There isn’t anything quite like the smell of freshly baked bread. There’s just something about the smell of warm bread that brings us such great comfort. Bread, when made right, can bring us to faraway places like Paris or New York, and it can remind us of the familiar comforts of home.
We think there’s more to life than just plain old white bread, so we made a primer about the different kinds of bread available out there, as well as everything you need to know about them.
Sourdough is the granddaddy of all breads. It is the end-all and be-all of any good baker, the very core of any good old-fashioned bakery, and for very good reason. Sourdough is named as such because it isn’t risen with conventional commercial yeast.
Rather, it gets its rise from a naturally fermented sourdough starter made of starch, most often whole wheat flour, and water, left to ferment for days, months and even years. Some bakeries keep sourdough starters that can be as old as fifty or even a hundred years. Sourdough has been around for centuries, and has been at the heart of many ancient communities for just as long.
Since sourdough starters aren’t as potent as industrially-produced commercial yeast, it takes a while for them to give dough its rise. What it lacks for in speed, however, it makes up for in deep, aromatic flavor and texture. As the name suggests, a sourdough is actually quite sour, developing a distinctly tart and fermented flavour over its fermentation period, a bit like a good pickle.
Aside from the standard whole wheat and white varieties, sourdough can also branch out into the darker territories of bread, thanks to its penchant for deep flavors. Many sourdoughs use dark, wholemeal flours such as rye, spelt, buckwheat and even potato!
Crusty White Bread
Moving on from the classic sourdough, we now look at classic crusty breads made with commercial yeast, that are no less flavorful or delicious than a sourdough loaf.
The Baguette is arguably one of the most popular varieties of bread out there. Named after the French word for “baton,” the baguette has a distinct long shape and angled cuts that are as quintessentially French as the Eiffel Tower.
Its trademarks include a crisp crust, which should practically shatter as you tear into a loaf, and a moist, tender crumb, which is perfect for soaking up soups and sauces. A good baguette should be crisp, not stiff or flexible. It shouldn’t be a chore to tear off or bite into a piece of baguette.
The Italian Ciabatta, on the other hand, was actually developed in the 1980s in an attempt by Italian bakers to counteract the growing popularity of the baguette. Much like the baguette, ciabatta’s shape and texture are its most recognizable qualities. Ciabatta gets its name from the Italian word for slipper, given its wide shape akin to a sandal.
Its crust has a good body, though it isn’t as crisp as the baguette and is browned just so, covered with a healthy dusting of flour. The crumb inside should be uneven, with large pockets of air being a good indicator of a quality ciabatta.
A step higher than the average crusty loaves and sourdough, enriched bread is made of more than just the standard flour, water, salt and yeast. These richer, fluffier breads are fairly modern and were developed once refined white wheat flour was introduced to the market.
Unlike most other traditional bread, enriched bread is made with the addition of dairy, (butter, cream and milk are standard) sugar and eggs. These ingredients add richness and moisture to bread, making it more cake-like than the more robust crusty whole wheat loaves. The added ingredients also help give bread a softer, more delicate texture.
Popular enriched breads include the French pan de mie or milk bread, sweet Hawaiian dinner rolls, and even the standard American Pullman Loaf. The king of all enriched breads, however, is the Brioche, a loaf so rich and packed with butter, eggs and sugar, that it almost qualifies as a cake!
RELATED RECIPE: Stuffed Brioche
This category of bread is probably one of the most loved by bread fanatics all over the world. Known as Viennoisserie in French and Wienerbrød in Danish, these rich, flaky pastries barely qualify as bread.
While they are raised with yeast and use standard kneaded bread dough as their base, historically, these breads were classified as pastries by the French baking guilds, given the amount of butter, eggs, and skill required to produce them, hence the divide between patisseries (pastry shops) and boulangeries (bread bakeries).
Known in many languages as “Viennese bread”, these flaky treats were introduced by Austrian bakers to Europe in the 1800s, hence the name, and they have stuck ever since. They are made through lamination, the process of folding enriched yeasted dough with cold butter several times in order to achieve thousands of light, delicate layers.
Popular laminated pastries include croissants, pain au chocolat, kouign amann, and the ever popular Danish or Wienerbrød.
RELATED RECIPE: Danish Puffs