How to make homemade bread taste better? Many bakers ask themselves if homemade bread must always be bland, or if they are expecting too much from making bread at home? And, well…., homemade bread can be extremely boring! -especially after it’s cooled down! But if you’re open to making a few tweaks, you can make your bread taste much better! Yes, homemade bread can be just as good as the ones you can buy, if not better! And if you consider the pride and fun that comes with it, you’ll enjoy homemade bread so much more!
If you want to know how to make bread taste better, come, grab a cold water (or something stronger if you wish!), and let’s get into this!!
How to make bread taste better?
A simple solution is to use good ingredients and extract maximum flavour from the flour. A longer first rise will make a massive improvement to the flavour of your bread. Adding extra ingredients such as sweeteners, malt flour, nuts and seeds will make your bread taste more exciting.
Why does my bread taste bland?
Bread will taste bland when made too quickly. Rushing the fermentation stages of the bread won’t allow the flavour to develop. It’s natural to think adding extra ingredients will make the bread taste better. However, you can make amazing bread by keeping it simple too. Start by slowing the rise or using a pre-fermented dough.
Why does bakery bread taste better?
Bakeries have ovens that can conduct heat into bread far superior to home ovens. They have dough mixers that are finely tuned to develop gluten at the optimum rate. Though the most important factor why bakery bread tastes better is that bakers can work on the same recipes every day which allows them to perfect their routine.
Is it flavour, or texture, you want to improve?
But first, let’s backtrack. When we look to improve our bread the first thing you might want to consider is maximising the flavour of the ingredients, or adding some extra ones. But there are times when we want to lessen the flavour of the bread. A flavourful bread can be too overpowering to match other flavours such as sandwich fillings or accompanying meals. In this case, the best way to improve your bread is to lighten its flavour and adapt its texture. Flavour and texture go “hand-in-hand” in bread baking. If you get the texture right, flavour improves too.
If the texture of your bread is your problem, here are a few relevant articles that you might like to read:
How much flavour do you want?
The two following summaries can be used to target the characteristics of your homemade bread:
Light refreshing taste – Use flour from a warm region. Include olive oil and a short first rise, or use the fridge when extending the rise for extra sweetness. Bake quickly in the oven. Good examples: Ciabatta, Pullman loaf, Pizza
Deep aromas – Use flour from cooler regions, a long first rise, no fat and bake to achieve darker colours in the oven. Good examples: Baguette, Pain au levain, Pain de Campagne
Of course, these are not defined rules. There are plenty of overlaps and exclusions! My point here is to make you think about where you want your bread to go. Sometimes drawing more flavour is at a detriment to the loaf!
How to make bread taste better- Gareth’s top tips
1- Select flour carefully
Bread flour produces more gluten to trap gas produced by the yeast. This makes the dough more extensible and offers a lighter bread texture. A quality brand of bread flour provides reliable results. However, if you are in the US or Canada, protein-rich all-purpose flour can be used for bread recipes. Bread flour has a protein content of around 11-13%.
Gluten absorbs water. A general rule is to increase the water in the recipe when using higher protein flour. Flour with higher protein levels than 13% should only be used for quick-bread or with high-hydration baking techniques.
A good quality flour for bread will prevent the bread from collapsing or turning out dense like a brick.
Whole Grain flour
Using whole grain flour such as whole wheat, rye or spelt gives more depth of flavour. You don’t even have to add loads of it either! Try switching 2-5% of the white flour in your recipe for a whole grain variety. A small amount of wholegrain makes bread that’s interestingly perfumed. This is one of my favourite tricks to add more flavour to my bread!
What brand of flour should I use?
Aside from looking at the label for its protein content, a simple flour test is to give it a smell. If it smells aromatic and pleasant, you’re in business. If you take a whiff and it’s harsh, unpleasant, or rancid, consider a better source. Speak to local baking groups or bakeries and see what brands are popular in your area.
2- Increase dough fermentation
Allowing dough more time during the bulk fermentation stage provides some of the biggest gains to improving the taste of bread. A lengthy dough fermentation process increases the amount of starch broken down into simple sugars. These work with the yeast to produce organic acids and gas. Some simple sugars that don’t get consumed can provide sweetness to the bread. Extending the first rise is a great way to release more flavour, without any extra ingredients. Expect a mature dough to rise better, keep fresh better and be more flavourful.
What is bulk fermentation?
Bulk Fermentation is the stage that occurs after mixing, but before the dough is shaped. It is also called the “first rise, “rest time”, “BF” or simply, “bulk”. Have you seen bread in a bakery with a description such as “42-hour” or a “3-day process”? This is the time the bread takes to make, bulk fermentation takes up the majority of this time. The length of bulk fermentation is relative to the amount of mixing that occurs. Mixing speeds up the process of dough fermentation and develops a strong gluten network quickly. This means that a dough that is intensively mixed will need a shorter bulk fermentation time. Mixing doesn’t accelerate the production of organic acids or ethanol. So even after a long mix, it is still beneficial to allow the dough to rest. These natural enhancers mature the flavour of the dough and help other properties such as its elasticity, gas retaining ability, shelf life and aroma. Try a simple bread recipe that has a 2-4 hour first rise and see the difference in the flavour of your bread. You will need to use less yeast in your dough to prevent it from over-proofing. Cooler temperatures also slow down the rise significantly.
See: When to end bulk fermentation
Using a preferment shortens the bulk fermentation time. Prefermenting a portion of the flour with water and a small amount of yeast in the form of a biga or poolish adds dough maturity. Sourdough and the pâte fermentée method provide similar benefits. The preferment method is effectively a hybrid between a long bulk fermented dough, and a quick one. You get a mix of deep and light aromas with a mature gluten structure. It tastes great!
To preferment flour with poolish, remove 30% of the flour from the recipe, take the same amount of water from the recipe and add them with a pinch of yeast in a bowl. Give it a light mix until combined, then leave covered for 12-18 hours at room temperature until it peaks. This is then added to the remaining ingredients at the start of mixing.
As a piece of dough ages, it develops its flavour profile by developing wild yeasts and becoming more mature and acidic. If you were to incorporate a bit of old dough into a dough mix, all that flavour and maturity passes to the fresh batch. Yeast inside the old dough is powerful enough to make bread rise without any additional use.
French bakers have been using the pâte fermentée method for years. The method is beautifully simple. Every day a piece of dough is retained after mixing and kept overnight. The following day the old dough piece is added to the following day’s mix. The process is repeated, and the natural yeasts develop more flavour and activity over time.
Imagine the yeast activity and aroma from bakeries that have operated this method for years? Actually…. Centuries maybe? The bread tastes amazing, and some French bakeries still operate this method today!
4- Make bread using sourdough
Sourdough is a type of preferment, although it’s such an animal it’s a subject by itself. It’s pretty common for home bakers to start a sourdough culture. It’s fairly simple to do and once you master your starter, you can create some outstanding flavourful bread pretty quickly. Due to the sourdough starter’s makeup, you’ll get a hint of acidic sour on each bite.
Using a sourdough starter is like prefermented flour – but supercharged! High amounts of lactic acid and active bacteria work quickly to mature and rise the dough. To gain a bit of extra flavour you can add a tablespoon or two of starter per loaf in yeasted bread. The Larousse Book Of Bread by Eric Kayser uses this method in (just about) every recipe. Without yeast, sourdough is slower to rise which enhances flavour and crumb structure.
5- Chill the dough in the fridge
When dough is fermented in a cool environment, gas production slows. Despite the cold, two things happen. The first is that gluten continues to soak up water and form stronger bonds. This is great for retaining gas bubbles. The second is that complex starches are broken down into simple sugars through hydrolysis. These include maltose and others that can make the bread taste sweeter and also darken the colour of the crust.
When warm temperatures are restored, the abundant sugars are readily available for the yeast, thus speeding up the second and/or oven rise.
6- Consider the use of fat carefully
Butter, oil and eggs have a part to play in bread making. For sure, they are important in creating richness in silky brioche or Pain de mie. But, fats don’t really enhance the flavour of the flour, they smother it and add their own rich taste. Fats really benefit texture. The inclusion of fats in dough shortens the baking time by increasing the speed at which the crust browns in the oven. This means that more water is retained in the bread, thus making the crumb texture softer. Fats also tenderise the bread, making it softer and as many of them contain the emulsifier, lecithin, they bind the dough together.
Though fat can be used for many good things in bread, they don’t enhance the flavour of the flour. There are reasons that fat is required. Brioche is a perfect example where “The more butter and the higher its quality, the better!!”. Brioche gets the majority of its flavour from butter and eggs. The flours flavour is masked by the fat. The quantity of butter in the finest brioche can be as high as 80% of the flour’s weight! Butter has similar importance in croissants.
When adding butter for flavour, and not textural enhancement use the highest quality butter you can find. Unpasteurised Normandy butter is often selected as it tastes amazing and has a higher melting point.
To summarise you can add fat, but if you want to maximise the taste of a quality flour it is best avoided.
7- Switch water for milk
Dry milk powder or scalded milk adds a sweet flavour to bread and softens its texture. Instead of using plain water, replace it with scalded milk or add some milk powder to your dough. The sweet, slightly creamy flavour isn’t for every bread, but it offers something different.
8- Add nuts or seeds to give bread more flavour
The majority of this article focuses on enhancing the flavour of the flour to improve the flavour of the bread. But sometimes we forget or run out of time for extended fermentation methods, so we need to make bread another way. To add flavour to bread we can include other ingredients. These can be added to the dough, near the end of mixing, or by rolling or topping the dough after shaping.
Stretching dough out in a tray before topping it with pesto, tomato and cheese is the basic method of making focaccia bread.
Other popular toppings and possible inclusions include:
Rolling the dough in seeds or oats after final shaping is a great way to change things up and add a bit of flavour. You can also add them to the dough at the end of mixing like I do to make seeded bread. It’s delicious!
Walnut bread is a fantastic bread to make, packed full of flavour, though it can often be too intense for many palettes! It’s best to buy walnut flour, but whole walnuts can be ground in a blender if you’re careful not to overdo them!
8- Add sweeteners such as sugar or honey
Sweeteners such as sugar and honey can add flavour to the bread. They do this by adding a natural sweet taste and caramelising in the oven. When bread browns in the oven it perfumes the bread with smokey, rich aromas. They also benefit moisture and soften the texture of the bread crumb.
When using honey, be sure to use a pasteurised variety, as wild honey contains antibacterial properties that can kill the yeast.
9- Use diastatic or non-diastatic malt flour
Malt is a common additive used in bread making. It’s produced by soaking barley in water until it sprouts. Diastatic malt flour is heavy in the enzyme Maltase. This catalyst breaks down maltose (a common sugar found in flour) into simple sugars. It leads to more simple sugars available for the yeast which makes the bread rise quicker. It also means that bread can taste sweeter, without adding calories! Diastatic malt should be used with caution as too much will unbalance the rate of bulk fermentation and makes a sticky or gummy crumb.
Note: Non-diastatic malt doesn’t break sugars down. It provides a deep, malted wheat flavour that is used in many store-bought loaves. Add a teaspoon per loaf and see if you notice the difference.
10 – Use less yeast
Artisan bakers spend their time trying to use the smallest amount of yeast they possibly can to raise their dough. Yeast has a flavour that’s dull and musky. It’s not very pleasant therefore if you are using quality flour, using less yeast will allow the flavour of the fermented flour to shine through.
11- Use deactivated yeast
Much as artisan bakers like myself prefer to use less yeast, many commercial loaves include de-activated yeast in their recipes. This is especially common in par-baked loaves that you bake at home. Deactivated yeast adds a bit of warmth and a “freshly baked” aroma. This could be a way of adding more flavour to your bread, but I won’t be using any!
12- Use fresh yeast
Fresh yeast does produce a little more flavour than any of the dried yeast varieties. The reason for this is the water contained in fresh yeast supports bacteria growth -which leads to interesting flavours. Some bakers don’t notice the change, but many do, and scientifically there are reasons to support switching from dried to fresh yeast. See a yeast conversion table if you decide to change your yeast.
13- Get more colour as the bread bakes
A nice, coloured crust will impart its aroma to the rest of the bread. To achieve this, crusty bread should be baked in a hot oven at around 220-230C (430-450F) with steam. Midway through the bake the bread baking temperature is often dropped by 10-20C (50-60F). This method enhances the colour of the crust, whilst increasing the moisture’s ability to escape the crumb.
Using a Dutch oven can improve homemade bread drastically. The results from Dutch oven baking are so good your friends will think you are a professional baker! See my favourite dutch oven to learn more.
14- Use more salt in your dough!!
One of the most common causes of bland bread is not adding salt to the dough. Bread needs salt for flavour and to enhance the gluten structure (crumb texture). Bread recipes use between 1.8% to 2.1% salt per the amount of flour used in the recipe. For 1000 grams of flour, between 18 and 21 grams is perfect.
How to make bread taste better – ending thoughts
That’s it, the best ways how to give bread more flavour. If you want to learn more about bread baking, you should check out the how-to make bread page. It’s a one-stop solution for all the techniques used to make tasty bread. Let me know if I can help in the comments below!
Frequently asked questions about creating flavoursome bread