If you like to bake your own bread at home, chances are that you have come across a recipe with oil. It’s common to know that oil contains fat and many calories, but what does oil do when baking bread?
The oil enhances the texture, flavour, and moisture of bread. Vegetable oil contains many fatty acids and also lecithin which make the dough easier to handle and prevents it from being sticky. They also help to extend the shelf-life of bread by staying softer for a longer period.
Adding oil to bread has a lot of benefits, most of which are explained here:
Oil improves the texture of bread by helping to produce a close-knit gluten structure. The fatty acids in the oil coat the gluten, which reduces the amount of water that can be absorbed by the gluten. The gluten strands are then prevented from fully stretching out, thus pricing shorter strands that are more compact.
Keeping the gluten contracted improves the bread’s crumb by reducing the size of the air pockets to make the texture light and fluffy.
When an oil component is added to your bread dough, not only will it improve the crumb structure, but it will also make a softer and moist loaf. This is because the oil in the dough prevents water from evaporating during baking. As the water is retained, it keeps the baked bread moist and tenderized.
Extra moisture in bread made with oil leads to a longer-lasting bread. The dough retains moisture for longer to appease tastebuds. Though the extra moisture does provide more water activity which will lead to increased microbiological activity and the earlier onset of mould. This is somewhat protected by the extra acidity of the oil, yet further dough improvers could be used to delay mould further.
Lecithin present in oil slows down starch retrogradation which is often referred to as staling. This is where the starch particles release moisture and recrystallise. Adding oil to the dough will make the starch molecules more hydrophobic. This means that it will be less likely to absorb excess water. Without water, enzymes in the dough will have a hard time operating and breaking down starch molecules. If this process is inhibited, the bread structure will remain unchanged for a longer period of time.
Oil content acts as a flavour carrier to bread because oil absorbs flavours into its own structure. This gives the bread a rich, fuller taste even when small quantities of oil are added.
Oil also enhances the flavour of bread by bringing out the natural flavour of the flour. This enhancement is due to the Maillard reaction, in which sugars and amino acids react when exposed to heat.
It intensifies the taste of the bread whilst adding caramelised “flavour notes” which perfume the interior of the bread. This is why we often toast bread—aside from making it crispy, the browning makes the bread taste more flavourful.
Bread with added fats brown faster when baked. Depending on how much oil is used you should consider turning down the heat of your oven midway, or at the start of baking.
Oil will also delay crust formation. This benefits the oven spring and means there is less need to add steam to the oven when baking. It also leads to a stronger, yet thinner crust which helps the crumb stay fresh as it reduces air exposure.
Fatty acids in the oil will lubricate the dough’s gluten strands to prevent them from sticking together. It also benefits lamination properties as layers of dough don’t stick together easily and are easier to roll out. This is great for croissants!
It’s also thought to lead to a better rise and an improved crumb structure. As the gluten does not stick together, the carbon dioxide will be able to escape and your dough juices will rise up instead of pushing down.
Besides that, oil also helps in making the handling of the dough easier for bakers. The dough will not be sticky, and therefore very manageable. It would, in turn, prevent the bread from deflating prematurely. This will increase the oven spring as less energy is required to raise dough that contains oil.
Oil is also great as a release agent so products don’t get stuck, but you probably already knew this!
The type of oil you should use depends on what outcome you want your bread to have. There are various types of oils, each with its own purpose. Listed below are some of them:
Olive oil is best for making focaccia or rustic bread because it will give a more subtle flavour and a slightly fruity taste to the dough. It does not contain lecithin and therefore is not as good at enhancing dough structure and shelf life. But it does have plenty of fatty acids which will tenderise the bread. Olive oil is perfect for bread with toppings as it does not create a greasy layer on the exterior of the bread.
Vegetable oil is a versatile oil that is the most commonly used oil for making baked goods. It is extracted from either of the following plants:
Yet it can also be a combination of the above. These types of oil are very versatile and can be applied to different types of baking needs. They are perfect for bread making as they do not have strong tastes and can bring out the flavour of other ingredients. They are also very cost-effective!
Flavoured oil such as garlic, walnut, and sesame can also be used in making bread. These types of oil can provide a nice twist to your regular bread recipes and create different variations. They all have their unique distinct taste, so it’s nice to experiment with each one of them to see which one works the best for you.
On the other hand, shortening products such as butter and lard are great for making croissants and brioche. Using these fats will give a very short, buttery flavour to the end product. These shortening products are also often used in making pastry dough. They will give a tender crumb structure to the final product.
For most types of bread 2-5% of the total flour should be used. This can increase with enriched bread, however, at higher levels the oil can damage the gluten. When adding oil at levels higher than 5%, delay its inclusion until near the end of mixing.
All in all, the type of oil you should use depends on what kind of bread you intend to make. The type of oil will affect the final taste and appearance of your product. That’s why it’s better if you experiment with different types of oils to see which one fits your recipe. But for the most part, the variety of vegetable oil would usually work well. Let me know what you think and your experiences with using oil in bread in the comments section below.