One of the most requested recipes for which I received dozens of messages whether on my Arabic Blog (www.fattoush.me) or on my English one has been the “Dough Recipe”. Some sent asking me for the pizza dough recipe, others asked about a good bread dough recipe, and many many (especially on my Arabic site) for the muajanat dough recipe. Muajanat is the Arabic word for various types of pastries, not sweet, that are dough based, these include mini pizzas among others. Muajanat are very popular in the Middle East!
For a while now, I have been planning to post the dough recipe, or actually the two dough recipes I use the most. The first is a basic dough recipe without dairy products while the second one includes dairy products. I use both. Just as I was about to post the “Dough Recipe”, I remembered my struggles with dough recipes when I started cooking! and by dough I mean “Yeast Dough”.
Yeast dough is the dough that rises, and it is used to prepare bread, pizza crust (both thin pizza crust and thick pizza crust) and is the dough used in many of the Arabic muajanat.
What are the struggles I faced? Probably the same ones many of you face or faced when you started trying to make homemade bread or homemade pizza crust. They are the same challenges that have made bread making and pizza crust making spark so much fear and awe!
I remember one of the things that baffled me the most was why did one recipe work perfectly well one time and the next time it will be flat or mediocre??!!!?? I couldn't figure it! I would toss the recipe labeling it as not trustworthy, and continue my search for the perfect dough recipe.
I must admit that it took me some years to figure out the problem or problems, and pick-up tips and pointers from here and there that helped me get the dough and crust I want. And till this day I continue learning something new every day.
Last month as I was skimming through my daughter’s “All About Food” textbook, I noticed they had a whole section on yeast bread! The methodology they use to teach students how to make the perfect bread or perfect pizza crust is to introduce the dough ingredients and explain what they are, what they do, and how they work. I loved it!!! I remember thinking I hope I had this at hand when I started out!
I knew what I wanted to do next!
Ingredients of Yeast Dough Recipes and What Each Ingredient Does.
Flour, Liquid, Yeast, Fat, Salt, Sugar, and sometimes Eggs
Flour is the ingredient that provides the structure of the dough. Flour contains gluten. When Gluten is mixed with liquid (water, milk) and kneaded, it becomes stretchy, elastic and strong. This is important because this characteristic allows the dough to hold the gases produced by the yeast, therefore the dough rises.
Choosing the right flour is essential to get the results you want. Whole meal or brown flour require more liquid than white flour in order to produce a soft dough. White flour contains the highest amount of gluten as so will rise the most. On the other hand, rice flour and corn flour (starch) don’t contain any gluten at all, so if you are using them you need to keep that in mind.
The amount of flour needed varies according to the air temperature and humidity, so it varies between countries and between seasons. So if the recipe you are following gives a range for the amount of flour required, start with the lower end and as you knead add flour as needed. If the recipe states a fixed amount, start with an amount that is a little less than what the recipe calls for and add as needed. You know that no additional flour is needed when the dough becomes less sticky (note that I wrote “less sticky” and not “not sticky”). Be careful not to add to much flour as you will end up with a dense crust or loaf.
Liquid is another must ingredient. Liquid provides the medium for the gluten to form and the yeast to reproduce. Without liquid, there is no dough!!
Liquids used could be water or milk or a combination of the two. Milk makes the dough softer and more tender. Milk also contains lactose which adds sweetness to the dough. Some maintain that harder tap water gives a better dough than soft water, personally I have used both and cannot say that I could pinpoint a difference.
The important thing to remember is that the liquid must be lukewarm meaning neither cold nor hot. To check the temperature, dip your finger in the liquid it should be barely warmer than your skin. This is very important as if the liquid is hot, it can kill the yeast and your dough will not rise!! Cold liquid will not kill your yeast, but the yeast will need more time to reproduce so your dough will need more time to rise. When in doubt about the suitability of the temperature of the liquid, always go with the colder option!
Yeast is a living fungus! Given the right conditions (warmth, moisture and food), yeast will grow and reproduce. As yeast grows, it produces gases and these gases are held in the dough by the stretchy gluten which makes the dough rise.
The liquid we add to the dough, provides the moisture that the yeast needs to grow. If the liquid is warm, it will provide better living conditions for the yeast to grow and the dough will rise faster. If the liquid is cold, the yeast will need more time to grow. However, if the liquid is hot, it will kill the yeast and your dough will not rise.
The sugar in the dough is the food that the yeast thrives on. That is why we mix in the sugar with the warm liquid that we add to the yeast.
Once we put the dough in the oven to bake, the yeast is killed, but the dough holds its shape because of the gluten in the dough.
There are different types of yeast: instant dry yeast, and fresh yeast. Although package instructions say that you don’t need to pre mix the instant yeast with the liquid before mixing, I always like to do this step separately to ensure that my yeast is good.
Sugar in the recipe provides food for the yeast to grow. Sugar also adds sweetness to the dough.
If you are planning on preparing a sweet type of dough, be careful with how much sugar you add, as too much sugar can affect the gluten in the flour. Keep the ratio of sugar to flour not more than 1/2 cup of sugar for each 4 cups of flour.
Salt helps bring out the flavor of the bread or crust. Salt also inhibits the growth of the yeast, so that your yeast doesn’t grow so much that the gluten structure of the bread cannot hold the gasses. That is why we should avoid mixing the salt with the water that we add the yeast to. Salt also prevents the dough from being too sticky.
If we add too much salt, our dough will not rise enough and our crust will be dense, while if we add too little salt, our dough will rise a lot.
Fats are not an essential ingredient and dough can be prepared without fat.
Fats are added to give it flavor and to help keep the dough fresh for a longer period of time. Many types of fat can be added to the dough including oil, butter, margarine, shortening, lard…
When adding fat we need to be careful not to add too much fat because fat, like sugar, inhibits gluten production. so if we add too much fat, the dough will not rise too much.
Eggs are yet another non essential ingredient and we can prepare our dough without it.
When eggs are added to the dough, they help the dough rise more, and also helps the dough hold its shape and structure. If we are using a type of flour with low gluten, we may want to consider adding eggs to the ingredients. Eggs also tenderizes the baked crust or bread.
There are other additional ingredients that we can add to give flavor to our dough such as various kinds of herbs, nuts, olives, cheese, garlic, spices and dried fruit.
If you want to know how to make dough? or how to make bread? or how to make pizza crust? Knowing your ingredients and the role of each one is a must. Knowing dough ingredients will help you select the dough recipe that meets your requirements and taste. It will also enable you to examine the amounts listed to know if they are workable or not. Once you get to know the ingredients you can move on to learn the techniques.
Hope you enjoyed today’s tip: Great Dough, Part 1. Stay tuned for my next post, Techniques for a great dough.
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