- For the 1970s rock and roll band, see Bread (band).
Breads are a group of staple staple foods prepared by baking, steaming, or frying a dough consisting minimally of flour and water. Salt is necessary in most cases, and optionally a leavening agent is used. Some sorts of bread also contain spices (such as caraway seed) and grains (sesame, poppy seeds). Grains are also used for decoration purpose.
Bread may be eaten by itself, often with butter, peanut butter, or other nut butter , or a sweet spread such as preserves, jam, jelly, marmalade, honey, or used as an enclosure for a sandwich. It may have been only baked, or subsequently toasted, and may be served anywhere from room temperature to hot.
In the kitchen one puts bread in a breadbox to keep it fresh.
The word itself, Old English bread, is common in various forms to many Germanic languages; such as German Brot, Dutch brood, Swedish bröd, and Danish brød; it has been derived from the root of brew, but more probably is connected with the root of break, for its early uses are confined to broken pieces, or bits of bread, the Latin frustum, and it was not until the 12th century that it took the place—as the generic name for bread—of hlaf (modern English loaf), which appears to be the oldest Teutonic name; Old High German hleib and modern German Laib, or Finnish leipä, Estonian leib, and Russian khleb are similar (all are derived from Old Germanic).
A cereal grain
sometimes along with salt, yeast
, oils, water, and the occasional spices make breads of different tastes and textures.
Bread is a popular food in Western society. It is often made from a wheat-flour dough that is cultured with yeast, allowed to rise, and finally baked in an oven. Owing to its high levels of gluten (which give the dough sponginess and elasticity), wheat is the most common grain used for the preparation of bread, but bread is also made from the flour of rye, barley, maize (or corn), and oats, usually, but not always, in combination with wheat flour.
Leavening is the process of adding gas to a dough before baking to produce a lighter, more easily chewed bread. Most bread consumed in the West is leavened. But there is also unleavened bread which has important symbolic use in Judaism (Matzo) and is used by some Christian churches.
A simple technique for leavening bread is the use of gas-producing chemicals. There are two common methods. The first is to use baking powder or a self-rising flour that includes baking powder. The second is to have an acidic ingredient such as buttermilk and add baking soda. The reaction of the acid with the soda produces gas.
Chemically-leavened breads are called called quick breads and soda breads. This technique is commonly used to make muffins and sweet breads such as banana bread.
Many breads are leavened by the fungus yeast. The yeast ferments carbohydrates in the flour and any sugar, producing carbon dioxide. Most commercial and home bakers in the U.S. leaven their doughs with baker's yeast. Baker's yeast produces uniform, quick, and reliable results, but does so at the cost of losing the more complex flavors of sourdough breads. Sourdough breads also generally keep longer and have a better (less regular) texture. Many bakeries in Europe still bake sourdough breads, and in the U.S., there is an increasing number of artisan bakeries (as well as devoted hobbyists) that are rediscovering the art of baking sourdough breads. The sourdough method produces especially flavorful whole wheat and rye breads.
It is difficult to say when humans first discovered fermentation as a means to leaven doughs, but leavened breads seem to have originated in ancient Egypt. A popular theory is that Egyptian beer brewers must at some point have discovered that when the foam from the fermenting vessels is mixed into their doughs, it will result in a much lighter and airy flatbread. Beer brewing and bread baking are similar crafts in many ways.
Both the baker's yeast, and the sourdough method of baking bread follow the same pattern. Water is mixed with flour, salt and the leavening agent (baker's yeast or sourdough starter). Other additions (spices, herbs, fats, seeds, fruit, etc.) are not necessary to bake bread, but often used. The mixed dough is then allowed to rise once or more (a longer rising time results in more flavor, so bakers often punch down the dough and let it rise again), then loaves are formed and (after an optional final rising time) the bread is baked in an oven.
Many breads (such as the famous baguette) are made from a straight dough, which means that all of the ingredients are combined in one step, and the dough baked after the rising time. Alternatively, doughs can be made with the starter method, when some of the flour, water, and the leavening are combined a day or so ahead of baking, and let ferment overnight. On the day of the baking, the rest of the ingredients is added, and the rest of the process is the same as that for straight doughs. This produces a more flavorful bread with better texture. Many bakers see the starter method as a compromise between the highly reliable results of baker's yeast, and the flavor/complexity of a longer fermentation. It also allows the baker to use only a minimal amount of baker's yeast, which used to be scarce and expensive when it first became available.
The sour taste of sourdoughs actually comes not from the yeast, but from a lactobacillus, with which the yeast lives in symbiosis. The lactobacillus feeds on the byproducts of the yeast fermentation, and in turn makes the culture go sour by excreting lactic acid, which protects it from spoiling (since most mircobes are unable to survive in an acid encironment). All breads used to be sourdoughs, and the leavening process was not understood until the 19th century, when with the advance of microscopes, scientists were able to discover the microbes that make the dough rise. Then, strains of yeast have been selected and cultured mainly for reliability and quickness of fermentation. Billions of cells of these strains are then packaged and marketed as "Baker's Yeast". Bread made with baker's yeast is not sour because of the absence of the lactobacillus. Bakers around the world quickly embraced baker's yeast for it made baking simple and so allowed for more flexibility in the bakery's operations. It made baking quick as well, allowing bakeries to make fresh bread from scratch as often as three times a day. While European bakeries kept producing sourdough breads, in the U.S., sourdough baking was widely replaced by baker's yeast, and only recently has the country (or parts of it, at least) seen the rebirth of sourdough in artisan bakeries.
Sourdough breads are most often made with a sourdough starter (not to be confused with the starter method discussed above). A sourdough starter is a culture of yeast and lactobacillus. It is essentially a dough-like or pancake-like flour/water mixture in which the yeast and lactobacillus live. A starter can be maintained indefinitely by periodically discarding a part of it and refreshing it by adding fresh flour and water. (When refrigerated, a starter can go weeks without needing to be fed.) There are starters owned by bakeries and families that are several human generations old, much revered for creating a special taste or texture. Starters can be obtained by taking a piece of another starter (sourdough bakers usually are willing to give out pieces of their starters) and growing it, or they can be made from scratch. There are hobbyist groups on the web who will send their starter for a stamped, self-addressed envelope, and there are even mailorder companies that sell different starters from all over the world. An acquired starter has the advantage to be more proven and established (stable and reliable, resisting spoiling and behaving predictably) than from-scratch starters.
There are other ways of sourdough baking and culture maintenance, a more traditional one is the process that was followed by peasant families throghout Europe in past centuries. The family (usually the woman was in charge of breadmaking) would bake on a fixed schedule, perhaps once a week. The starter was saved from the previous week's dough. The starter was mixed with the new ingredients, the dough was left to rise, then a piece of it was saved (to be the starter for next week's bread). The rest was formed into loaves which were marked with the family sign (this is where today's decorative slashing of bread loaves originates from), and taken to the communal oven to bake. These communal ovens over time evolved into what we know today as bakeries, when certain people specialized in bread baking, and with time enhanced the process so far as to be able to mass produce cheap bread for everyone in the village.
The most famous sourdough bread made in the U.S. is the San Francisco Sourdough. It is a white bread, characterized by a pronounced sourness (not all sourdoughs are as sour as the San Francisco Sourdough), so much so that the dominant strain of lactobacillus in sourdough starters was named lactobacillus sanfrancisco.
The rapid expansion of steam produced during baking leavens the bread, which is as simple as it is unpredictable. The best known steam-leavened bread is the popover . Steam-leavening is unpredictable since the steam isn't produced until the bread is baked.
Steam leavening is happening regardless of the rising agents (soda powder, yeast, baking-powder, sour dough, egg snow…)
- The rising agent generates carbon dioxide - or contains already air - bubbles.
- The heat vaporises the water from the inner surface of the bubbles within the dough.
- The steam expends and makes the bread rise.
It is actually the main factor in the rise. CO2 generation, on its own, is too small to account for the rise. Heat kills bacteria or yeast at an early stage, so the CO2 generation is stopped.
Usually called salt-risen bread, this is an uncommon form of leavening due to its inconsistent results. However, the bread has a unique cheese-like flavor that is often desired.
Breads across different cultures
Sourdough breads like this baguette
(left) and roundbread begin with a starter passed down from excess batter from a previous loaf.
There are many variations on the basic recipe of bread, including pizza, chapatis, tortillas, baguettes, pitas, lavash, biscuits, pretzels, naan, bagels, puris, and many other variations.
- In the British Isles and the United States, the most widely consumed type of bread is soft-textured with a thin crust and is sold ready-sliced in packages. It is usually eaten with the crust, but some eaters or preparers may remove the crust due to a personal preference or style of serving, as for high tea.
- In France, such bread is known as pain de mie and is used only for toast or for making stuffing; standard bread (in the form of baguettes or thicker breads) has a thick crust and often has large bubbles of air inside. Some fancy breads contain walnuts, or are encrusted with poppy seeds.
- White bread is made from flour containing only the central core of the grain (endosperm).
- Brown bread is made with endosperm and 10% bran.
- Wholemeal bread contains the whole of the wheatgrain (endosperm and bran).
- Wheatgerm bread has added wheatgerm for flavouring.
- Wholegrain bread is white bread with added wholegrains to increase the fibre content.
- Granary bread is brown bread with added wholegrains.
Bread is one of the oldest prepared foods, dating back to the Neolithic era when cereal grains and water were mixed into a paste and cooked. In ancient Egypt bread-making became one of the most significant areas of food preparation, along with the making of beer; both had religious significance as well. It is thought that the Egyptians invented the first closed oven for use in baking. Bread was a primary staple of diet in much of European history, from at least 1000 BC into modern times. Over the past several hundred years, the amount of European household income spent on bread has steadily declined as per capita consumption and production costs have decreased.
Otto Frederick Rohwedder is considered to be the father of sliced bread. In 1912 Rohwedder started work on inventing a machine that sliced bread, but bakeries were reluctant to use it since they were concerned the sliced bread would go stale. It wasn't until 1928, when Rohwedder invented a machine that both sliced and wrapped the bread, that sliced bread caught on. A bakery in Battle Creek, Michigan was the first to use this machine to produce sliced bread.
For generations, white bread was considered the preferred bread of the rich while the poor ate dark bread. However, the connotations reversed in the 20th Century with dark bread becoming preferred as having superior nutritional value while white bread became associated with lower class ignorance of nutrition.
Recently, domestic breadmakers that automate the process of making bread are becoming popular in the home.
The following instructions to make bread were taken from the Household Cyclopedia of 1881:
- "Place in a large pan twenty-eight pounds of flour; make a hole with the hand in the centre of it like a large basin, into which strain a pint of brewer's yeast; this must be tested, and if too bitter a little flour sprinkled into it, and then strained directly, then pour in two quarts of water of the temperature of 100 °F (about 40 °C), or blood heat, and stir the flour round from the bottom of the hole formed by the hand till that part of the flour is quite thick and well mixed, though all the rest must remain unwetted; then sprinkle a little flour over the moist part and cover it with a cloth; this is called sponge, and must be left to rise. Some leave it only half an hour, others all night.
- "When the sponge is light, however, add four quarts of water the same temperature as above, and well knead the whole mass into a smooth dough. This is hard work if done well. Then cover the dough and leave it for an hour. In cold weather both sponge and dough must be placed on the kitchen hearth, or in some room not too cold, or it will not rise well. Before the last water is put in two tablespoonful of salt must be sprinkled over the flour. Sometimes the flour will absorb another pint of water.
- "After the dough has risen it should be made quickly into loaves; if much handled then the bread will be heavy. It will require an hour and a half to bake, if made into fourpound loaves. The oven should be well heated before the dough is put into it. To try its heat, throw a little flour into it; if it brown directly, it will do."
French bread recipe
From the same source:
- "Put a pint of milk into three quarts of water. In winter let it be scalding hot, but in summer little more than milk warm. Put in salt sufficient. Take a pint and a half of good ale yeast, free from bitterness, and lay it in a gallon of water the night before. Pour off the yeast into the milk and water, and then break in rather more than a quarter of a pound of butter. Work it well till it is dissolved; then beat up two eggs in a basin, and stir them in. Mix about a peck and a half of flour with the liquor, and in winter make the dough pretty stiff, but more slack in summer; mix it well, and the less it is worked the better. Stir the liquor into flour, as for pie-crust, and after the dough is made cover it with a cloth, and let it lie to rise while the oven is heating. When the loaves have lain in a quick oven about a quarter of an hour, turn them on the other side for about a quarter of an hour longer. Then take them out, and chip them with a knife, which will make them look spongy, and of a fine yellow. whereas rasping takes off this fine color, and renders their look less inviting."
Note this is not a "true" French bread recipe as according to French law, French bread should contain nothing more than flour, salt, water and yeast.
Bread crumbs are small particles of dry bread, which are used for breading foods, and adding inexpensive bulk to meatloaves and similar dishes.
Ingredients:1½ lb (680 g) wholewheat flour 1 desertspoon Salt
1 oz peanut oil
3 cups water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 sachet of yeast
Method: Put the oven on to 230 degrees Celsius.
To one cup of boiling water, add the sugar and dissolve. Add the remaining water and then the yeast. Cover and place on the top of the oven to get started.
Weigh the flour and salt into a plastic mixing bowl and microwave for a few seconds until the flour is warm (doing this means that the yeast reaction will not stop because of cold flour lowering the temperature of the yeast suspension - the yeast's temperature is thus maintained when it is added and the reaction continues). Add the oil and then the yeast suspension and knead to an even consistency. Add extra flour if necessary to make a dough. Put the dough into the mixing bowl, cover and place back on the top of the oven to rise for around 10 minutes.
Grease an oven tray with oil. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead. You now need to divide the dough into 20 equally sized pieces—there are difficult ways (pulling off guessed amounts and hoping that they are the correct size) and there are easy ways. They need to be even so that they will cook evenly. Make the dough into a circle and divide into four by slicing north/south and east/west. Take one of the quarters and roll it into a cylinder and cut it into five (of the four slices that you are going to make, start with the "second" and then divide the smaller piece into two, then the larger piece into three—practice makes perfect). Cover the buns with a cloth and let them rise for around ½ an hour.
Remove the cloth and place in the oven for 17 minutes (cooking at a low temperature allows the inside to cook through without burning the outside) and then turn up the temperature to gas mark 7 and cook until brown (around 3 minutes) don't leave them on their own as they will burn.
When cooked turn out onto a tray and let them cool.
Use olive oil in the recipe, using olive oil to grease the tin as well and add chunks of pitted olives to the bread to make a nice savoury loaf. In fact, you can add anything: roast nuts; sliced peppers; cooked tomato chunks and so on - experiment;
Increase the amount of sugar* to several ounces and add roasted, sliced almonds, raisins; sliced glace cherries and angelica (and, if you must, some yellow food colouring), covering the final loaf (or buns) in lemon icing; or,
Add an extra ounce or so of sugar* and make the dough a little wetter. Make into doughnut shapes and fry. Dust in caster sugar for a perfect doughnut (wholemeal as well - can't be bad).
- Increasing the amout of sugar will increase the tendency to burn during cooking.
Storage: If not eaten immediately, store them as you would any bread.
They may be reheated in the microwave in only a few minutes and regain that just cooked smell. The bread is moist enough to do this.
Eat as you would any bread: sandwiches, with soups, burgers and so on. Especially nice when hot. Try microwaving with garlic butter (or margarine) or toasting and then eating with a burger.
Bread is mentioned in the Lord's Prayer, where it may mean necessities in general.
Similarly, bread is now a common word in Britain for money from the rhyming slang "Bread and honey".
The anime and manga Yakitate!! Japan chronicles the quest of a young baker to create a 'bread that tastes better than rice'; i.e., one that the Japanese people would accept as a staple food.