How to Make Fluffy Bread

It all started when my local supermarket did not have my favorite bread buns. I tried making my own bread but it was always dry and thick.

Supermarket bread has all kind of unpronounceable things on the ingredients list like sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, xylanases, potassium iodate, ammonium sulfate(I though that was a fertilizer!?), and often 1 or more preservatives. So, I decided to start with a pizza dough recipe I had gotten from a friend a few years ago. Pizza dough is different from bread but it's a start. The pizza recipe consisted in putting flour(I use all purpose flour), salt and olive oil in a bowl. Then make a well in the flour and put yeast and lukewarm water in(why Luke, why not John or Will?(pun intended :) )). Let rest for 1h then mix then rest for 1h then role out and make pizza and bake.
Pizza dough is meant to be thin and crunchy unlike bread which is soft and fluffy.
So, I tried letting the dough rest for longer. The dough contains yeast, a type of fungus or more precisely a single celled microorganism which in the presence of oxygen does cellular respiration like humans(sugar+O2=>water+CO2+energy).(In absence of oxygen it does fermentation). Every 1 or 2 hours I would take a small piece and bake it. I also left one grow overnight. But I used yeast that was to old so the longer resting time had no effect.
I also tried mixing with the machine but this actually made the dough even harder and thicker.
Then I went through bed braking(oops no bread baking :) ) books and found that pretty much every recipe used flour, yeast, salt and one or several of the following ingredients:

-egg: supposed to make bread rise more because it contains water which when heated creates pockets of steam. Also especially the egg white contains alot of protein. Proteins are long chains of amino acids that are wrapped tightly into various shapes. When heated the bonds that tightly wrap the amino acid chain break and so the protein unwinds, changes shape usually taking up more space then before. This causes dough to expand which makes bread more fluffy and soft.

-butter:supposed to help bread rise because like eggs it contains water that evaporates and creates air bubbles when trapped in the dough.

-olive oil or sunflower oil: makes dow(oops no I meant dough :)) stretchier because it lubricates gluten. Gluten is formed from glutenin and gliadin(2proteins contained in wheat) which when they react with water form long strands. When gluten is aligned into an organized network dough is stretchy. Oil helps get the gluten aligned. However, oil repels water so it prevents gluten from forming(so oil should be added later). Since the long strands trap heat and moisture and oil prevents them from forming, oil does not help bread rise. Since oil makes gluten have short strands, bread with oil is more crumply.

-baking soda(NaHCO3): mostly used in pretzels but I can try it anyway. Makes dough rise more because when baking soda which is basic(pH of 9) reacts with an acid like lemon or sour cream it releases CO2

-baking powder: also makes dough rise more because it is baking soda but with an acid already mixed in. The baking powder I used has cornstarch, monocalcium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate(aka baking soda). Cornstarch is in baking powder to absorb moisture to stop the acid-base reaction from occurring when not in use because baking soda and monocalcium phosphate cant neutralize in solid form.(theoretically an acid and base can neutralize in any form but the pH scale is only defined in water so without water they are technically not acids and bases). So the cornstarch is there to prolong shelf life. Monocalcium phosphate is the acid and it reacts with baking soda at room temperature(in presence of water). Some baking powders have/used to also contain sodium aluminium sulfate because it only reacts with baking soda at higher temperatures so you did not have to worry about letting the dough sit to long and all the CO2 escaping. Unfortunately sodium aluminium sulfate is slightly toxic.

So then I tested it out by doing the same as in the pizza dough recipe except I split the dough into many smaller pieces and replaced the olive oil with different ingredients:
-baking soda: Tasted like pretzels. I only did the research on why baking soda makes dough rise afterwards, so I did not add an acid so thats probably why it did not rise. Also it became more brown then the others because it is basic(pH of 9) and basic substances help while acidic substances hinder the maillard reaction.

   ↪ Technically the Maillard reaction is catalyzed(aka helped) by both basic and acidic substances. The maillard reaction is the reaction between amino acids(from proteins) and reducing sugars(sugars that can give away an electron). Amino acids are R-CH(NH2)-COOH where COOH is the carboxyl group(carboxylic acid), NH2 is the amino group and R is the rest of the molecule(this part is unique to each amino acid). Reducing sugars are a carbonyl group(C=O) and then the rest of the molecule. In the maillard reaction,(step#1) first the amino group(from amino acid) and the carbonyl group(from sugar) react to form N-substituted glycosylamine and water. The glycosylamine is unstable so it undergoes Amadori rearrangement(step#2) to form ketosamines. These then react further in one of many ways(step#3). In one of these ways brown nitrogenous polymers and melanoidins are produced causing the brown color. The maillard reaction only happens at high enough temperature because energy is required to break the covalent bonds to rearrange the molecules in the different stages. The overall reaction ends up being endothermic because more energy is needed to break the bonds then what is released during the reformation of the new bonds.
     ↪In the first step, the maillard reaction is catalyzed by both basic and acidic substances. Oxygen is more electronnegative then carbon meaning it attracts electrons more. This causes a dipole moment in the covalent bond between C and O(meaning the electrons chill on the oxygen side more then on the Carbon side.)(In molecules like CO2 the dipole cancels because the Os are on either side of the C. But here in the sugar this is not the case.) So the C side is slightly + and so is attracted to molecules which are more negative. Acidic substances cause H+ to go to the O side(which is slightly negative) increasing the dipole because now not only the O but also the H+ want the electrons to stay more on there side. Now the Amino acid has a nitrogen atom with free valence electrons in its amino group. So in otherwords its more - and so is attracted more by the C side of the reducing sugar. In presence of an acid this - amino group attracts all the H+ and so is no longer interested in the C side of the sugar. But in presence of a base the OH- part of the base keeps away all the positive molecules that could hinder the amino group from reacting with the slightly + C side of the sugar.

-egg: expanded the most and was a little bit fluffy in taste but still very thick.

-sunflower oil: like the olive oil I did before when fully following the pizza dough recipe, just that it did not taste like olive.

-butter and olive oil: not the best but edible.

-butter: soft and slightly moist. Overall good but still a bit thick

-nothing at all to have a reference: dry but good

-baking powder: crunchy and slightly dry but I like the taste. Also it became the second most brown compared to the others because its not as basic as pure baking soda but still quite basic.

None of the breads where nice and soft and fluffy inside, so I tried combining ingredients. I did the same as above, following the pizza dough recipe except for the olive oil and then putting it into many smaller pieces and adding ingredients:
-egg and butter: good but dry
-egg and butter and olive oil: good less dry
-egg and butter and sunflower oil: very dry, to dry for my liking
-egg and butter and baking powder: slightly dry and a good salty taste from the baking powder.
Overall all 4 breads where quite dry and crumply but all of them grew a lot almost doubling in size. I think it's because they were already quite dry before I put them in the oven, so next time I should add water.

Then I got the idea that maybe using fresh yeast instead of dried yeast would make the bread rise more and there for make it more fluffy. I did like above just that I let it rise for 2 extra hours and made sure the dough was not super dry.
-olive oil: ok
-egg: tasted weird
-butter and egg:edible but still tasted a bit weird
Even though the breads were rising more it was still extreamly dry.

Then I thought maybe my proportions are wrong maybe I have too much flour.
But when I made the next batch of dough I added way too much water making the dough liquid and at first I was like shit now I have to add more flour and then I will get the proportions wrong again. But then I realized that muffin dough is very liquid and muffins are fluffy so maybe it's not that bad.
So I left the yeast(fresh) flour and water sit for 1h and then added a pinch of salt, 1 egg, and 4 slices of butter and let rest for 1 more hour before baking. The final dough was still quite liquid, so I poured it into a rectangular cake form. It turned out great it was fluffy and not to dry!!! :) !!!! Only the taste needs a little improving.

So I went back to the bed breaking( :) bread baking :) ) books to get some ideas on how to improve taste. I initially was looking for some spice but surprisingly most recipes are quite simple and dont have any spices added. The only spices I could find where saffron, molasses, cumin, coriander and caraway, and for sweeter breads cinnamon with honey. Otherwise, sometimes various nuts and seeds where used. Or the type of flour was different(whole grain, rye,...).

-I tried out cumin and coriander with sesame seeds ontop: It turned out nice and fluffy because I added lots of water. It was eatable but the taste could be improved.
(also somehow I took the wrong parchment paper that was not antistick coated so it was hard to get the bread off the parchment paper in one piece.)

Then I found a recipe that used apple juice. I had never heard of using juice to bake bread so I had to try it out. So I mixed flour, fresh yeast, salt and lots of water and made 3 breads:
-apple juice: fluffy. It was sweet but not to sweet. One of my favorite breads so far.

-molasses: Was crunchy outside and fluffy inside. It was sweet, a bit to sweet. maybe a teaspoon of molasses was a bit too much.

-saffron: fluffy. Did not really taste the saffron. It got yellow in a few small spots but otherwise was like "normal" plane dough(not airplane :) ).

Then I got the idea of using milk instead of water and after testing it with both "plane" bread and bread with butter and egg added, I was sure I had found the solution.
-plane bread(aka fresh yeast, flour, salt, lots of milk to have liquid dough): very good.
-fresh yeast, flour, salt, lots of milk to have liquid dough,1egg and butter: tasted a little bit too much like egg so have to get proportions right but was better than bread with water where there was too much egg.

Then my dad proposed to make solid buns as before but add a tray of water to increase humidity in the oven. And It worked great!!! for all 3 types of bread(milk, milk+ half a table spoon of baking powder, milk+egg+butter).

After having found the perfect recipe, I still wanted to try out a few more things. The first thing I had tried at the beginning of this experiment was to let the dough rest for longer. But at the time the longer resting time had no effect. My theory was that my yeast was too old. Now that I had the fresh yeast I wanted to try it again.
I made dough in the morning(liquid dough made of milk, all purpose flour, a small amount of whole wheat flour(usually I only use all purpose flour but i decided to switch it up a bit), fresh yeast and salt.) and baked a small amount every once in a while. I made a bigger batch of dough then usual so I might not have added enough yeast but I still observed some changes over time.

After 1h: tasted good but not fluffy.

After 3h: tasted good, also did not expand that much but was fluffy.

After 5h: tasted good, grew a good amount and was fluffy

After 7h: tasted good but was very slightly bitter. fluffy expanded a good amount.

After 9h: tasted good but was very slightly bitter. fluffy expanded a good amount.

After 24h: fluffy but had a significant bitter/acidic taste.

After 26h: fluffy but had a significant bitter/acidic taste.

I also wanted to see how much of an effect temperature has on the taste and structure of the bread. Usually I bake bread at 176 °C(heat from below) and then ~5 min before I take it out I broil(heat from above) at low. I use 176 °C because it's my ovens standard temperature. But I wanted to know if that temperature was really the best or not. I made 2 types of bread one with egg and butter and the other plane(aka flour, fresh yeast, salt and milk) and baked them at 195 °C for 35 min and then broiled at low for ~5min. It took about the same amount of time, usually my breads take between 30 and 40 min total(bake and broil) to be ready.
-The "plane" one: tasted good and was fluffy and not really different from normal temperature bread.
-with egg and butter added: was fluffy but the butter bubbled and flowed. I left it in 3min longer because it was not really brown yet when the "plane" bread seemed ready. But even after that it felt soggy and raw at the bottom, so I put it back in for ~10 min(at normal 176 °C this time) but that did not fix anything.

I was not sure if I had added too much butter or if it was really the higher temperature. So, I redid the loaf with only a very small amount of butter(while keeping the rest of the ingredients about the same as before). I baked it at 195 °C for 30min + 5min on broil low and even though the butter also bubbled the bread was only oily and not soggy this time. It tasted a bit too much like egg but otherwise it was good.

So, I decided to just scrap the results from that and start again. This time I made 4 different types of bread: 2 breads with egg and butter and 2 without, and from those, 2 were liquid dough and 2 were solid dough(aka buns). (also I forgot the salt in the first batch(the hi temp batch) so to be consistent I left it out in all batches. So for all batches I only used flour, fresh yeast, milk and if applicable 1/2egg+ small amounts of butter).
I first baked them at 195 °C for 30 min + 3 min on broil HI.
Then I did the exact same thing and baked at 155 °C for 45min + 7min on broil LOW.
And then to have a bit of a base line I did the same thing again but baked at 176 °C for 30min + 5min on broil HI

Hi temperature batch:
-egg+butter liquid: tasted too much like egg. was ok. Not very crispy.
-egg+butter solid: very good and nice and crispy. Also did not taste too much like egg.
-plane liquid: was ok. Not very crispy.
-plane solid: good. Nice and crispy.

Low temperature batch:
-egg+butter liquid: tasted better than in the hi temperature batch. Not very crispy.
-egg+butter solid: good. crispy.
-plane liquid: good. Not very crispy.
-plane solid: good. crispy.

base line batch:
-egg+butter liquid: tasted more like egg then in the low temperature batch but not as much as in the hi temperature batch. Not very crispy.
-egg+butter solid: good. crispy.
-plane liquid: good. Not very crispy.
-plane solid: good. crispy.

Overall the low temp bread was good for liquid dough, while for the buns it took too much time to get to similar results as the hi and normal temp bread. The hi temp bread was very good for buns and very bad for liquid dough(especially the liquid with egg). And the normal was well normal, a good average.

So in conclusion, make sure you have enough humidity so that the water vapor can make nice fluffy bread. Otherwise, if you want crispy bread then make buns(solid dough) and bake at higher temperatures.

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