Bread Making Ingredients

September 9, 2012 65 Comments

Bread Making Ingredients

How Ingredients change bread characteristics

As I described in How to Make Bread and then again in Basic Bread Recipe, most bread recipes include 4 ingredients (not counting the sugar that the yeast ate) and a very straightforward mixing method. There are infinite types of yeast breads out in the world, everything from bagels to pizza, focaccia to cinnamon rolls, cheese bread to the laminated yeast dough croissants.

If you study the recipes carefully, though, you will find that they are all based on these four ingredients. Yes, substitutions and additions can and should be made, but the basic four ingredients stand.

Now, let’s take a look at some of those substitutions and additions, as well as some tweaks to our baking procedure to give us exactly the taste and texture that we want.


Our standard recipe contains white bread flour. Many other types of flours can be substituted for part or all of the bread flour. Keep in mind that white bread flour will contain the most gluten, so breads made with a mixture of other flours will be more dense and will not rise as high.

Some types of flour, such as rice and corn flour, do not contain any gluten, so to get a decent rise, you must use at least part white bread flour. Other flours you can use include whole wheat, rye, buckwheat, chickpea, bean flours, sprouted wheat, spelt, oat and soy. I am certain that there are others out there, as well.


Fat that is incorporated in bread dough will inhibit gluten formation. The resulting loaf will not rise quite as high as a loaf made without fat. On the positive side, fats, especially butter and olive oil, add a lot of flavor to the finished product. Fats keep the crumb tender and can help improve the shelf life of your bread by a day or so. Almost any fat can be added to a bread dough.


Eggs added to dough help with rising. A bread dough rich with egg will rise very high, because eggs are a leavening agent (think genoise or angel food cake). As well, the fats from the yolk help to tenderize the crumb and lighten the texture a bit. Eggs also contain the emulsifier lecithin. Lecithin can add to the overall consistency of the loaf.


Adding more sugar to a recipe than the yeast can eat will, no surprise, add sweetness to the finished product. Sugar aids in browning, can help tenderize the bread and also holds onto moisture to help inhibit staling.

Be careful, though—too much sugar will severely inhibit gluten production. So, unless you plan on adding additional gluten to the dough (in the form of vital wheat gluten or gluten flour), keep the sugar in the recipe to no more than 2 tablespoons/cup of flour.


We’ve already established that liquid is necessary to make bread, but that doesn’t mean we are limited to water. Replacing all or part of the water with milk will lend itself to a more tender, sweeter product.

The sugar in milk, lactose, is not eaten by the yeast, so it is left to add a subtle sweetness to the finished bread. Milk also increases the nutritional value of the bread by adding additional proteins. A dough made with milk will brown more readily than one made with water.


This is where you, the baker, can get creative. If you are making a savory bread, you can add in anything from shredded cheese to roasted garlic to nuts to olives to, well, almost anything.

If you are making a sweet bread, all sorts of toasted nuts and dried fruits can be added. And don’t forget about herbs and spices, either.

The Crust of the Matter

Even using the same recipe, it is possible to get a different crust just by doing one of the following:

Crackly, shiny crust: This is brought about by steam. If you don’t have a steam injector in your oven, you are not alone. I’ve heard of lots of different ways to get a really good steamy, humid atmosphere in your oven: boiling water in a cast iron skillet in the bottom of the oven, throwing ice chips into a cast iron skillet in the bottom of your oven, spraying the dough with water before putting it in the oven—I’m sure you can think of more ways.

For optimum crackliness, spray the dough and use one of the other methods. The water gelatinizes the starches on the outside of the dough, and this helps result in a crackly crust. You can also use a wash of water with a little cornstarch mixed in during the last five minutes of baking.

Soft crust: This is as easy as not introducing extra steam or water. Don’t spray the dough, and don’t make steam. Another way of getting a soft crust and also imparting some flavor is to brush the crust with butter when you remove it from the oven.

Golden, shiny crust: Apply an egg wash (egg and a little water beaten together) before baking, being careful not to let the egg wash get on the rim of the baking pan as this could, in essence, glue the bread down and inhibit a full rise.

Soft, sweet crust: brush with milk with a little sugar dissolved in it before baking.

Sweet, sticky crust: brush the crust with simple syrup or honey right when it comes out of the oven

Shiny, soft crust: brush the bread with olive oil before and after baking

Changes in Process Equal Changes in Product

The single most important thing in making flavorful bread is time. It takes time for yeast to completely run its life cycle and develop a complex flavor in the final product.

While it is possible to get reasonably good bread with just a single rise, the more ways you can find to give the yeast time to do their thing, the better your bread will be.

Ways to increase the time it takes to make a loaf from start to finish include slower, cooler rises, refrigerating the dough overnight and using some leftover dough from a day or two before as part of your mix. You can also make a sponge and let it rest for several hours before continuing.

A sponge is just a loose mixture that you make by combining your yeast, liquid and half of your flour. After the sponge has “worked” for 2-3 hours, you can add the rest of the flour and continue with the recipe.

I hope that you now feel armed to approach bread baking with less trepidation. Now that you know the function of all the ingredients in bread, the process of making it and have a good very basic recipe with which to practice, it is time to practice and “get a feel for” dough that is ready to be kneaded and dough that has been kneaded enough.

Once you can leap those two confidence hurdles, there will be no stopping you.


Last modified on Tue 1 November 2016 1:28 pm

Filed in: Baking Techniques

Comments (65)

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  1. Amanda says:

    Thank you very much for this article. I’ve been baking homemade bread for a few months now, and I was certainly ready for these finer details. You’ve explained many things very clearly and saved me lots of ‘Google’ time.

  2. Walter says:

    These are great tips. I’m planning to make bread for sale as a gourmet type of bread and was looking around for ways to make the bread even better. Your tips are just what I was looking for as I was stuck for ideas after experimenting for a while.
    Thank you very much.

  3. Tee Jenkins says:

    This blog is AWESOME!! I’ve been baking bread for just about a year. It started off as a Home Economics event for my 3 homeschooled children. They eat so much bread that I demanded that they learn how to make it. They LOVE making bread now and so do I. I so appreciate all the great tips you have provided. I already feel like I am a great bread maker and your tips will help me to excel even more. I feel very accomplished when I pull bread from the oven especially since I do not own (or desire to have) a bread machine. Again, many thanks and blessings!!! Happy New Year!!!

    • Grandma Joyce says:

      All my sons learned early elementary to make their own breads, pizzas, breadsticks by using the bread machine..they learned to follow recipes and create their own dough cycle bread to create their desired end product. In fact, they figured if they put all in a tupperware contains, sans the liquids, they could do it faster. Herbs from the garden, tupperware from baking fridge, olive oil and milk from fridge..they labeled masking tape on tupperware what they needed to add. FIx 10 containers at a time and store in baking fridge in basement. Yes, they learned to kneed this too. And let it rest.

    • Zina says:

      Tee Jenkins post
      “I feel very accomplished when I pull bread from the oven especially since I do not own (or desire to have) a bread machine”……
      Bread machines are smaller sized ovens.. And I accomplish top quality gourmet breads from mine. Since utilities are very high in Hawaii, my bread machine is equal to oven baking but much more economical! The only thing I would personally would rather use is wood fired oven! not that it makes it any better…

    • Valerie Whincup says:

      I have a bread machine, but I use it to mix/knead and do the first rise. I then put 1 cup of water in the microwave for 3 minutes, till boiling, and then I put the bread (which has been put into pans) into the microwave for 1 hour after which I put the loaf(s) into a preheated oven for 20 – 25 minutes. The benefit of this is that it doesn’t matter how cold my kitchen is (it is next door to an outside door). I don’t like the holes when a bread is made in the bread machine, but this takes care of that problem, making it easier to make bread/

  4. normalatukiban says:

    TQ for the great tips… I am more confident now to teach my friends @ my office. I am experimenting my bread with my homemade buttermilk , cream cheese and clarifed butter.

  5. Tim Ireland says:

    Thank you for your hard work. It was a big help and my bread is now so much better.

  6. Inkroar says:

    Very helpful for my breadmakeing skills!

  7. Essi says:

    Hi, I tried to add one egg to my basic, fool-proof recipe for bread making machine. The result was a very dense loaf. It didn’t rise, contrary to what you say in this aeticle about egg helping the rising process. Why was my bread all dense? By the way, i tried it more than once with the same results: egg = dense, no egg = good bread.
    Any help greatly appreciated

    • love2dream says:

      I’m guessing it didn’t work out because you messed with the wet/dry ingredient ration in original recipe. Bread machines are picky that way.

    • Kathryn says:

      I have found that you can add the egg to the water or milk that you use and just subtract the liquid from the recipe. for example – I use 1 1/3 c of water in my basic recipe and when I add egg, I add it first and then add water up to the 1 1/3 line on my measuring cup. Hope this helps

      • Beth says:

        Yes, this is exactly what I do. The egg must be accounted for with the liquid ingredients so as the above poster said, if the recipe calls for one cup of liquid you want to add the egg(s) first to the measuring cup and then the water to the measurement line. Any type of liquid must be accounted for or the liquid to flour ratio will be off. Also, so the egg is not cold when added to the ingredients, I put the egg in a bowl of warm water for 15 minutes before I start making my bread. Remember too, if you substitute honey for granulated sugar, thst honey is wet so your liquid or flour ratio will also have to be adjusted.

  8. Chezlin says:

    Wow this really helped me! 🙂

  9. carole pebble says:

    When making bread receipes that call for cups what size cup shall be used? Some cups are used is it one cup – 1/3 cup – 1/2 cup or 1/4 cup. The cups do not indicate how many oz or gr. And should the cups be level or slightly rounded?

  10. john says:

    per Thomas Keller – Use weight not cups or spoons. Gram scale is the accurate way. His book Bouchon Bakery very good for advanced pastry.
    John the baker

    • Zina says:

      John.. you are 100% correct! Preciseness can be very important! Since we (my husband and myself) make designer cakes slight differences in measurements can alter, taste, texture, rise, cooking time.. Our scale is our best friend lol!

  11. Loretta says:

    Really like you website, good information. I have been making bread for couple months, trying to bake a basic white soft loaf, been working with no knead recipes, I have tried many recipes, most turned out pretty good, but not what I was looking for….then found one that was basic but used butter for fat, was fair, but a little dry… I tried making it with crisco instead of butter, so now it getting better, very soft,(what I want)but maybe a little too soft(more like a soft biscuit(soo what to do, use less crisco? or would that be too much change in recipe, have any ideas, thanks

    • Jenni says:

      You’re obviously on the right track, and how great that you’re making your own bread. Try reducing the amount of Crisco. Since butter is only about 80% fat and Crisco is 100% fat, by doing a one to one sub, you actually increased the fat by about 1/5.

  12. anthony says:

    Thank you for these tips, i just find solution to one of the challenges am facing.

  13. diane says:

    Thanks. I always like to know what ingredients do, and it’s surprising how often its not explained. Nice explanations.

  14. Judy says:

    Great advice. Thank you. Question……the very tasty bread that we eat at a restaurant always seems to have more flavor, tho it looks like a simple recipe. Would you say that the flavor comes from letting the dough have two or three rises, or do they probably refrigerate the dough to slow it down. If dough is refrigerated overnight, do you still let it rise twice? I am really struggling to get a very flavorful French bread Thanks.

  15. Emmysmom says:

    Great information. Thank you for sharig 🙂

    Liquid to dry ratio is very important. Try putting the egg in a liquid measuring cup and adding liquid to the desired amount so that the ratio stays the same per your recipe. So if your recipe asks or 1/2 cup milk add milk to the egg until you reach the 1/2 cup mark.

  16. Emmysmom says:


    Also whisk the egg so that it blends with the other ingredients properly.

  17. Kate says:

    Wonderful information! So helpful. Thank you

  18. Pam Tvar says:

    Just wanted to say thanks from a new bread maker. I was trying to understand why some recipes use eggs and some call for milk. Trying really hard to try each recipe and find a family favorite.

  19. Lyndi says:

    Oh, thank you for this! I’m a self-taught backer and cook, with a little help from Grama before she passed 🙂 I have searched for this specific information for years (the why’s) and never found it so clear, concise and understandable. All my questions simply answered on one page! Knowing exactly what each ingredient adds will help develop my skills immensely! Totally bookmarked! Big Hug! Thanks! 🙂

  20. Patti says:

    I currently am on my 2nd bread machine (years apart in purchasing) and having a fun time “playing” with the recipes. I try one the way the recipe indicates (making notes of what may need changing). I them may add ingredients or mix the flours up to make a healthier loaf of bread. I asked a baker here where I live and a chef (who also bakes a lot)about any problems that might arise (no pun intended!). The one main thing the indicate is to use King Arthur flour (KAF)whenever possible. Also King Arthur has bakers you can speak with for any bread making issue. I have also found that Bob’s Red Mill has all those unique flours, oats, grains, etc. that you only need small amounts of.

  21. Lyn Johnson says:

    I have tried twice to make Hot Cross Buns, and both times, the end result was hockey pucks. What am I doing wrong? Should I be using butter instead of olive oil? Should I be adding the eggs one at a time or all together? I know the yeast was fresh, so I don’t think that was the problem. The taste of the hockey pucks is also off. It seems that no matter how much sugar I add, they are still bland. I have been making yeast bread without eggs for years, so I thought Hot Cross Buns would be a snap. Please help!

  22. Angel AUS says:

    So then the egg milk qty is this what is reduced /emitted from the cheap supermarket hollow tasting white bread that has no depth to it in comparison to the loaf that costs double and has weight and flavour ?

    • Nick Kok says:

      Hmm, Angel AUS, the main thing the supermarket breads leave out is time. Those breads go from dry flour to loaded on the truck in an hour. And of course they are then chemically enhanced in various ways to make up for the lost time element 🙂

  23. Lulu says:

    Hi! Thanks for this website. It sounds like you understand what you are talking about (there is sooo much crap on the internet now) and I hate cooking unless I understand what’s going on!

    I’ve been trying to make a brioche recipe using some bread machine recipes and some authentic brioche recipes online. I’m trying to use my bread machine’s ‘dough’ cycle instead of a mixer. My second attempt is in its first rise right now. I’m desperately trying to make something with the right texture and taste to French brioche and so far, the ‘brioche’ that I’ve tried has been….well, just sweet, eggy coloured bread. Maybe if you’ve never had the real thing then that’s acceptable.

    I can’t find anything in my books or online as to what I should look out for if I add TOO MUCH butter to the dough. Wikipedia says too much fat can divide the gluten proteins. Helpful. What does that look like? Will it just collapse?

    Thanks for any help.

    • The Reluctant Gourmet says:

      Hi LuLu, I’ll ask my friend Chef Jenni to reply to this. She knows all things baking.

    • Jenni says:

      Hey, Lulu. If all you have to work with is a bread machine, your kneading cycle (is that the right term? I don’t have a bread machine) might not be long enough. You are correct in that rich dough has a fairly delicate gluten structure because both fat and sugar work to weaken it. When I make brioche, I knead the dough (in the mixer–it is very soft dough) for a good 15 minutes before adding in the very soft butter a bit at a time until it is all incorporated. That way, I’ve developed a reasonably strong gluten structure, even with the sugar and eggs present, before introducing that extra boatload of fat into the dough.

      The resulting bread will pull apart into long, almost feathery sections. I honestly don’t think that you will be able to achieve the same results using a bread machine. Adding more butter to an already rich dough is not going to fix the problem if you haven’t been able to develop enough gluten before adding it.

      If there is a way to let the kneading cycle run on for a really long time, I’d suggest trying that. Good luck, and I hope you end up with results that you find acceptable. 🙂

  24. Tom says:

    I have recently found that for a lighter, less dense wheat bread adding 2Tbsp Vital Wheat Gluten (a Bobs Red Mill product) that I bought at Sprouts really helped. My wife said it is the best Orange Wheat bread she has had.

  25. Stephanie says:

    Hi.I have found a couple of recipes for making single and double loaves of bread. I read that needing the butter into the dough later gives a better rise,but what I really want to know is if I use butter flavor Crisco will I still get a great tasting loaf of bread,and it not be dry as butter sometimes produces .I also read that a wetter dough does not produce a good loaf but a well needed ball of dough does.Thank you for your advice.Much appreciated.

  26. Stephanie says:

    Thank You

  27. Deborah says:

    Do you agree that we should reduce liquid if adding an additional egg? My gluten free recipe calls for 2 extra large, so I was wondering if I use 3 large should I reduce liquid? I am not celiac, just gluten intolerant if I eat too much gluten. Think I will also try mixing some regular flour with the gluten free flours and hope for a little less dense bread. Thanks

  28. Caitlin Miner says:

    What are the ingredients?!

  29. Anthony Price says:

    Hi there. Thank you for this useful article. I am starting out in baking my own bread and want to get adventurous. Now, when adding other ingredients (wet or dry), when is the best time to add these during the making process and how?

  30. Jessie says:

    Can i put lecithin in my Frensh bread dough?
    Or will this effect the outcome of the typical ‘Frensh bread’?

  31. Anna says:

    Thank you very much for your insight into the magic of bread. It helps me feel more secure and creative with producing nourishing loaves of white bread.

    Another idea I found on the net that I would like to pass along is using 2 cookie sheets (one inside of the other)to put my bread pans onto then baking the bread. I have never had a loaf of bread that was to brown on the bottom since. I thing I got the hint off the Peter Reinheart site.. Thanks again Anna

  32. Mark says:

    How do eggs help bread to rise? They make genoise rise because the whites are beaten and folded in. Surely they don’t have any leavening power like yeast does…. correct me if I’m wrong 🙂

  33. Hartie says:

    Is advice for homemade bread only or for commercial use please

  34. Grandma Joyce says:

    My perfect flours come when I can get a local farmer (or a miller) to grind me the flour. If not, a local food co-op has or can order you the stone ground product. I do not do mixed but all purpose non-bleached, for regular use and pasta making. I have several other kinds of flours kept in freezer or baking fridge. I buy bran (wheat germ) separate, have organic gluten and other things to add.

  35. Ady says:

    I actually want to trying making for the first time, could you pls help me to to bake from start to finish and the actual quanty of ingredients and when to add each one. Thanks in anticipation

  36. Eastman says:

    Excellent article, very helpful. Maybe add to the article the properties of certain commonly added spices, like cinammon, which also inhibits gluten formation.

  37. chris says:

    Thanks for the article. Just what I was looking for. I’ve gotten down the really chewy loaf with the amazing crust my hubby and I love, but now I’m trying to get more of a super soft roll and can’t seem to get what I’m looking for. I’m looking for something similar to a Chuck a Rama or Golden Corral type roll. I’m getting close, but not quite. I get the rise well enough and the sweetness (milk and a bit of sugar), but the end product is still very “bread” like instead of soft and fluffy with a good pull part feel. Not sure if you know of the restaurant rolls I’m referring to, but any thoughts on how to get that type of result?

    • chris says:

      PS – I am wondering whether bread flour instead of all purpose might be what I’m missing so far in the 4 tries of made. Do you think that might make the lightness I’m looking for?

  38. Brian says:

    Excellent article. Lots of good information that you simply do not see anywhere else. Thank you!!

  39. Evelyn Wicks says:

    I wish to substitute the grated cheese in an oven cooked bread loaf, can I use oil or butter, the quantity is 1&1/2 cups of grated cheese. Your advice would be much appreciated.

  40. Javier says:

    My packet bread recipe requires 420ml plus or minus 30ml of water. 60ml of water difference from max to min is about 15% difference, that’s huge. How do I interpret what’s the optimal amount of water to use? And why do they recommend the variation?

  41. Kitty says:

    I have been making bread, off and on, for 40 yrs and I never seem to be able to make a sandwich bread but I heard the fusion chef say he includes a dough enhancer to his bread to be able to use it for sandwiches. I have searched online and off and cant find it sold anywhere. Does anyone know?

  42. joony says:

    Please a bread baked with egg yoke..does it stay for how many days before spoiling

  43. Gabi says:

    Thank you very much for great tips for a beginner bread Baker.. you have explained and cleared up many things I wasn’t sure about and made me not have confidence.

  44. Jessica Fish says:

    I appreciate this knowledge and tips in the comments, especially those tips for people like me who use a breadmachine. I am disabled without use of my right arm/hand. Using a breadmachine means I can enjoy healthy homemade bread

  45. Beth says:

    Are eggs supposed to be beaten before added to bread machine if called for inrecipe?

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