Eggs play a crucial part in any kind of baking. It’s one of the staples in baking because it provides beneficial effects in making any baked goods. Unless you’re on a dairy-free diet, you shouldn’t miss out on eggs in your yeast breads! Let’s learn more about what eggs do in baking with some theory and a side-by-side comparison.
Eggs are a rich source of protein which supplements the gluten and binds dough together. This helps the bread rise and makes soft and fluffy bread. When baking, the inclusion of eggs increases browning in the bread or pastry. They add a characteristic, rich flavour and extend the shelf life of any baked product.
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What’s in an egg?
A whole egg is composed of fats from the yolk and protein from the white. The two combine to act as binders, moisturizers, thickeners, and overall flavour contributors.
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What’s in egg whites?
Egg whites represent about 2/3 of the volume of the eggs. They are composed primarily of about 85-90% water, with the rest containing mainly proteins. Since it has a different structure from the yolks, it also plays different roles.
Egg whites have the ability to foam when beaten. They are rich in two proteins called Ovalbumin and Ovomucin. Ovalbumin holds the foam during beating, while the ovomucin helps to retain air bubbles in the structure. These two substances are the main reason behind achieving a light and airy foam. In making an angel food cake, or any products that rely on frothiness, there is no substitute. Yet, when it comes to flavour, egg whites are fairly neutral.
What’s in egg yolks?
The egg yolk makes up the other third of the egg. It contains a high percentage of fat and protein. They prevent egg whites from whipping into a foam, which is why they have to be separated for making meringues and mouses.
They not only add richness to baked goods due to their fat content, but they also work as great emulsifiers. This means the inclusion of the yolk combines liquid and fats to create a smoother and more homogenous batter or dough.
Egg yolks are the reason behind the flavour and great colour of pastries. They are also responsible for making a mixture thicken. When its proteins heat up they start to act like a gel. Yolks are rich in acids and vitamins with a more “eggy” flavour.
The egg shell
An eggshell contains up to 17000 pores. The semi-permeable shell prevents bacteria from entering while allows moisture and air to pass through.
Here's a great brioche yeast bread recipe with plenty of eggs, milk and butter. It's simply delicious so every baker should try it (in my opinion!).
What is the function of eggs in baked goods?
Let’s look at how eggs work in bread recipes, these qualities will also affect a cake batter:
– Improves the gluten structure
Eggs enhance the gluten structure in two ways. The first is by increasing the protein in the dough. The added protein supports the gluten from the flour to form more air pockets.
The second is due to eggs containing the enzyme lecithin. This is an emulsifier that’s used across the food industry. It strengthens the gluten bonds to produce a stronger network that holds its shape to make a more elastic dough. Lecithin also improves the dough’s ability to absorb extra fats into a cohesive mixture.
Eggs improve a close-knit dough structure by providing more bonds. They also make a light and fluffy loaf when the yeast has more time to work. More air and further tenderises such as sugar and fat are added in these types of yeast bread recipes to lighten the crumb.
- For more tips on developing dough, see my how to knead dough post!
– Softens the texture
The yolk of the egg contains a lot of fat. A baker includes the yolk to tenderize the gluten strands to make the texture moist and soft.
– Darkens and softens the crust
When baking bread with eggs, the oven is set to a lower temperature. This is because Maillard reactions and caramelization occur at a faster rate with the inclusion of the extra protein. This makes the crust golden brown.
Due to their fat content, eggs absorb heat slowly. Adding eggs to a bread recipe stops the crust from becoming hard.
– Assists in rising
As eggs enhance the doughs gluten structure, they improve its ability to retain gas. This means it retains more gas in less time -which speeds up the rise. Eggs are also a leavening agent on their own. Food like souffle (or many cakes and batters that contain eggs) will rise without baking powder!
Bread that contains eggs can also rise higher before it collapses to produce light and fluffy bread. Bread that contains egg aids the leavening of the yeast making it rise more evenly in the oven.
– Flavour of bread
Lecithin, a fatty acid found in the yolk, flattens the flavours of the other ingredients. Its inclusion can make bread taste more rounded and smooth. Caramelisation during the baking process also generates sweet flavours associated with sugar-sweetened cakes.
– Creates a shiny finish
Many bakers will use an egg wash to cover the crust of their bread or pastry before baking. During baking, this softens the crust by forming a thin barrier, whilst adding a nice golden sheen. It also repels excess moisture at the same time.
– Improves the shelf life
Fatty acids lower the pH value of the bread which inhibits mould and other unwanted bacteria from staling the bread. It also slows down the regeneration of the starch, or in other words -the starch remains the same so the bread stays fresh and moist.
An eggy bread test
To see first-hand how eggs affect bread, I made a loaf of simple yeast bread. One contained an egg, the other didn’t. I keep everything the same, except I reduced the flour and water in the bread with egg. This is because I wanted to make both loaves the same size. So I removed 37 grams of water and x grams of flour.
Here are the recipes that I used:
- Flour – 550 grams
- Water – 368 grams
- Salt – 11 grams
- Instant yeast – 3 grams
- Flour – 542 grams
- Water – 322 grams
- Egg – 52 grams (1 large)
- Salt – 11 grams
- Instant yeast – 3 grams
The method I followed was:
I added the ingredients to the bowl and mixed for 6 minutes slow, followed by 6 minutes fast in my Hobart mixer. Both doughs were then left for 1 hour before preshaping, left to bench rest for 15 minutes and then final shaped and rise. I left 1 hour between starting the doughs so the oven had time to recover between each bake.
How the doughs looked
The non-egg dough was perfect. It was beautifully soft and passed the windowpane test before shaping. The egg dough was even softer and could stretch further, but tore easier than its rival.
Comparing the finished loaves
Both of the loaves would have liked a bit more time to develop. I get that they won’t be winning any awards! But the test still showed expected results in the final product.
The egg loaf had a darker coloured crumb. It’s also softer and more even. During the oven spring, the egg loaf rose more and the cut opened up nicely. On looks, the loaf with egg was the obvious winner!
But on taste, everyone in my family approved of the non-egg loaf more. It had more flavour, a light butteriness and can easily be eaten on its own! The eggy bread felt softer on the crumb, more chewy and had a lighter flavour. The rustic charm of the great flour from Shipton Mill was lost. It was crying out for some extra sweetness!
But there is a but!
When making my first attempt at the egg version of the recipe I’m not sure what I did but I must have added too much water and I made a soup! Not wanting to waste any ingredients I chucked a cup of flour into the bowl and continued mixing. It bound together in a wet, artisan dough so I left it to bulk ferment for 3-4 hours whilst I started again for the experiment.
By the time I came to shape it, there were lots of big bubbles -I was worried it would collapse! Anyways it got baked and the result was delicious!
The eggy, moist texture was almost lost. Instead the best features of both the earlier loaves combined! This bread was delicious and had a lovely thin, but crispy crust that I find hard to describe.
So artisan bread can contain eggs and may taste better! But for softer developed doughs there should be some sweetness added to make it more appealing.
How to measure eggs when making bread?
All ingredients in professional bread recipes use the baker’s percentage formula. This means that for accurate measurements you should measure the amount of eggs used in a recipe by weighing them in grams. This can be a bit of a challenge so it’s easier to adjust the other ingredients so a whole egg (or yolk) can be added. This also makes it easier to remove the right amount of water in the recipe.
For this, it’s handy to know how much an egg weighs!
How much is 1 egg in grams?
Eggs are mostly categorised by weight. Excluding the shell:
- Medium eggs are 44 grams
- Large eggs are 50 grams
- Extra large eggs are 56 grams
How much is 1 egg yolk in grams?
A medium egg yolk weighs 16 grams, a large egg yolk weighs 18 grams, and an extra large egg yolk contains 20 grams.
How much is 1 egg white in grams?
The white of medium eggs is 27 grams, a large egg weighs around 30 grams and an extra large egg white weighs 34 grams.
How much water is in eggs?
An egg contains 74% water. This means when eggs are used in bread dough, the liquid in the recipe should be reduced by 37 grams per large egg. When medium eggs are used, reduce the liquid by 32.5 grams.
What is the nutritional value of eggs?
Whole eggs provide several vitamins and minerals. Besides being rich in protein, it’s also a good source of calcium, which is important for growing bones. Eggs contain choline, which helps the muscles to grow.
They have Vitamin D, which can help your body fight against diseases like cancer by boosting your immune system. They also have Vitamin B12 which helps make red blood cells so that the body has more oxygen. Eggs are also a great source of Omega 3, especially when the chickens have been fed on a flaxseed diet. It is argued that whole eggs are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet.
Should I add eggs to every bread recipe?
Using eggs in dough is great for tender bread, although its flavour is sometimes unwanted. We’ve become accustomed to pairing the benefits of egg with sweetness in bread varieties such as brioche or pastries such as croissants. It tastes like something is missing without added sugars. Maybe it’s just down to our palettes being used to the combination, I don’t know!
Eggs, being a natural source of lecithin, make the perfect natural dough improver. They are also great when included in a dough that contains a lot of fat such as brioche or challah. These loaves of bread contain a lot of butter and milk which makes them extra soft!
I wouldn’t say that eggs should be used in every recipe, although they should be considered if you want to achieve a softer crumb. There are other ways to tenderize the breadcrumb, such as using butter, oil or sugar. But the added bonus of lecithin with the flour makes eggs a serious solution in this use case.
I hope you found this article helpful, there are more tips in the FAQ’s, leave a comment below if you think I’m missing any tips!
Frequently asked questions about eggs in bread
Should I use large or medium eggs in baking?
Unless your recipe calls for a specific size, you should use large eggs in baking. Eggs come in several sizes, but large eggs are the standard that’s used. Large-sized eggs have the best ratio of white to yolk. It’s hard to get high volume from eggs with little whites which take longer to whip.
Can I use eggs straight from the fridge?
The general rule when cooking or baking is to use eggs at room temperature. As eggs contain a lot of water, when cool they have less water activity. They are not as active when cold so you won’t get the full benefit of the egg. Try to always use room temperature eggs, but you can use them straight from the fridge without an issue.
How can you bring eggs to room temperature quickly?
The best way to warm your eggs up when they come out of the fridge is to leave them out on the counter for 30 minutes. To warm up eggs quickly without cooking them, add the eggs to a bowl of tepid (not warm) water for 5 minutes. Remove them from the bowl and dry with a tea towel before using.
What happens if I add too much egg to a bread recipe?
Adding an extra egg to a dough won’t turn it into Challah bread. However, it will start to take on similar characteristics by improving colour, flavour and softening the crumb texture. If you do add an extra egg to your dough, don’t worry about it! Remove two tablespoons of water so it doesn’t get too sticky and you’ll be fine.
Does egg yolk make bread soft?
Egg yolks contain fatty acids which make the breadcrumb soft and tender. If you add just egg yolks to a bread recipe it would be softer and have a richer flavour. Yet it wouldn’t rise as high as if some egg white was used as well.
What will happen if I don’t add enough egg to a cake recipe?
If using fewer eggs than many chocolate brownie recipes call for, expect them to be crisper. This is in contrast to a cookie which could have an airier texture if you were to add more eggs.
What is the difference between white and brown eggs?
Brown eggs and white eggs can be used interchangeably. The colour is due to the breed of chicken they come from and doesn’t affect anything when cooking or baking. If a recipe calls for eggs, you can use either!
What happens if you don’t put eggs in bread?
The majority of the world’s best bread does not contain eggs. It’s simply not needed and many bakeries try to avoid adding dairy products to their doughs to prevent dietary and allergy issues. Adding eggs can make the final product softer and enhance the crumb structure, but it’s not essential!