Facts about bread and how it is made

People often ask how the white sliced pan that we know and love in Ireland is made, what ingredients are used, what are the preparation and baking methods, how does it differ from other yeast breads?

All bread is made from four major ingredients flour, yeast, salt and water, and some minor ones. If you’re eating a wrapped sliced pan, the great news is that you can read these ingredients on the wrapping. There are no secrets!

When flour is moistened and stirred, and then beaten or kneaded, the proteins in the flour develop into gluten to give dough `stretch`. The gluten holds the carbon dioxide gas that is produced by the action of the yeast during the fermentation step, and enables the bread to rise. Small amounts of soya flour may be added also, (sometimes called bread improver) and this works with the oxygen in the air to strengthen the dough, to provide support and structure to the loaf during baking. It also helps provide a creamy, ‘bready’ flavour.

Water is used of course to mix the flour and produce the dough. It is important that the correct quantity of water is used when making bread because it affects the dispersal of the other ingredients.

Flour contains starch, and enzymes in the flour and yeast convert the starch into glucose. Some additional enzymes may be added to supplement the enzymes that are already naturally present to speed things along. Enzymes, or “biological catalysts”, kick-start the process but don’t get involved directly in it. They are known as “processing aids” and are destroyed by the heat during baking. So, in accordance with EU legislation, the enzymes are not required to be listed in the ingredients on the wrapper. The glucose is also involved in the flavour-forming chemical reactions that take place during baking, making the bread’s crust.

Yeast uses the glucose for fermentation. In fermentation, the yeast produces carbon dioxide, which enables the dough to rise. Kneading helps to make the bubbles more uniform, so the type of high speed mixing or kneading that you find in big bakeries that make the sliced pan, means that the bubbles of carbon dioxide are very small and uniform. Yeast also gives bread its characteristic flavour and aroma.
Salt is an essential ingredient in bread and is used in very small amounts to give bread flavour. It also helps to strengthen the gluten and make the dough more elastic, and it helps to control the speed of fermentation to produce bread of good volume and texture.

Other ingredients that are used in the bread making process might include small amounts of vegetable oil (another type of bread improver) to help keep the bread soft over its life. Vegetable oil extracts are also used as emulsifiers and provide dough stability in addition to improving loaf volume and in maintaining softness. Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C (on the label as a treatment agent since that’s the job its there to do) is used to strengthen the dough and has a beneficial effect on the volume, crumb structure and softness of the bread. Acetic acid (vinegar) is sometimes used as a preservative to ensure the freshness of the product.

How does commercial sliced pan differ from other white bread?

As we have seen above, all dough needs to be beaten or kneaded either by hand or mechanically in order to develop the gluten network to support the gas bubbles. Simply blending the ingredients is not enough to start gluten development. All bread making, be it in your own kitchen or in a large bakery, relies on four key steps:

  1. Mixing
  2. Proving/Fermenting
  3. Baking
  4. Cooling

Most modern commercial bread-making processes differ only in the mixing process, using a few additional ingredients, and length of time the fermentation takes. This method is called the Chorleywood Bread Process, (CBP) developed in England, in a place called Chorleywood in 1961, and it uses high speed mixing to develop the dough for proving and baking. It is essentially a rapid form of kneading which helps to develop the gluten structure within the dough, which means that the lengthy bulk fermentation of traditional processes is not needed. To achieve this, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) a flour treatment agent, and a little vegetable fat or emulsifier need to be added and are usually combined in a bread improver (see above).

Other than mixing and bulk fermentation, all other parts of the bread making – dough dividing, proving, baking, cooling and slicing are the same as any other way of making bread. The CBP does not develop the same acidic flavours associated with traditional methods, but can give very fine, soft texture we associate with the sliced pan in Ireland.

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