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I have been making bread at home over the past month or two using a simple 4 ingredient recipe with 60 - 75% hydration and have become familiar with the soft, light consistency of the dough when the gluten is fully developed.

The other day I tried an enriched dough for the first time, it included additional eggs, sugar and oil. I noticed it handled like a completely different animal. It didn't feel as silky as the plain dough after kneading and felt a bit more dense and was not as fluffy when baked.

Since then, I have been experimenting with different liquids in doughs with different fat levels. milk, buttermilk, oil, water. These have all turned out slightly differently from my usual bread and are richer but not as light as I've achieved in the past. I understand that the water hydrates the gluten which makes the dough light and stretchy and silky, but what happens when a more fatty liquid is included in the mix, perhaps a mix of oil and water? does the fat inhibit the absorption of liquid by the gluten? The recipe usually calls for adding less water than I would normally because oil is included. Does this reduce how much hydration I achieve?

Is this the reason why these doughs tend to handle differently and not be as light, or is it possible to achieve the same consistency even when making an enriched dough?

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The reason that your enriched bread handled completely different than your initial bread is because eggs, sugar, and oil all inhibit the formation of gluten. Sugar attracts water, so it competes with the proteins gliadin and glutenin in flour for binding to water (glutenin+water+gliadin= gluten) added to the mixture.

Egg Yolks contain a high percentage of fat and liquid oil by definition is 100% fat. Fat uses a different mechanism than sugar to inhibit gluten formation. Fats coat the individual gliadin and glutenin proteins. Because fats are hydrophobic (not attracted to water) they effectively shield the gliadin and glutenin from water, which inhibits gluten formation.

With this collective reduction in gluten, the bread becomes much denser because the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast doesn't have enough gluten to use for expansion of the bread. If all other ingredients and factors were the same between your initial and enriched bread recipes, but you increased the amounts of sugar and fat the result is a denser bread.

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Enriched bread doughs can be very light, a classic example is brioche. When I made this loaf I was new to bread making beyond the very simplest recipes. I was nervous because prior to proofing, this thing was tiny. I swear, it looked like a Twinkie.

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That dough has eggs and a boatload of butter. The dough was very sticky, it didn't behave like dough I was accustomed to. Here the gluten development took place over time. It's a good thing, because this dough was a pain to knead. So, to answer your question, yes, enriched breads can be very light. This is a very simplistic answer, but to achieve light enriched doughs, look for highly rated recipes that make that claim.

  • A long, slow, cold ferment can improve the texture of enriched doughs, a process called autolyze. With enough time, even an enriched dough will form gluten, without kneading it into toughness. – DrRandy Jun 29 '14 at 19:25
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Hydration of bread doughs is calculated using the amount of flour to the amount of water. Oil is not included in the hydration calculation. For example:

1000 g flour, 650 g water, 20 g salt

and

1000 g flour, 650 g water, 50 g oil, 20 g salt

both have a hydration of 650/1000, or 65%.

This recipe:

1000 g flour, 600 g water, 50 g oil, 20 g salt

has a hydration of 600/1000 or 60% even though the liquid amount is 650 g.

When adding oil or fat to bread dough, you can add it after all the other ingredients have been mixed and you set the dough to autolyse, which is a French word meaning to allow the flour to absorb the liquid, for 20-30 minutes. By adding the fat or oil later, you allow the flour to absorb the liquid and the gluten to form.

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