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2019-04-26 Where Does Bread Flavor Come From?

Peter Reinhart tells us that the oven only contributes about 10% of the bread's flavor. There are some issues with that idea. First, how you measure flavor? And, we sure spend a lot of time obsessing over ovens if it only adds 10% of the final flavor! My view is a poorly used oven can detract much more than that when someone under bakes a loaf. So, where's the base line for the 10% number? Still, some flavor does come from the caramelization of the crust. Other people say that 90% of bread's flavor is in the crust. Again, how do you measure flavor?

Ingredients are also a big item. Bakers obsess over flours, looking for the best flour. We dedicated a lot of time to our first big flour test. It is largely a test of bread and all-purpose flours with some outliers. There were some surprising differences between flours both in how they handled and how the breads they made tasted. Still, all but one flour made acceptable bread, and in all fairness that flour was a cake flour so we shouldn't have even tried baking with it. (Someone dared us to do it. We were weak. What can I say?)

We recently took a class on "Baking with Freshly Milled Flours" taught by Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread at Barton Springs Mill. We baked breads with eight different kinds of whole wheat flour. Barton Springs Mill specializes in identity preserved organic grains. The differences between the breads were amazing. Each was flavorful, and each was different. So, yeah, again, ingredients DO make a difference.

Fermentation is another source of flavor. We all know that a short rise yeast bread will have less flavor than a long rise yeast bread, or less than a sourdough bread. And that longer is, overall, better than shorter with sourdough as well. We also see that a shorter rise with yeast tends to give the bread a "yeasty" flavor which some people love, and other people hate. De gustibus non est disputandum (I kinda like de gustibus aut bene, aut nihil, a phrase that link taught me.)

What escapes most discussions of the source of flavor is technique. Raymond Calvel in his wonderful book "The Taste of Bread" suggests that there is no reason to delay adding salt to one's dough, but that you should try to see what you think. (The Taste of Bread is hard to find, and harder still to find at an affordable price. If you are fluent French, the original French version is quite affordable. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.)

And that brings me to Pain de Mie, or Pullman Bread. In the glory days of trains, George Pullman made the Pullman loaf famous. It is a dense, slightly sweet bread with a tight and regular crumb. It is an enriched dough with butter and milk in it. Normally it is baked in a special pan called a Pullman Pan that has a tightly fitting lid to make sure the loaf is square and doesn't have a domed top.

The story is that the square loaves took less room to stack in a train's galley - three square loaves could be stacked in the space of two domed loaves. Also, if you are making sandwiches where you have to trim the crusts, there is less waste with a truly square loaf.

The formula calls for 60% water, 4% butter, 4.4% eggs, 100% bread flour, 1.59% instant yeast, 3.4% instant milk powder, 5% sugar, and 1.8% salt. The instructions are to use the delayed salt mixing method, holding back the butter also.

With a closed lid pan how much dough to use becomes an important issue. The first time I made this bread, I put too much dough in the pan and the lid blew off. A baking instructor friend told me some of his students didn't convert their recipe from fresh to instant yeast and as a result seriously over yeasted the dough which led to the lid leaving the pan with explosive force. I use about 85 grams of dough per inch of pan. Yeah, the pans are different lengths. And I have NO idea why I thought a 16" pan would be a good idea. But, I digress. For your convenience, I've put the recipe for a 9" pan below.

Back to the delayed salt method - mix everything but the salt and butter for 5 minutes. Add the salt and mix for 1 more minute, add the butter and continue to mix until the gluten is well developed. As an aside, Emily Buelher in her highly recommended book "Bread Science" says that solid fats tend to improve crumb structure, but liquid fats do not. She also says that if you melt a solid fat, such as butter, lard, or coconut oil, it is no longer a solid fat and will not help the crumb structure. So, you want to knead in a solid fat for Pain de Mie.

Back to the Pain de Mie - the instructions were to let the dough rise 45 minutes, punch it down and let it rise another 30 minutes, and then again punch the dough down and let it rise for 30 minutes. Loaf the dough, put it in the pan, cover the pan, and let the dough rise and bake about 45 minutes at 350F.

The first time I did this, the house filled with the most amazing aroma, and the bread was divine! Rich, flavorful, tightly crumbed. I'm not usually a white bread kinda guy, but I loved this bread, as did everyone we gave some too. It was a 3 pound 16" loaf. However, the loaf had burst free of the pan, so I had to try again.

The second time I decided to use my usual mixing approach. (Hey, what can go wrong? Amiright?) Everything goes into a mixing bowl all at once, followed by a brief mix, and then stretch and folds every hour until the dough was developed. The process went smoothly, but when baked the bread didn't fill the house with wonderful aromas and the bread was, well, just a bread. This time, I neglected to put the lid on the pan in time, so the dough rose too far and I couldn't get the desired square loaf, which meant I had to do it again.

And that brought us to the third attempt. I used the delayed salt mix, the three rises, and put the lid on the pan. When the dough was risen, it was baked. And the house was again filled with the most amazing aroma! And the bread was again delightful!

All the ingredients were the same all three times. Not just the same flour and instant milk, the same sack of flour and instant milk. The stretch and fold version had more rise time, so longer fermentation must not have been what this bread needed.

So, yeah, the techique counts and not always in obvious ways.

To paraphrase what Blair Marvin of Elmore Mountain Bread told us in a recent "Baking with Freshly Milled Flour" class, when your breads aren't coming out well, change your process. The change the bread needs may not be the first thing you think of, so be prepared to play with it. She told us about a number of times where what the bread needed was counter-intuitive.

Until next time, may your dough always rise, no matter how you developed it this time, no matter what you put in the mixing bowl, no matter what order you added the ingredients, and no matter who told you that couldn't possibly work!


PS - Here's the recipe, scaled for a 9" Pullman pan that is 4" square. For a 9" pan, I want 85 grams per inch, or 790 grams of dough. Please let me know how it works out for you, especially if you are using a 9" pan.

Percent Ingredient Grams
60 Water 260
4.4 Eggs 19.4
100 Bread Flour 440
1.6 Instant Yeast 7
3.4 Instant Milk 15
5 Sugar 22
1.8 Salt 8
4 Butter 18

If you aren't asleep yet, the approach on calculating amounts from bakers percentages is to add all the percentages together, which is 180.2. Next divide the number of grams of dough you need (790) by the totaled percentages (180.2), which is 4.38. So, for each percentage point, we use 4.38 grams of the ingredient. There was some minor rounding above.

It is very easy to put this sort of formula into a spreadsheet!