Bread making was my first love in cooking. Waking up each day and getting the doughs started, there’s nothing quite like it. From proofing to shaping and finally baking it is a very rewarding process. With anything we look to make the final product more consistent and as close to perfection as possible. But what makes a “perfect” loaf of bread? Is it the crumb structure, a crisp or soft crust, or the eye appeal of a perfectly browned exterior. At the end of the day, all of these things give us that warm fuzzy feeling inside. It’s been said a million times before, we eat with our eyes first. That’s true, but we eat with every other sense before we use taste. That aroma of freshly baked bread hits your nose, you gaze over the smooth amber crust, you hear the crack of the crust as you slice into the bread, you feel the spring of the perfectly airy slice. All these things happen before you get to the final sense which is taste. Taste is just the punctuation at the end of this bready sentence. Now depending on whether or not you forgot the salt, that punctuation could be an exclamation point or two to five question marks. We know, this sounds like a dollar store romance novel with Fabio on the cover. Good news, there is a Fabio equivalent in the bread baking world, its name is Amylase. Amylase is the mysterious lover of bread that swoops it off its feet and changes its life for the better. But how does the amorous amylase work its magic?
“How does amylase work?”
Where art thou?
Amylase is an enzyme that seduces the starches in flour, and turns them into sugars. These sugars then feed the yeast. A well fed yeast will then improve the rise of the dough. A well risen dough will provide a better shape. The extra sugars that are created will also lead to the most consistent coloring on the outside of the dough during the cooking process. So how do we get our hands on amylase so it can get its hands on our dough?
Amylase comes in two forms. The first being the straight up enzyme, amylase. It comes in a liquid form and can be added to the liquid in any bread recipe. It should be used in a very low ratio (about 0.1-0.25%) to the total weight of the flour in the recipe. The second is diastatic malt powder. Diastatic malt powder is an easy to use ingredients that can be added directly into the flour. It should be added in a ratio of 1/2 – 1 teaspoon per cup of flour used in the recipe. This is an easy to use scaled amount that works perfectly for doughs. Diastatic malt powder is made from sprouted grains that are dried and ground to a powder. If you are going to use amylase for bread baking purposes only I suggest diastatic malt powder. But if you want to exchange one for the other just simply used the ratios above.
The lover’s quarrel with amylase is that it is an equal opportunity starch lover. If it’s a starch amylase will give it the sexy side eye and turn it into sugars. This goes for things like chickpeas for hummus and pinto beans for refried beans. In these applications the amylase breaks down the starch into sugars and in return gives a smoother final product. Starch molecules are large… well large in the sense of molecules. Our tongues can sense even one starch molecule. We like to describe this as “grittiness”. Sugar molecules are much smaller than starch and provide a smoother mouthfeel. Ask-A-Chef: the science of rheology is forthcoming sometime within the next decade… promise.
But as with any love story it must come to an end. As the bread is heated it must say goodbye to its enigmatic enzyme. The amylase will deactivate as its heated leaving the once young and naive dough’s life changed as it becomes a fully grown bread. So shed a tear before you devour your next loaf of bread. Create your own love story by making one of the recipes below, or become the author of your own and share it with us.
Ready to get Cooking?
Bagels are easily one of our favorite breakfast foods. They’re satisfyingly tasty both plain and simple, or everything’d up until they’re ready for the Met Gala. We use a bit of diastatic malt powder to get our bagels red carpet ready with an even browning and perfect chew.