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Bread, The Staff of Life

Bread was central to the formation of early human societies. From the Fertile Crescent, where wheat was domesticated, cultivation spread north and west, to Europe and North Africa, and east towards East Asia. This in turn led to the formation of towns, as opposed to the nomadic lifestyle, and gave rise to more and more sophisticated forms of societal organization. Similar developments occurred in the Americas with maize and in Asia with rice.

Bread has so many manifestations, and varies widely from region to region depending largely on the availability of ingredients. In Canada we are very fortunate to have two kinds of wheat, summer and winter wheat. the later is what provides us with the highest quality hard wheat which is responsible for some of the best bread production in the world. Additionally, many people don't realize that hard wheat flour is used to produce almost all of Italy's pasta for export.

This article will focus on three things, bread components, production and the baking process.


Though chemistry teachers might have to regularly field questions about the chemistry of ‘Breaking Bad’ these days, baking bread is probably more likely to figure on a list of their recreational activities. Bread-making is a process that seems simple, essentially involving the mixing of just four ingredients. However, there’s a lot more chemistry to it than meets the eye; here we delve into the science to work out what’s going on in your loaf.

We start our examination of bread science with the flour. Amongst the most important components of the flour are proteins, which often make up 10-15%. These include the classes of proteins called glutenins and gliadins, which are huge molecules built up of a large number of amino acids. These are collectively referred to as gluten, a name we’re probably all familiar with.

Another ingredient that can affect the dough’s gluten network is salt. It can help strengthen the gluten network, making the dough more elastic, and of course adds flavour to the final bread. Ascorbic acid, a compound more commonly known as vitamin C, also helps to strengthen the gluten network.

Apart from yeast and water, that's about it for basic bread making. Proportion and ratios make up the rest. While working as a commis baker many years ago at a large resort in the Bahamas we made bread 3 times a day. 100 kg at a time. And not just bread, but brioche, croissant and more. For the bread making aspect we made a 100 kg batch of basic French country bread. This was divided into lots of around 5-10kg. From this we produced a variety of breads to long to list here.

this is the basic dough ratio, most bakers use.

Anyway, that's it for now. Check in with me Wednesday for the next chapter on artisan Bread making. Here are a few parting pictures from my Bread Workshop in Quito Ecuador. if you would like to pursue a little more education in baking and pastry, feel free to subscribe to this site! We offer a comprehensive, certified culinary arts and baking program right here on the site.

Cheers, and have a great week!

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