I was recently teaching a class on how to make simple homemade white bread and one participant said, “My bread always comes out heavy and dense and yours is so light and fluffy. What’s your secret?” This is a common question that deserves some attention.
Making light fluffy bread or bread that is less dense is mostly a matter of using the right ingredients and to some extent the right process. The main ingredients to accomplish this are 1) bread flour 2) instant yeast 3) dough enhancers. These ingredients combined with the right process will make the perfect homemade bread every time as described in detail below.
Some “experts” tell you that making light fluffy bread is about the rise time or the perfect recipe but they can’t give you an exact amount of rise time or a perfect process. I’m going to give you everything you need to make the perfect light fluffy bread below.
First let’s talk about Bread Flour! When making bread it is very important to use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour. Why can’t you use regular all-purpose flour, you might ask. Well it’s simple, bread flour has an increased amount of protein or more gluten which results in a lighter, fluffier dough which produces a less dense finished product. All-purpose flour can be used for bread but bread flour is always better if your goal is a “fluffier” bread. The biggest difference between bread and all-purpose flour is that the former has a higher protein content. This high protein produces more stability, form and ultimately increases the amount of rise. All-purpose flour results in a shorter bread and doesn’t rise as much. Just to dive in a little deeper, the higher protein content in bread flour means that the flour has more gluten in it. Gluten makes the dough supple and flexible (just compare gluten free bread to gluten bread to see this difference). Put simply, bread flour was specifically made to be used with yeast in breads. Most of the time, all purpose flour is a good choice, but those specialty flours – such as cake flour, pastry flour, and bread flour – can definitely deliver a better result when they’re called for in a recipe. Trust me, if you want your bread to be light and fluffy then use bread flour when making homemade bread and you won’t be disappointed.
Have you ever looked at a slice bread closely and noticed the little air pockets in it? Those little air pockets are caused by gas that is released from the yeast when it activates in the dough. How light the bread is directly relates to how much the dough rises or how much gas the yeast releases. The yeast, when given warm water and food (sugar, gluten etc.) causes gas to be released in the dough. The gas is actually carbon dioxide and when released creates all the little bubbles or gas pockets in the dough. The gas is created with the growth of the yeast. The more the yeast grows, the more gas forms in the dough. The more gas in the dough the fluffier the finished product will be.
Now that you know the yeast is the rising (leavening) agent in the bread dough. There are actually four different types of yeast. The difference between them is the amount of moisture and the size of the granules. All types are living organisms and below is the list of these yeast types.
- Fresh Cake Yeast
- Active Dry Yeast
- Rapid Rise Yeast
- Instant Yeast
I believe that Instant yeast is the best yeast to prevent your bread from being as dense as a brick. These are several reasons why I think instant yeast is the best route for creating that light fluffy bread.
- Fresh yeast is usually soft and moist and must be kept refrigerated or frozen. It will go bad much quicker and must be proofed. This means that you have to add the yeast to warm water and some sugar. The water can’t be too warm or too cold or it won’t work. This process scares a lot of bakers away.
- Active dry, instant, and rapid rise yeasts are all considered “Dry yeast” and have had the moisture removed from them so they can last much longer. However, active dry yeast has to be proofed, just like the fresh yeast.
- Rapid rise yeast is made up of very fine granules. In fact, it is the yeast with the finest granules and because they are so fine, they dissolve the easiest and cause the yeast to rise the most rapid. The rapid rise is good but the speed of the rise will actually affect the taste of the bread. This type of yeast is usually what is used in the automatic bread making machines.
- Instant yeast is the type of yeast that will not cause extra steps in the process (it doesn’t need to be proofed), will rise fast enough, and will not sacrifice any of the taste. Also, instant yeast usually has ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to give it a longer shelf life and it enhances the dough (see below). I like to use Saf-Instant Premium Yeast because it isn’t as sensitive to the temperature of the water too.
The biggest kept secret, and probably the most important to less dense bread is actually the dough enhancers. When I say dough enhancers you might assume that I’m telling you to put chemicals or other crazy ingredients into the dough but all of the dough enhancers I will talk about are natural. In addition, this is the thing that professional or commercial bakers do to their bread. There are two main reasons for the dough enhancers. One is for preserving the dough and obviously the other is to make the dough rise higher by feeding the yeast. Since this is an article about making your bread light and fluffy or less dense, I’m going to focus on the dough rise. Below are several ingredients that can be used together or individually to enhance your dough.
Of all the dough enhancers I will mention, lecithin is my absolute favorite. It keeps the moisture in the bread and thus helps it stay soft and moist longer. It makes your homemade bread look and feel like professional store bought bakery bread. Lecithin is an emulsifying agent and keeps all the ingredients mix together better. It traps the gas bubbles from the yeast in the dough by creating a type of coating or elasticity which allows for better rising. It also tends to help the outer crust be softer and more delicate.
Lecithin comes in many forms. The form that many bakers have used over the centuries is eggs. Lecithin is found in egg yolk so if your recipe has eggs in it, you’ve added lecithin. However, eggs can be bad for longevity or preservation of the bread so that is why adding straight lecithin is preferred. Lecithin can come in liquid or granule form and is most commonly made of sunflower or soy. I like the liquid form of soy lecithin so much that I actually package and sell it individually as Pure Liquid Soy Lecithin or in our Homemade Bread Bundles. Both of these are also available on our Fast Easy Bread Amazon Store. You will also notice that most if not all of my bread recipes call for liquid soy lecithin. That’s because it makes for consistent well formed bread and more importantly, a very fluffy loaf bread.
Vitamin C Powder (Ascorbic Acid)
Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, also enhances the dough in two ways. It acts as a preservative and it also creates a lighter bread by helping the yeast do a better job. You don’t need a lot of this to enhance the dough. In fact I suggest you only need about ⅛ tsp per loaf of bread you are making. You can purchase the ascorbic acid powder on Amazon and I recommend this brand (Nutricost Vitamin C Powder) or you can purchase vitamin C and throw it in the blender until it is powder. As I mentioned before, the type of yeast I prefer to use already has ascorbic acid in it.
At first, I was sceptical about adding ginger powder to my bread dough because I don’t care for the taste of ginger. However, after trying it I realized that it really can enhance the dough and make a lighter fluffier bread without changing the taste. You only have to add about ¼ tsp per loaf and it is such a small amount that you won’t taste it. The ginger again helps boost yeast and also helps as a natural preservative.
Potato Flakes or Potato Water
As you know, potatoes are rich in starch. Starch helps the dough by trapping the gas from the yeast in the dough and makes the bubbles stronger. This helps the bread to rise and be lighter and fluffier. If you are boiling potatoes, you can use the unsalted water in place of the water in your bread recipe to help out the yeast. Potato flakes do the exact same thing as potato water without having to boil potatoes. I’ve even made doughnuts “spudnuts” out of potatoes. I would substitute about ¼ cup of potato flakes for flour in the recipe for this enhancer or replace half of the water with the potato water.
If you’ve ever compared gluten free bread with regular bread you will notice that the gluten free bread is more dense. That is because wheat gluten, which is in the bread flour, strengthens the dough and encases the gas produced by the yeast. You can actually add a small amount of wheat gluten to enhance the dough and make it lighter and fluffier. The more gluten, the stronger the dough is. You can purchase vital wheat gluten and replace 1 Tbsp of flour with the vital wheat gluten. Here’s a link to Anthony’s Premium Vital Wheat Gluten on Amazon.
Dry Milk Powder
Adding dry milk powder to your bread dough will help your loaf rise higher. In addition, the loaf will stay soft and hold moisture longer which again means it will last longer. It also helps brown the crust. If you want a lighter fluffier bread loaf just add 2 Tbsp of dry milk to the flour per loaf of your bread.
Vinegar – Apple Cider or White Vinegar
Vinegar has a very similar effect to the dough as the ascorbic acid. It helps hold the dough together and strengthens the bubbles so they won’t pop. It helps to keep the integrity of the dough and strengthens the gluten bonds.
The ingredients above are the main thing that will allow you to keep your bread from turning into a dense brick and more into a light fluffy loaf. In addition, there is some process to making that perfect bread loaf. If you use bread flour, instant yeast, and an enhancer like lecithin, the process becomes simpler. For example in our Basic White Bread Recipe, you don’t have to proof yeast, you only have one rise time, and the process really does become easy and the bread is made fast. If you use other yeast, you may have to proof it, let it rise more than once etc. The main process that should be followed in all recipes is kneading the bread. You can do this in a mixer like a Bosch or a KitchenAid or you can knead by hand. Whichever way you do it, the dough needs to be kneaded until it has a smooth and soft texture. In a mixer about 5 minutes will do, but if you are the brave soul kneading your dough by hand it takes about 10-15 minutes. This ensures that the ingredients have been activated, the gas is being released, and the dough is strong enough to keep the gas in.
I hope this post will help you create less dense, light fluffy homemade bread. I know from experience that it is as simple as it sounds. If you have any questions, please comment.