Baking Oven

The Great British Bake Off… It’s all about humidity!

Bread – The stuff of life!

Most of us have a never ending choice of the most delicious breads, cakes and pastries to please both the palate and the eyes. We have become so used to this diverse range of bread and baked products, but do you how bread originally came into existence?

The interesting history of  what is now called the “staff of life”, bread, and the making of it, started in comparatively recent times.

At the very beginning of recorded history there was the discovery of fire making and thus along with light, heat could be generated. Then it was found that different grasses and their seeds could be prepared for nourishment.

Later, with the combination of grain, water and heat, it was possible to prepare a kind of dense broth. Hot stones were covered with this broth or the broth was roasted on embers and “hey presto” the first unsoured flat bread was created. This ability to prepare stable food radically changed the eating habits and lifestyles of our early ancestors. They progressed from being hunters to settlers.

Facts & figures:

  • Records show that as early as 2600-2100 B.C. bread was baked by Egyptians, who it is believed had learned the skill from the Babylonians.
  • On average, every American consumes around 53 lb (24 kg) of bread per year.
  • The “pocket” in pita bread is made by steam. The steam puffs up the dough and, as the bread cools and flattens, a pocket is left in the middle.
  •  US Farmers receive just 5 cents (or less) for each loaf of bread sold.

Why the need to measure humidity?

The production of baked goods such as bread, cakes, biscuits and pastries requires a number of processing steps in which humidity and temperature play an important role.

After mixing, it is typical to divide the dough into pieces and allow it to rest for a few minutes so that the gluten network in the dough can relax allowing easier moulding, which is the next step.

If at that stage, the temperature is too hot the dough will be too sticky and cannot be easily processed further, if too cold the dough can become damaged during moulding which leads to holes forming in the bread. If the humidity level prior to the moulding process was too low a skin of dry dough can form on the dough surface. This makes it harder for the dough to increase its volume during the next
process step called proving.

Proving is the professional term for the final dough-rise step before baking, where 90% of the bread volume is achieved. To achieve consistently good dough rising results special chambers are used. These chambers can maintain the ideal environment for the yeast to grow. Depending on the yeast and flour used, temperatures between 38…42°C and humidity levels between 70…80%rh are considered ideal.

In summary, the use of quality ingredients and careful handling throughout the various stages of production will not result in a quality product  unless the dough temperature, and the temperature and humidity of the bakery are carefully regulated. Modern day bakeries use custom ventilation systems that are controlled by precision humidity and temperature sensors.

So once again the behavior of the humble water molecule is to blame! In this case for the stricken faces of The Great British Bake Off contestants as they stress about the quality of their crust and whether the dough will be cooked through to perfection!

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