Bread Science Summer Summary

Well friends, we’ve come to the end of a yeast-filled summer. It has been three months full of kneading, waiting, baking, blogging, and enjoying the knowledge that bread can bring us. I’m not just talking about the various conclusions that I’ve been able to draw from my experiments. I’m also referring to the apparent simplicity with which the most basic of ingredients, themselves inedible, can come together in incredible synergy to create a nourishing loaf of goodness. Some of the personal goals that I have been focusing on outside of this project over the summer have been actively working to be more present and being okay with letting things go. In a gluten-filled and slightly-cheesy dovetail, my bread journey has helped reinforce these goals. Preparing a loaf of bread by hand is a meditative experience in which the baker can remain centered and present through the tactile experience of mixing, kneading, and shaping. Working so hard on a loaf only to give it away and watch it disappear as it is eaten is a lesson in letting go and a testament to the joy that sharing can bring. I’m so thankful that I have been given the opportunity to commune with bread like I never thought possible, and I can’t wait to settle into my house in Williamsburg and pack my housemates’ mouths full of science!

In terms of some notable quantitative observations, throughout my home baking experiment I have learned that…

  • Whole wheat flour, bread flour, and all-purpose flour will all produce sandwich loaves of similarly tall and gorgeous heights!
  • As long as your water is not too hot (over 115 degrees Fahrenheit), the temperature of water that you use in your yeasted loaves will not affect their ability to rise. In fact, many professional bakers chill their water before adding it to baguette dough in order to slow down the rising process and create larger air pockets in their loaves.
  • The more one kneads Irish Soda Bread dough, the more structure the final product will have, therefore producing a taller loaf.

Some qualitative observations that I’ve picked up along the way are that…

  • Aqua faba (the water from a can of chickpeas) can be substituted for eggs in a loaf of challah and your neighbors wont even know the difference!
  • In a pumpernickel loaf, whole wheat flour will add an airy texture, but rye flour will lock in more taste. It’s best to use a mixture of both!
  • Any potato out there (even a sweet potato or yam) can produce a stellar Irish Freckle loaf!
  •  Naan is much more moist and tasty with filling, and almost any dry, vegetable-based filling will work perfectly.
  • Brown Rice Flour is the most cost-effective and highest-performing gluten-free flour on the market.
  • Xanthan Gum is a very strange ingredient that smells weird, binds gluten-free loaves with ease, and is very fun to say!
  • A sweetspot for sourdough sponge age is around 4 days (this will produce the tangiest taste without spoiling your starter)

In case you want to see the fruits of my labor this past summer and/or follow along as I continue to interact with bread, here is the link to my website: https://jmalks53.wixsite.com/breadspot

Thanks for sharing with me!