Now that I’ve researched the baking process, and written and written and written about it, I’ve had some time to reflect on what I’ve learned from the whole thing.
1. My friends and family aren’t that interested in my deep dives into the science behind bread baking. That’s ok; it’s not exactly scintillating reading. I figure as long as people know it’s there, they’ll consult it as needed.
2. I now know way more than most people about the science behind baking. More than anyone should know. Not as much as Peter Reinhart, but pretty close. It makes times like, when Mr. Bread Maiden and I are watching the “Air” episode of Michael Pollan’s documentary series Cooked, and I can’t relax because I’m pointing out where he gets the science wrong, rather awkward (sorry, Michael Pollan).
3. There are no non-sequiturs or Hail Mary passes in bread-baking. I’ve said often that the reason I like baking yeast bread rather than baking soda-based cookies and cakes is that, at every step, you can verify that everything is going right.
After researching the chemistry, I’m even more sure of that fact. Each step leads to the next step. Each success ensures the next. This is either a reassurance or a frustration, depending on whether things are going well or not 😉
4. There is always something to learn. The science behind baking is a deep dive that only goes deeper. There is always more you can learn, more aspects you can focus on.
5. The relationship between water and flour to create gluten isn’t the only important relationship. There is also the relationship between starch and water, yeast and gluten formation, and time and temperature to everything else.
6. Once you put bread in the oven, that’s not the end of the story. It is very complicated. It was difficult to track down all the chemistry behind the baking process.
7. There are many ways to make bread. Knead, don’t knead. Use sourdough, use commercial yeast, use baking soda, use no leaven at all. Bake at a high temperature, bake at a low temperature. Use different flours. Add different ingredients. Shape it flat, rounded, baguette, braided, in a loaf pan, in a dutch oven. Let it rise slowly, make it rise quickly. People all over the world have been making bread for thousands of years, and there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to make bread. Homemade bread, 9 times out of 10, is better than anything you can buy.
So that’s it. What I’ve learned by researching the baking process. What have you learned since you started baking? Let me know in the comments!