Since I’d started baking bread again after discovering the bread in just 5 minutes a day technique, I’ve been wanting to wean my significant other and our daughter from store-bought sliced sandwich bread to something more wholesome and maybe even cheaper.
The recipes from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day as well as the authors’ follow-up books (Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day) are great and delicious, but as they are artisanal French breads, they are best eaten the day they are baked … they do not keep well for more than a day, becoming dry and stale. Assuredly not what my significant other and our kid like to eat, which is pillowy soft and light like Wonder Bread … here’s a picture of some store-bought sliced white sandwich bread.
On the other hand, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day does have a recipe for Soft American-Style White Bread, which has sugar & butter and makes good sandwiches … on the first day. However, it does not stay soft on the 2nd day onwards, not like the store-bought kind.
So, this got me thinking that there must be a way to reproduce the longer lasting softness of store-bought sliced sandwich bread, but without any artificial preservatives or additives. So, I’m now on a mission … to find out what makes the softest wholesome sandwich bread.
I started looking at what goes into a standard store-bought sliced white sandwich bread … here’s a photo of the ingredients list for the one that my kid still eats today:
And here’re the ingredients for a white wheat germ- and bran-enriched sandwich bread made by another brand:
So, what do these store-bought breads have that Jeff’s and Zoë’s recipe for Soft American-Style White Bread does not? Ignoring the added wheat germ, wheat bran, vitamins & minerals, here are what I think are the differences:
1. High protein flour
Jeff’s and Zoë’s recipes are actually based on Unbleached All-Purpose Flour from King Arthur Flour, which has a higher than usual protein % for plain flour. And since I’m already using Pillbury’s Best Bread Flour, I think I’m golden for this ingredient.
2. Vegetable oil instead of butter
Now, melted butter should be similar to vegetable oil, although butter has milk solids (which the store-bought bread has). So, it’s not really so different, right?
3. Vital wheat gluten
Now this should give a better gluten structure to the bread … I’ll consider adding some VWG.
4. Skim milk solids
Looking around the Internet, I find out that most soft white sandwich breads has milk (dry/powdered or liquid milk … if using liquid, we’ll need to scald it to denature an enzyme that may weaken the gluten structure). Easy to find milk powders in the supermarket.
5. Dough conditioners – emulsifiers
Let’s tackle the two types of dough conditioners separately: emulsifiers and enzymes.
If I remember my Science, emulsifiers help oily stuff mix in water. However, according to Classo Foods (whose website gives the complete low down about Bread and the technology of bread production), emulsifiers do more in bread. They …
can increase product volume, create a fine, uniform crumb, produce a more tender crumb and crust, improve moisture retention, improve sheeting properties, and reduce staling
One commonly used emulsifier I recognize is lecithin, which is naturally found in soya and egg yolks:
Lecithin functions in bread dough to reduce mixing time, increase water absorption, improve machinability, yield a more uniform crust colour, a more tender crust, and to produce a softer crumb with a decreased rate of staling.
I remember that lecithin is readily available as a natural health supplement and that organic versions of lecithin are easy to find. So, this looks to be a very promising lead to the secret to making the softest sandwich bread!
6. Dough conditioners – enzymes
The Baking Industry Research Trust (BIRT) gives a nice, concise explanation for enzymes used in baking:
Enzymes are used to speed up the breakdown of starch into sugars that the yeast can use, which helps the dough rise more quickly. They improve the volume and crumb softness in bread. A common enzyme naturally present in flour is alpha-amylase.
Okay, I’m not sure I can readily find enzymes to supplement what is already present in flour, so I’ll keep this on the back-burner for now.
7. Calcium propionate
A quick check around the Internet tells me that Calcium propionate is used in bakery products as a mold inhibitor. And It is also considered slightly toxic! This may help the bread stay fresh for longer, but I think we can skip this in homemade breads, right?
8. Soya flour
Now, this is very interesting … who knew soya flour is good for breads?
Soyabean flour used in bakeries usually contains fats and enzymes. One of the enzymes reacts with oxygen present in air and bleaches any yellow colour and proteins that are present. This produces a whiter bread crumb. The addition of soyabean flour improves loaf volume, crumb softness and the keeping quality of bread.
– From BIRT
So, soya flour gives us an emulsifier (lecithin, which is made from soya) and enzyme dough conditioners. That’s why it’s in my kid’s favorite store-bought sliced white sandwich bread!
9. Ascorbic Acid
Yes, ascorbic acid is Vitamin C, but searching around the Internet …
Vitamin C helps sustain the leavening of bread loaves during baking. It also promotes yeast growth causing your yeast to work longer and faster and helps produce the acidic atmosphere in which yeast grows best. – from AAOPB Storable Foods
A little bit of vitamin C goes a long way … there’s enough vitamin C in citrus juices and we can even use a bit of vitamin C health supplement tablets (grounded, of course) if the powdered version is not available.
10. Potato flour
You may be saying, “Wait a minute here … potato flour is not in the list of ingredients for the store-bought breads!” Yes, it isn’t. But while scouring the Internet for tips to make soft white sandwich bread, I came across this tip from Jana’s delectably mine blog, about using mashed potatoes to make bread as soft as store-bought sliced white sandwich bread.
Even King Arthur Flour has a soft white bread recipe that calls for potato flour.
So, where do we go from here? I guess the next step will be to experiment with using the following in Jeff’s and Zoë’s recipe for Soft American-Style White Bread:
1. Bread flour
2. Olive oil
3. Vital wheat gluten
4. Milk powder
6. Soya flour
7. Ascorbic acid
8. Potato flour
So, I’m off to the supermarket now to stock up on these ingredients and will post again on the results.
Do you have any other tips or suggestions for making the softest white sandwich bread possible?