The basic ingredients for almost all breads are flour and water. Flour forms the structure for the bread, and water combines with the flour to form a dough. For rising breads, yeast leavens and produces carbon dioxide so the bread will expand. Salt is also a common ingredient in bread and is used to slow yeast fermentation, bring out the flavor of the grain and enhance the taste of the bread. Homemade bread must be eaten or stored within a few days, since it does not contain preservatives and can stale quickly.
Yeast is a leavening agent that contains live organisms. In baking, yeast cells convert natural sugars into carbon dioxide, which causes breads and other baked goods to rise and become light and airy. Yeast is a key ingredient to most breads. With a bad batch of yeast or without it altogether, a loaf of bread will turn out overly moist, heavy and flavorless.
Flatbreads often do not contain yeast and may be as basic as a mixture of flour, water and salt. Some flatbreads contain added herbs or fillings for flavor, such as the Indian flatbread naan, which may be filled with crushed potatoes or spices. Other flatbreads contain butter, oil or ghee (clarified butter) to enhance their natural flavors. These breads are sometimes used as plates or utensils. You can serve food on the breads or scoop up food with the breads.
More elaborate forms of bread, such as rugelach, challah or croissants, contain additional ingredients to create a different flavor and texture. Challah includes the addition of eggs and sugar to create a smoother dough and a richer flavor. Rugelach is a pastry bread that you can fill with cream cheese, raisins, chocolate or other sweet ingredients. Croissants include butter to create a flaky texture and many layers in the dough.
Some breads are made without gluten or wheat ingredients. These breads may utilize gluten-free flours such as rice flour, or they may be made with ground seeds or grains such as cornmeal. Since gluten is a binding ingredient in bread and is essential to the composition of rising bread, making a loaf of gluten-free bread that rises properly can be difficult.
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