Liquid ingredients are important in bread making because they rehydrate and activate the yeast and bring together the flour and any other dry ingredients to make the dough. The most common liquids are listed below:
Water is the most commonly used liquid in bread making because it dissolves and activates the yeast and it blends with the flour to create a sticky and elastic dough. Breads made with water are heavier and have a crisp crust and a chewy texture.
Milk helps to enrich the dough and the flavor of the bread. It produces a loaf with a creamy-colored, tender crumb and a golden crust. You can use whole, low-fat or skim milk based on your preference. You can also use nonfat dry milk instead of fresh milk and add water for the required liquid.
Buttermilk can be used instead of milk to make a loaf that is moister and has an almost cake-like texture.
Yogurt can be used as alternative to milk. Use plain or flavored yogurts to produce tender breads.
Sour cream, cottage cheese and soft cheeses such as ricotta can also be used as part of the liquid content of the bread.
Coconut milk can be used 50:50 with water to add flavor to sweet breads.
Fruit juices can be added to the dough for fruit-flavored breads to increase their flavor.
Vegetable juices and the liquids left over from cooking vegetables can be used to add flavor and extra nutritional value to breads. This is particularly useful when making savory breads. Keep in mind that vegetables contain liquid juices so this will alter the liquid balance when you add them to a bread recipe.
Beers, ales, ciders and liquers can also be added to bread recipes. Beers and ales work well with dark, heavy flours because the added sugars stimulate the yeast by providing more food. Beers and ales also give breads a stronger flavor.
Eggs and sourdough starters are also considered liquid ingredients. Eggs add color, improve the structure and give the bread a rich flavor. If a bread recipe includes eggs, consider them as part of the liquid content.
Tap water is chemically treated and may slow down the rising. Hard water is alkaline which weakens the gluten and makes a loaf with less volume. Soft water is slightly acid which makes the yeast more active. If your breads are not rising very well, boil the water and let it cool to room temperature or use bottled spring water.
For yeast breads, only warm liquids should be added to dry ingredients in a recipe because a too-cool liquid will slow or stop yeast action and a too-hot liquid will destroy the yeast and prevent it from rising.
Ideal temperature ranges are 100°F-110°F, when yeast is dissolved directly in water; 120°F-130°F when undissolved yeast is added to dry ingredients.
If a dough ends up too dry, you can sprinkle it with water during the kneading.
Do you use any special ingredients in your breads? What liquid ingredients do you use and how do these ingredients enhance the flavor/texture of your breads?
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Hensperger, Beth. Bread Made Easy - A Baker's First Bread Book. Ten Speed Press 2000.
Shapter, Jennie. Bread Machine - How to prepare and bake the perfect loaf. Hermes House 2003.