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I have the following recipe to make 1 -1/2 pound bread:

3/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 cup sourdough starter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoons sugar
2 2/3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

So, I was wondering if these are the minimum ingredients to bake a bread or if there are other alternative to use lesser ingredients to achieve a good & tasty loaf of bread?

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I wrote an answer assuming you're talking about trying to leave ingredients out, rather than reduce quantities. But this is a kind of strange, vague question - you might want to look at more than one recipe before asking more things like this. –  Jefromi Oct 29 '12 at 2:40
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In the future, you may also want to edit your questions when people are obviously a bit confused about what you're asking. It'll help you get better answers. –  Jefromi Oct 30 '12 at 15:41
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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The minimum ingredients to make ("western") tasting bread are:

  • Flour
  • Water

You would also need, albeit they are not considered ingredients:

  • Time
  • Air (*)
  • A source of heat (usually an oven, but can also be a pot (such a Dutch oven), or some weirder for non so "western" breads).

When you give time to your mix of water and flour, you will get a culture of yeasts and bacteria. That culture has different names by different people: levain, starter, sourdough, biga...

It is important to note most of these yeasts and bacteria come with the flour, and they can perfectly rise your bread.

It wasn't until the identification of yeasts with microscopes in 1800s, when Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast was taken apart from beer maker's cultures, and grown specifically. Beer makers also fed their cultures with just flour and water. When you add a packet or a cube of yeast to make your bread dough, you are adding a culture of yeasts selected to enhance the grown of the dough.

I marked Air with an (*) because I'm not sure it is really essential. It can give some yeasts and bacterias to the culture, but flour has enough of them initially. And yeasts can grow and reproduce in 2 ways: aerobically and anaerobically. That is: with or without air. I've seen pictures of doughs grown in vacuum, but I'm not 100% sure if you could do all the process of starting your culture and rise the dough with absolutely no air at all.

To conclude: you only need water and flour (whether wheat or rye) to make a traditional loaf of bread. It might taste strange to most people today as it has no salt. But salt wasn't added to bread until 200 years ago (or so).

Specifically, you do not need for making bread:

  • Salt:

Salt began to be used in bread less than 2 centuries ago. It began to be used not to give [salty] taste to the bread, but to make the dough easier to handle; due to its hygrostatic properties it makes the dough stiffer. Nowadays several traditional bread are made with no salt at all, like Mallorca (Spain) or Toscana (Italy) bread. And they are bread people eat every day. See this answer on reducing amount of salt in bread, although I don't agree with him on taste. I think reducing salt brings up cereal flavours that were hidden. I guess it depends on the flour you use.

  • Sugar/honey/malt

Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeasts eat sugar. In fact that's what "Saccharomycea" means: "sugar eater". Flour has enzymes that decompose starches in glucose, but it needs time to do so. If you add a lot of commercial yeast, it might not have enough sugar to work. So some recipes add sugar to allow yeast to have plenty of food. Malt are enzymes, so the time it takes to break down starch in glucose gets reduced. See What is the purpose of sugar in making bread and Making malt free bread

  • Commercial yeast

You can have enough rising power with just levain/starter/sourdough. See What is a culture in bread

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"Traditional" bread has salt. Also, iirc, the yeast used in bread does need air to survive and/or grow. –  Rob Oct 29 '12 at 13:58
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Of course but I doubt he wants unsalted bread. –  Rob Oct 29 '12 at 14:52
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He wants bread with the minimun ingredients ;-). –  J.A.I.L. Oct 29 '12 at 15:36
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@Jefromi as I understood the question, the OP didn't want an easy recipe. Not even he wanted to make bread. He just wanted to know if it was possible to make it with less ingredients, and what was the minimun (variety) of ingredients needed to make a loaf of bread. I think he was wondering it even in a theoretical plane, as he had accepted this answer that explains what ingredients do, and gives no recipe. I guess most people didn't understand that way, and that's why this question has some negative votes. –  J.A.I.L. Oct 30 '12 at 14:51
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@J.A.I.L. One of the primary reasons for downvotes is unclear questions (it says this when you hover on the button). Both interpretations of the question are decent, valid questions. Downvoting just means it's hard to tell which, so it's hard to answer. –  Jefromi Oct 30 '12 at 15:43
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Are you trying to make sourdough bread? If not, you obviously don't need sourdough starter.

The most basic (Western) bread would just be flour, yeast, and water. You can use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour (though there are differences). Most people generally wouldn't think it tastes good without a bit of salt, and sugar is common for pretty much the same reason. But you could leave them out and still make bread.

But if you're not experienced with breadmaking, I would recommend following recipes exactly. (Ideally, you might even get a bread cookbook, but the internet will work fine too.) If you don't want to make sourdough, find a recipe that's not sourdough, rather than trying to modify this one.

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The best way to think of it is in Baker's percentage.

If you have a recipe which uses for example

  • 500g of bread flour
  • 5g of yeast
  • 2g of salt with 150ml of warm water

    the converted percentages are as follows:

  • Bread is always 100%
  • so the yeast would be 1% (500/5 = 0.01 = 1%)
  • and 2g of salt is roughly 0.5% (500/2 = 0.005 = 0.5%)

By using this method you can bake for any quantity.

If you had to make 10 loaves of the above recipe then as long as you have the percentages correct your loaves will be great. Likewise if you wanted to reduce the flour quantity to 100g then by keeping the percentages as the same the loaf will taste the same but smaller.

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You don't need the sugar. Bread is very bland without the salt, however. And you don't need both a starter and the yeast. One or the other will do.

Another note, 110F for the water is unnecessarily warm. 80-90 is better.

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If you are looking for an 'unleavened' bread you can even reduce it further to something like a tortilla, with flour, salt, lard & water. It isn't a 'loaf' but it is a 'bread'.

Alton Brown offers a recipe for both flour tortillas and corn tortillas that each have a very short ingredient list.

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