We know: the bread that most shops sell us is not the best. Discover the characteristics that differentiate quality bread. No more soulless bread!
The bread is fashionable. It’s actually been around for a few millennia. The difference is that now there is more talk about it and it seems that it is the latest trend. However, seeing a flat cake bake in any corner of the planet transports us like few other foods to the gestures and customs of the inhabitants of the Bronze Age.
However, today we are invaded by a multitude of terms that can confuse us: sourdough, spelled, kamut, natural ferments. What do they mean? How much is true and false in fashion? How is a good bread? How is it different from a bad one?
THEY SELL US A RATHER POOR BREAD
The growing presence of bread outlets –which in many cases offer a questionable quality product–, together with changes in lifestyle and consumption habits, have made freshly baked bread available almost at all hours.
Curiously, it is a bread that ages at a high speed, given the mediocre production process. As a rule, a short-leavened bread will keep less than a bread whose dough has gone through long periods of rest.
If this is added the tendency to prefer small breads, especially thin bars (with a few centimeters of crumb diameter), a landscape is obtained in which bread has the same status as an ephemeral and instantaneous object as a soda can or some other “inert” product that is purchased to be consumed instantly.
HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE A GOOD BREAD FROM A BAD ONE?
The world of bread is immense (comparable to other fermented foods such as cheese or wine) and not all breads have to share the same characteristics: some must be crunchy (like a loaf or a baguette); others must, on the contrary, offer a juicy and moist crust (like a rye bread).
In general, good bread would have to have the simple organoleptic characteristics that identify it as such: the smell and taste of bread. In these times, surprisingly, sometimes this becomes a chimera.
A FEELING THAT LASTS
What to look for is a lasting sensation in the mouth after the last bite is swallowed. During the fermentation of the bread, if time is allowed to exert its work, the yeast that makes the dough rise is joined by bacteria, relatives of which offer products as healthy and delicious as yogurt or sauerkraut. These lactobacilli create acids (lactic, acetic) that are largely responsible for the different aromas that occur in different breads.
A good piece of white bread will have to offer an almost heady collection of aromas in the crust; Its crumb will present the slight sweetness typical of the cereal, accompanied by the persistent taste resulting from the fermentation, a note that at first can be identified as salty but that in reality has to do with the presence of lactic acid, a pleasant aftertaste that encourages you to eat another piece.
A more rustic bread, perhaps with some rye, will have a stronger aromatic profile, an even more lasting taste and possibly a presence of small notes of acetic acid typical of the fermentation in an acid environment that rye requires.
BREADS AND FLAVORS OF THE WORLD
In fact, on many occasions the tastes of entire regions (such as the marked acidity of northern European rye breads or the dense crumb of Castilian breads) speak not only of mere preferences, but of solutions found by bakers to over generations to obtain the best product given specific conditions (special cereals, climatic circumstances or customs, etc.).
The simple gesture of mixing flour with water and then baking the dough has been repeated for millennia by people in different parts of the planet; whether they are humble cakes cooked on embers, crunchy loaves or sweet pieces loaded with the most exquisite aromas.
For centuries, and around the world, generations of bakers have come up with diverse solutions to make different breads. The human being went from eating unleavened bread (unfermented) to eating leavened bread, fluffy, easy to chew and with the flavor and aroma that fermentation gives to the dough: a bread as tasty as it is digestive.
Once the yeast is inoculated (the French use the precious verb “ensemencer”, sow, a relative of the Castilian inseminate) the fermentation process begins, which swells the bread with carbon dioxide (which will be trapped in the alveoli of the crumb) and alcohol (which will evaporate in the oven).
GOOD BREAD TAKES TIME
However, for the magic of bread to happen, for the aroma, flavor, crust and texture that we usually associate with good bread to be created, it is necessary to allow the bacteria to have time to populate the dough and give us their aromas. : the mild lactic acid in the bottom of a good panettone or the pronounced acetic flavor of a rye bread from northern Europe, or the mixture of both that is found in a well-made baguette.
Between these extremes, the art of the baker creates with its flour and water base the many times subtle differences and the almost infinite range of nuances and flavors. Unfortunately, nowadays the abusive use of improvers and additives, and especially yeast (and therefore a very short fermentation time) produces breads in which it is difficult to identify the characteristics of the bread (aroma, flavor, texture, crust). And which are sometimes remarkably short in duration.
OLD CEREALS FOR NEW BREADS
To carry out his work of “raising” the bread, the baker works with flour as the main ingredient. The success of the final result will depend on the quality and variety of this.
Today it is not uncommon to find in bakeries a large number of names of cereals and ingredients that sometimes, as a result of fashion, or thanks to public ignorance, generate more confusion than information.
- Spelled or spelled is a polysomic term. In Spain it is used to refer normally to two species of the same genus, the Tritium. On the one hand, there is the Triticum aestivum, ssp. spelta (greater spelled; or fisga, in Asturias, a land with a long tradition in its cultivation), directly related to the most common bread wheat in our environment (white and floury interior). On the other hand, there is the Triticum dicoccum (lesser spelled; or povía, in Asturias), a more archaic species, related to durum wheat. In any case, these grains offer a high nutritional value and in certain cases they are better tolerated by some people who find some varieties of current wheat difficult to digest.
- Kamut is the trade name (and trademark) for Triticum turgidum ssp.turanicum, another relative of durum wheat (the one we commonly used to make pasta). It is a cereal with a large grain, with a glassy and golden appearance, which produces a sandy, granulated flour with a characteristic sweet taste and an appreciable amount of proteins and minerals.
- Einkorn or faro, Triticum monococcum, is one of the oldest species of wheat, a small grain and very rich in lipids and minerals. Like spelled, farro cultivation yields a much lower production than that of common wheat, a fact that has led to cereals that are interesting from a nutritional point of view and endowed with great organoleptic characteristics have been falling into disuse, sometimes replaced by varieties that offer high yields per hectare and in which essential aspects for a good bread, such as flavor, do not prevail.
THE HEALTHIEST BREAD
The bread is delicious, it accompanies any other food, but which is the healthiest? In general, if you are looking for a healthy bread, you will have to bet on complete breads that also have a greater satiating power and are more nutritious: that is, that in the same weight they give us more nutrients.
For one thing, just look at the cereal. When we consume white bread, it is a product that has been deprived of part of its most important nutritional characteristics (such as the contribution of fiber, minerals and vitamins, which the flour is deprived of when it is sifted in the mill and it is remove the bran and germ).
That is one of the reasons why it is convenient to incorporate more whole grain products into our diet; not only for the contribution of fiber, but for giving us a more complete food in every way. A whole grain bread has a lower glycemic index than a white one made with refined flour, which means that the fuel it provides to our body will last longer and will not have ups and downs.
However, whole wheat flour is a double-edged sword, as it contains phytic acid, which reduces the absorption of some minerals from the whole grain. The solution is simple: opt for long-fermented breads, raised with natural sourdough, which, thanks to the presence of lactobacilli, achieve an enzymatic activity that prevents the action of phytic acid. That is why it is important to look for wholegrain breads with slow fermentation, usually identifiable by a more marked acidity.
DOES BREAD MAKE YOU FAT?
Bread is not just another food. In our culture it has been about “food” for centuries. It is buried in the deepest substrate of our gastronomic identity and appears not as an accompaniment but as a main dish in the oldest cookbooks. Unfortunately, for some time bread has been accompanied by the stigma of being a fattening food.
A simple glance at the composition of traditional bread reveals that it is a lean food, with a minimum amount of fat and that, on the contrary, it provides carbohydrates of the so-called “slow” and constitutes a source of vitamins and fiber, especially in products that incorporate some whole wheat flour.
An irrefutable fact is added to the nutritional data of bread: the consumption of bread in Spain has gone from 134 kg per person per year in 1964 to about 45 kg today, at the same time that obesity levels rose, especially the childhood obesity, to reach the top of Europe.
At the same time, the percentage of spending on bread and farinaceous food has fallen at the same constant rate as spending on meat and dairy products. Given these data, it is evident that the black legend of bread is crumbling and it is necessary to review it with a new look, as many nutritionists are doing who in weight loss regimes maintain a reasonable bread consumption (which seems to guarantee success in monitoring the diet) together with a less sedentary lifestyle.
MYTHS AND FALSE BELIEFS ABOUT BREAD
Along with the myth that bread is fattening, there are a whole series of widespread ideas that have little of certain, and that in some cases are totally wrong.
- The hot bread tastes delicious. On the one hand, the best way to appreciate the organoleptic characteristics of bread is cold. When hot, the bread offers alcohol and residual acids from baking, but its nuances cannot be properly appreciated, since in many cases it is not finished cooking until after a few minutes and the piece has cooled. We do the same when we take a cheese out of the fridge to temper it or we drink different wines at different temperatures.
According to research by Innopan (an important center for the technological diffusion of bread), the optimal time to appreciate all its characteristics would be between 8 and 10 hours after baking for a common bread. 100% rye bread it needs more and a thin bar a little less, by its very nature and format. On the other hand, hot bread does not “ferment in the gut” since when it comes out of the oven it is at almost 100ºC, a temperature at which the yeasts that have fermented it do not survive.
- The old bread was better. Before there was good bread but there was also a lot of bad bread. In fact, the memory acts as a natural improver of the breads of yesteryear, as does the fact that during periods of hunger and scarcity the virtues of some products were extolled. Today a baker has in his hands the ingredients, the technology and the information to make bread as good as possible throughout the history of the bakery.
- Freezing bread spoils it. Freezing bread does not make it a bad bread; the problem comes when it is already bad before freezing. A clear example that good bread can be frozen is that of the baker Xevi Ramon and his Triticum bakery in Cabrera de Mar (Barcelona), which has been putting bread on the table of the best restaurants in Spain for years. Many of the most important temples of gastronomy, with two and three Michelin stars, offer their customers great breads. Your secret? Freezing excellent bread made with good flours, natural sourdough, long fermentations and good baking.
RECIPE TO MAKE YOUR OWN BASIC BREAD
Simple bread is easy to make at home, no special equipment is required. It is enough to mix flour, water, yeast and salt, and to let the dough swell while it becomes a spongy and aromatic bread.
- 500 g of bread flour.
- 320 g of water.
- 5 g yeast (or 1.5 g dry baker’s yeast).
- 10 g of salt.
- Mix all the ingredients.
- Knead until you get a smooth and fine dough.
- Let the dough rest for about 3 hours.
- Shape it into a loaf and rest on a floured cloth until it has almost doubled in volume.
- (Just over 2 hours).
- It is baked 45-50 minutes in a strong oven at the beginning (240º C) and soft at the end (200º C).