Saturday, March 5, 2011
I've already talked about the importance of good flour in bread baking. The lower the quality and protein level of your flour, the more important these optional ingredients will become. Despite your personal experience, whole wheat bread does not have to be dry and crumbly. It can be soft and wonderful, and some of these ingredients can help. They could be the difference of your bread being good or great.
If you are using a high protein wheat such as Prairie Gold, you may not find any of these ingredients necessary.
Vitamin C and Soy Lecithin soften the bread and help to increase it's shelf life. They make your homemade bread less dry and crumbly and more like a bought loaf. Vitamin C also helps your body to absorb the minerals found in whole wheat flour. I purchase these ingredients at a health food store. Powdered vitamin C is easier to use but you may also crush a vitamin tablet.
Vital Gluten is added to the bread to help it raise. All flour contains some gluten, which when mixed in bread is what gives it the elasticity to rise into what we know of as a loaf of bread. The bran in whole wheat flour can cut the gluten strands and make it more difficult for the bread to rise. If you are using a poor quality flour or lower protein flour, it is especially helpful to add extra gluten. I also find it helpful when a bread has extra seeds or other additions that may make it heavy. Vital gluten can be found in small bags near where flour is sold. Larger grocery stores or bulk food stores usually carry it. Vital gluten should not be confused with high gluten flour which is regular flour with added gluten for bread flour.
My mom always used these ingredients in her whole wheat bread, so I always did too. Any time I used whole wheat flour in a bread recipe, I would add a tiny bit of vital gluten. Only recently did I begin to wonder if they were truly necessary. I'm not real excited about soy products and with all the gluten intolerance around I wondered if I should be adding gluten to my bread.
So I did several test batches. I made one batch just as written with all the optional ingredients. I made another batch without the vitamin C, soy lecithin, or vital gluten but keeping the egg. The result was almost identical bread. There was no difference in appearance. The one without the dough enhancing ingredients was just slightly more coarse in texture. But it was so slight that my husband could not tell which one was which when I gave him slices from both loaves to eat side by side.
Several days later I made a third batch, this time leaving out all the optional ingredients including the egg. Egg contains natural lecithin helping to create a softer bread. Unfortunately we had eaten the first loaves so I couldn't do a side by side comparison. This time I thought the bread was definitely coarser and less soft, but still very edible.
So my recommendation...if you are using a high quality flour and are pleased with your bread, skip the dough enhancers. If you are not happy with your bread, try one or all four of the dough enhancers. As you increase in experience and practice, you may find your perfect loaf.
Tammy wrote a great article describing dough enhancers in more detail.
Do you find dough enhancers helpful?