Bread is the most common baked product, available all over the world, in some form or the other. Some are leavened, others are unleavened. Each country has its own recipe and special variants of bread. Bread is also available in many forms: leaved breads come as rolls, buns, loaves, etc. while unleavened breads would include pita, phulkas, chapatti, puris, etc.
Leavened breads, which are most common, use four main ingredients: flour, salt, sugar, water and yeast. To make bread, ensure that you scale and weigh the ingredients properly. Once that is done, you can start preparing the dough for bread. Mixed dough for yielding aerated loaf of bread should be fermented for the proper length of time during which time yeast cells act on the sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. Once fermented, the dough will rise in volume because of gas retention. This risen dough is punched to release the gases and covered under a wet muslin cloth. The dough will rise once again and needs to be punched again to remove the gases. It is then rolled into desired shapes and baked.
Bread dough can be shaped into various sizes and designs. They can be shaped into plaits, a chessboard (using white and brown bread dough alternatingly), rolls, sticks, croissants, loaves etc. They can also be flavoured with various ingredients like garlic, herbs, potato, cheese etc.
Bakers often use various additives, collectively known as Bread Improvers. These improvers enable the baker to produce loaves with better keeping properties, finer texture, softer crumbs, added bloom or enhanced flavour. Bread additives include mineral additives, enriching agents or yeast foods like malt sugar, Demerara sugar, etc.
When bread is a little old, it can be dried in the oven or toasted on an open flame and then ground into bread crumbs. Alternatively, bread can be cubed and deep-fried to make croutons, which can be stored for a longer time.
Staleness in bread is the dryness and crumbliness felt by the palate. The flavour gets insipid as the bread gets stale. Staling happens because of changes in the starch. Thus, staling is a shift of moisture within the loaf rather than its loss. Thus, bread makers use anti-staling agents like lecithin, soya flour, GMS etc. to improve texture and increase volume.
Here is a quick note on the various types of bread:
• White Bread. This is made using refined flour or a combination of whole wheat flour and refined flour. It is the most commonly used bread, and also sold as sandwich bread.
• Brown Bread. Brown bread is generally made with 100 per cent whole wheat flour. Caramel is usually added to give the brown colouring.
• Multigrain Bread. It may be termed as Six Grain or Seven Grain bread depending on the ingredients. This bread is made using refined flour or a combination of whole wheat flour and refined flour, with grains like sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, safflower seeds, rye, etc. added to increase the fibre content. It is more nutritious than white bread.
• Rye Bread. It is a part of Russian, Scandinavian and German cuisine, and is made with highly nutritious rye grain. It is darker in colour, rougher in texture and stronger in flavour than wheat bread. Rye bread is disc-shaped, with a hole in the centre for easier storing, and can be preserved for longer periods of time.
• ita Bread. It is unleavened bread, which is not fermented much. It forms a pocket when cut into halves and these pockets can be stuffed with vegetables, cutlets, falafel, etc. Pita can be grilled or served just like that along with hummus (chickpea dip).
• Irish Soda Bread. It is a quick bread made with a particular variety of soft wheat grown in Ireland along with baking soda and buttermilk.
• Roti/ Chapati/ Phulka. These are unleavened breads of Indian origin. They are commonly made in disc shapes with whole wheat flour dough, and served with gravies, subzis, etc.
• Tortillas. Tortilla is a staple diet in Mexican cuisine. It is made using maize flour and is thin and disc-shaped (similar to Indian breads like roti). Tortillas can be stuffed or deep-fried and then served along with dips.
• Focaccia. Quite popular in Italy, it is seasoned with olives, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and herbs. It can be topped with cheese or stuffed with vegetables and then baked. Focaccia dough is similar to pizza dough.
• Calzone. An Italian delicacy, this bread is moon-shaped and is commonly stuffed with vegetables.
• Steamed Bread: Unlike usual baked breads, this Chinese delicacy is made by steaming or deep-frying wheat flour based dough or rice flour dough. It can also be stuffed with vegetables.
• Baguette. Baguette is a popular boat-shaped French bread, which has a rough exterior and soft interior. There are several slits on the baguette, which give it its unique texture, and many a times it is sprinkled with poppy seeds, sesame seeds etc.
• Grissini. Commonly called as Bread
Sticks, Grissini are pieces of dough rolled up into thin sticks, and then sometimes topped with sesame seeds, cheese, mixed herbs, poppy seeds etc.
• Ciabatta. A long, broad and flat Italian white bread, which looks a little compressed or collapsed in the middle.
French rolls are small rounded baguettes, which are usually served with soup or a main course. They are used in occasions where a large, normal-sized baguette will not be appropriate. French rolls are made with French Dough, and can be in various patterns and shapes—like plaited or chequered (with brown and white bread dough). They may also be flavoured with herbs, sesame, or other ingredients. Bakers may add Improvers like mineral additives, malt sugar, and Demerara sugar, to improve the taste, texture and life of the French Rolls. Their preparation, storage and culinary uses are otherwise quite similar to that of other breads.
Toasted bread slices
To toast bread slices, place the bread slices on a toaster and toast till they turn golden brown and crisp. Alternatively, you can place the bread slices in a pre-heated oven and bake till they turn crisp. These toasted slices can be used as bread croutons and also to make some delicious open toast sandwiches and many other dishes.
How to select
• Always buy fresh bread; you can check the freshness using the crust texture and aroma of the bread.
• Never buy without checking the manufacturing date, expiry date and packaging.
• A bread loaf can be thinly or thickly sliced as per recipe requirement. Maintain or discard the crust during slicing.
• Sliced bread loaves are most commonly used to make sandwiches with various fillings like vegetables, cheese, jam, etc. They can also be made in various styles: toasted or grilled, open toasts, hot dog rolls, submarines, etc.
• Bread is a good accompaniment for soups. These breads are usually in the form of bread rolls, Grissini sticks etc.
• Bread, when baked into buns, acts as a base for burgers. Burger buns are usually sprinkled with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
• Croissants, whether plain or stuffed with cream and jam or vegetables and can be had as a snack.
• Butter a few slices of bread and rub some garlic on each slice. Cut into cubes and bake in the oven till crisp. Use as croutons for soups. These can also be flavoured with herbs, cheese etc.
• Indian breads include roti, chapatti, naan, parathas, kulchasetc. This assortment of breads is placed in a bread basket and served with gravies, subzis and dals.
• Bread is used to make Paninis - an Italian speciality where Ciabatta bread is sliced and then stuffed with vegetables and cheese and then grilled.
• Pita bread is grilled and served along with hummus.
• Bread dough can be stuffed with a creamy sauce cooked with vegetables like sweet corn, mushrooms, herbs and cheese, and then baked – to make a great mid-day snack.
• You can roll bread dough thinly and then top with poppy seeds, sesame seeds etc. Cut into thin strips or into triangles and then bake till golden brown and crisp. These strips can be used as crackers or as a garnish for salads.
• Bread croutons are used in the famous Caesar salad where it is combined with romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper etc.
• Bread, in the form of crumbs, is used as a coating for tikkis, patties etc. Such fritters are first rolled in bread crumbs and then deep-fried. Bread crumbs are also used for thickening a few sauces, in the preparation of some cakes etc.
• Use sliced bread to make sweets like Bread Butter Pudding, Double kaMeetha (fried bread soaked in rabdi and garnished with nuts), etc.
• You can also prepare French toast for breakfast. Soak slices of bread in a mixture of eggs, sugar and condiments, cook in a broad pan using butter and serve warm.
How to store
• It is better to consume bread fresh. However, if you wish to store it for longer, cover in plastic film, place in a bread box and store under refrigerated conditions. Try and use as soon as possible.
• Alternatively, grind into bread crumbs or cube and deep-fry to make bread croutons, which can be stored in an airtight container for few days.
• Bread that is kept in warm or moist conditions is prone to mould. So avoid such environments.
• Breads are high in carbohydrates, and hence a good source of energy.
• Depending on the variety of bread, it can also increase the protein and fibre quotient of your diet.
• Switching from white bread to whole wheat bread helps relieve constipation.
• Breads also contain healthy vitamins, minerals and fats.
• Eating a slice of bread before bedtime is known to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.