skip to main content
Slowfood and Handforged Tools website banner

Advanced Bread Making Course 🍞
Wood Fired Pizza Ovens 🔥
Part 1: Main Bread Ingredients and Functions

To make bread, obviously the first thing you need is to assemble your ingredients. To call yourself a BAKER  however, being able to assemble the ingredients is not enough. A Baker needs to understand the purpose of each ingredient and their role in the bread making process...


Flour is the structural material of the bread:

Flour provides a source of natural sugars, which are required to feed the yeast. With the addition of water, around 70% of the carbohydrates contained in flour breakdown to simple sugars that are then available for the yeast to digest.

Flour is the source of gluten-forming proteins, which provide a 'mould' or 'framework' for the bread - it is the long strands of gluten-rich protein that initially hold the bread in shape. It is only in the oven that the starch around the protein sets and forms the loaf. At the same time during baking, the protein framework gelatinises and softens and thus ends up providing the bread with its chewy characteristics.

THE BAKER'S TIP: "Because your flour forms the structure of your bread, always use a good quality, high protein flour. These are usually marked Baker's Flour or Pizza Flour, but to be sure, look at the nutrient panel on the product and check that the protein content is over 11 grams per 100 (i.e., over 11%)."




Check that the protein content is over 11 grams per 100


Salt is the regulator of the bread:

Salt provides flavour. Unless another flavouring, herb or spice is to dominate, bread without at least some salt lacks taste.

Salt helps to control the speed of fermentation. This can be particularly useful in our hot climate (here in Queensland). If the day is warm, adding more salt to the mix will help retard the massive growth that will occur during the first dough rise and give the dough time to develop some strength and complexity. Keep in mind though that you'll be able to taste any salt you add over and above about 2% of the flour weight in your dough.

Salt strengthens gluten development. If after mixing, your dough appears slack and lifeless, the first thing to check is to make sure you've added your salt. Without it, your dough will lack body. You can add your missing salt to your dough mix easiest by dissolving it in a little room temperature water.

THE BAKER'S TIP: "There are many myths about using salt in bread, usually to do with when it should be added in. There does not appear to be any real difference as to whether the salt is added in the water or not, or kept separate from the yeast or not. My personal preference is to add it right at the start, but that's just so I don't forget to add it later!"

Fats and Oils

Fats and Oils are the conditioner of the bread. The higher the fat content of the bread, the softer it becomes. Any sort of fat or oil (animal, vegetable or a combination of both) can be used in bread making, but whatever the source:

Fats and Oils prolong the keeping qualities of the bread by both inhibiting the crystallisation of the starch and stopping the evaporation of water from the loaf. These two factors are what cause your bread to harden and become stale over time.

Fats and Oils increase the volume of a loaf by acting as a 'lubricant', allowing the ingredients to 'slide' across each other during proving.

THE BAKER'S TIP: "You can test the volume-increasing qualities of adding fat or oil to your mix by making two loaves of bread essentially the same, but adding fat/oil to one loaf - that loaf will be noticeably larger."


Yeast is the activator of the bread story. It is available in several different forms but dry (sometimes called instant) yeast is the norm. Whatever form is used, freshness is the key to quality and so watch the expiration dates closely and if you are using dry yeast, keep it in the freezer.

Yeast provides the source of the carbon dioxide (through fermentation) which is what makes the bread rise.

Yeast is the main source of flavour and aroma and thus essentially, makes bread 'bready'.

Yeast determines the speed of dough maturity and aids with the conditioning of the dough.

THE BAKER'S TIP: "Dough condition refers to the dough's 'ripeness'. If you think of the dough as a piece of fruit, if it hasn't enough yeast or the yeast hasn't been allowed enough time to activate, then the dough will be hard and bitter.  With enough time, there will come a point when the dough is perfect and flavoursome and if you go past that and leave the yeast to ferment too long or if you've used too much yeast, your dough will be very soft and start to taste bad."


Water provides the hydration for the bread and so it's always important to put enough in. A dry dough will not be successful. In particular:

Water makes the dough consistent and disperses the ingredients evenly.

Water controls the finished dough temperature. The issues around controlling the dough temperature will be explored more fully later in the lesson on Method, suffice to say that the easiest way to manipulate the dough temperature is by controlling the water temperature.

THE BAKER'S TIP: "On average your bread will have a water content of around  60 to 70% of your flour weight (600 to 700 ml per kg of flour). If you are using machinery to mix your dough, it's likely that the percentage will be down around 60%, if you are mixing by hand, it'll probably be around 70% and rustic loaves with large bubbles of air (like ciabatta) can have a water content as high as 85%! The reason that you get larger air bubbles in higher water content dough is because the slacker the dough is, the more yeast activity will occur..."

Other Common Ingredients

As well as the BIG 5 ingredients listed above, there are quite a few other common but optional bread ingredients. All are used to impart various qualities to the bread:

Bread Improvers

Bread improvers are a relatively new addition to bread making, being one of the chemical processes adopted as part of the post WW2 industrialisation but, at least commercially, they are so frequently used that they straddle the line between Main Ingredients and Other Common Ingredients. Prior to the massive changes that occurred in commercial bread making at that time, baking Artisan Bread, using traditional methods of pre ferments (more about them later!), was a two part process and took a minimum of 4½ hours to accomplish from start to finish.

When it was discovered that a combination of ascorbic acid (one of the main functional ingredient in all improvers) and certain other additives (like emulsifiers and conditioners) could be used to speed up the bread making process, it soon became possible to make bread in literally half the time. Commercially, bread made using an improver is usually referred to as 'instant' or 'rapid rise'. It is also possible to buy bread improvers from some supermarkets and health food stores. Lowe's brand bread improver is probably the most readily available in Australia if you want to try using an improver in your own bread.


Eggs are added to enrich the dough by increasing the protein and fat content -  think brioche or panatone or other rich/special breads like Greek Easter bread (streki/tsoureki) or Jewish challah.

Skim Milk Powder

Following America's lead (from the 1930's onwards, the USA began a program of fortifying common commercial food products with vitamins and minerals) and in response to the high rate of calcium deficiency amongst the Australian population, after the second World War, a law was passed making it mandatory for all commercially marketed refined bread to contain added skim milk powder. It is no longer compulsory for manufacturers to do this (though new laws making it compulsory to add folic acid and iodine to refined breads were introduced in 2009), but the convention of using skim milk powder is still common.

On a practical level, because lactose (the milk sugar) does not ferment, skim milk powder does help to add a certain sweetness and richness to a dough. It also assists in creating a nice, golden crust colour on your loaf because the unfermented/unused milk sugars near the surface of your loaf, like all sugars when exposed to heat, caramelise and brown.

Soya Flour

Soya flour is a natural emulsifier and thus is really useful to help the fat and the water in the mix combine into a really smooth dough.

Soya Beans

Soy Flour


Traditionally, because the amount of gluten contained in flour varies significantly across species, growing regions and with the seasons (for instance: summer wheat grows much more quickly and so the gluten structure of the flour made from summer wheat is often much weaker then winter wheat), bakers looked for ways to 'even out' their batches. Adding extra gluten (and using bread improvers) helped to accomplish this.

In addition, a small percentage of extra gluten (up to 2%) is often added to heavy loaves (particularly those full of fruit and seeds) to help strengthen the dough and hold the fruit and seeds up so they don't sink to the bottom of the mix.

If you are adding additional gluten to your loaf, you need to be aware that one of the characteristics of gluten is that it holds its own weight in water, so you would need to add the same percentage increase to your recipe's water content.


Obviously, sugar is added to make a sweet dough, but like fat, it is also useful because it slows down the rate at which bread hardens and goes stale. The average sugar content of a sweet bread (like fruit loaf) is 12% of the flour weight, though some dough (like doughnuts) can contain up to 20%.

White Sugar

Raw Sugar

Brown Sugar

Rapadura Sugar

Other sweeteners can also be used of course, particulary honey and maple syrup.


Maple Syrup

Malt Flour

There are actually three main types of malt flour added to bread and each has a different effect:

Dark Malt Flour

1 Non-Diastatic Malt Flour is created when the malt grains are allowed to grow and are then heated before being ground down into flour. The addition of this sort of malt flour results in a sweeter, softer dough and as the flour itself has no enzyme activity, it also provides another sugar source for the yeast.

2 Diastatic Malt Flour is created when active malt grains are processed without any heat. The resulting flour is full of enzyme activity (unlike the flour above) and will help enliven a sluggish dough.

3 Toasted Malt Flour is just flour made from toasted malt grains, however it's nutty flavour and colour makes it a desirable addition to bread dough because it makes the dough  look and taste more wholegrain/fibre filled.

In Conclusion

Once you understand these ingredients and their purpose, you can begin to create your own bread recipes AND also, you can adjust recipes to create desired results. Effectively, you can troubleshoot your own bread and have exactly the qualities in your loaves that you want.

Scroll to top of page arrow