Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bread Baking - Dough Enhancers

In the whole wheat honey bread recipe I shared this week, you may have wondered about the unfamiliar optional ingredients. These ingredients are for the purpose of enhancing the dough but are not required for bread baking. Many bakers make lovely bread without soy lecithin, vital gluten or Vitamin C. But if you have struggled with baking bread, especially whole wheat bread, I'd recommend trying one or all these ingredients.

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?


  1. I grind wheat berries to make our bread and rolls. For awhile I stopped using lecithin becasue of the soy. The bread was not soft and got hard after a few days. I use my eggs also. ANd gluten. Anyway, I was telling my friend who does the same thing. She asked about the lecithin. So I started using it again because it's only 2 tsp. per 3 loaves so not that much. ANd it is softer and stays soft now. I also got all new licithin and gluten. Makes a big difference to have all fresh ingredients.

  2. Hi there....Just want to say thank you for all the tips and ideas. As of right now I am a 'bread machine' bread maker, but would like to learn how to do it the old fashioned way so I can get more loaves at a time.
    One question for you...I am assuming that you freeze your extra loaves for freshness, do you find a problem with cutting before you freeze??(does it contribute to the loaf drying out faster?

  3. Kris -
    Good point on the importance of freshness. I usually keep my lecithin in the freezer. Maybe it isn't necessary but I figure it doesn't hurt. Since I'm getting my yeast out of the freezer to, it works well.

    Simone -
    I do freeze my extra loaves, which is why I love my large mixer. I don't have time to bake every day. Sometimes I slice the loaf before I freeze it. I did this all the time when it was just the two of us. We couldn't eat a whole loaf before it went stale. I liked only getting a few slices out. Now we can eat a loaf in a day so it isn't such a big deal so I often slice after it is thawed. I never thought it dried out faster - but I was only getting a few slices out at a time.

  4. I've been using dough enhancers and I think it makes for a softer loaf for me. I use premilled whole wheat flour... so it is most likely substandard to freshly ground.

  5. I just tried your recipe for the first time. It's really only a minor tweak from the recipe I always use, but the additional gluten seemed to help the rise and it's definitely not as crumbly as my old recipe. That must be the additional Vitamin C and gluten. I couldn't use the lecitin because of a soy allergy in our house and a wheat intolerance makes it impossible for me to test the flavour myself. Too bad - it definitly smelled great!

  6. I was reading the comments about lecithin, and I too did not want to use a soy lecithin. I use rice bran extract which I purchase from It is located in Woodstock, GA. I have been milling my own wheat/making bread for about 2 years now. Just thought I would pass the information along.

  7. I definitely need gluten in my whole wheat bread to make it rise high. I use Hodgson Mill gluten which has the Vitamin C in it. I am not one of those who thinks gluten is evil if you are not intolerant to it. However, I do think GMO food is evil, so I won't use soy lecithin as 91% of the American crop is genetically modified (and 85% of the corn!) So I found a sunflower lecithin by a company called Love Raw Foods. It is liquid, while I prefer granules, but I have not been able to find granules. I have to buy it on the internet, have not seen it locally.

  8. I have been using real liquid whey in my bread recipe. I buy natural yogurt and strain it to get the whey. I purchased powdered sweet dairy whey for the convenience. My question is do I substitute a small amount of the whey powder for flour by weight? And do I replace the now missing liquid with water?

  9. Excellent read, Wonderful Family picture!

  10. Tonights loaf I added lecithin granules I had, a couple capfuls of vinegar, and if course a little cumin, Italian seasoning 3.5 tablespoons of sugar, best loaf ever it was very tasty, soft, no holes etc and easy to slice just like store loaf. I read vinegar helps preserve it as well


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