Reader Jim writes:
Your fine pastry story — about the struggle between the forces of Up and the forces of Down — illuminates the dark “glutenian” conflict at odds when we bake. It has inspired me to question “when” I add the various ingredients into my bread recipes. Any future post regarding “ingredient timing” would be much appreciated.
That’s a fascinating question, Jim. I may have written down all I know in the below post. What I will say is that it is possible to create a variety of textural effects depending on when — and how much — fat you add to your mixture. Since gluten is going to develop quickly once flour and water are combined, you’ll want to add at least a little fat at the very beginning of the process if you want to cut down on the gluten development and create a more tender crumb: some egg yolk, oil, cream or very soft or melted butter. The longer you wait the tougher the gluten network is going to become and the more difficult it will be to mix the fat in, since as I mentioned once those gluten molecules are bonded to each other, fat can’t break them apart. Fat added late to a well-developed dough will tend to want to pool up and run out of the bread as it bakes.
How much fat you add is of course up to you. Generally speaking a dough that’s had fat introduced to it is not only going to be more tender and flavorful, it’s also going to have a finer crumb. Think of an egg bread like challah versus an big-holed French baguette.
Sugar doesn’t have as dramatic an effect on gluten formation, but it will have a significant effect on yeast growth if it’s introduced early in any quantity. In large amounts it’s as lethal to microbial life as salt, as it robs tiny critters of the water they need to live and reproduce. As your dough develops larger amounts of sugar can be added, but expect slower rising time as a result. Of course if the bread is chemically leavened sugar isn’t a problem at all.
Let’s see…what else can I add? If anyone else would like to weigh in on this subject please feel free. I’ll go on noodling it and add to the post if anything occurs. Thanks Jim for a terrific question!