depending on what kind of bread you want to make.



Baking Bread: The Chemistry of Bread-Making (picture)


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