German Bread Rolls
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How to bake bakery-style German bread rolls with enzymes – Putting theory into practice

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Last week, I gave you a detailed overview of how baking enzymes work and why they are used so extensively in the food industry and also by artisanal bakers. That was a lot of theory so I thought it might be nice to confirm some of the claims I have made by showing you:

  • How to judge the quality of your flour
  • The impact of baking malt and modern baking enzymes on the taste and texture of bread rolls

Over time, I got quite some feedback on my breakfast bread rolls recipe. The only complaint I always receive is that these bread rolls are neither as fluffy nor as crispy as the ones from the local bakery or supermarket. Well, that is true. I intentionally published the recipe without baking enzymes on the ingredient list. That is to make it easier to recreate them at home and because, somehow, a lot of people have a very negative view on dough improvers.

Yet there is almost no bakery left in Germany that doesn’t use baking enzymes for bread rolls nowadays. Because if they would leave them out, they would get the same complaints as me: The bread rolls are too dense and not crispy enough. Even in organic bread, it is permitted by EU law to use enzymes. And no, the baker doesn’t have to tell you that he uses them. Baking enzymes are a processing aid and thus they don’t have to be declared on the ingredient list.

Some time ago, I did some research in textbooks for professional bakers. Almost all of them list dough improvers as an ingredient for German breakfast bread rolls. That’s the way I have learned it at my university too. A common dough improver for German breakfast bread rolls is for example Ulmer Goldmalz which I can confirm works very well. Even students with no baking experience can bake fluffier bread rolls than any professional baker by using Goldmalz.

Here’s the difference between a breakfast bread roll baked without any dough improvers (on the left) and with dough improvers (on the right). Expect for the dough improvers, the composition of the dough was identical.

Bread roll with and wihtout dough improvers side by side
Bread roll baked without dough improvers (on the left) and with dough improvers (on the right).

It doesn’t take much effort to spot the differences, does it? To make it short: If you want crispy, airy, and tasty bread rolls like the ones you know from the bakery, then go ahead and use dough improvers.

How to judge the quality of your flour

Before I want to show you the results of my baking experiments, I want to briefly talk about flour. Flour is the most important ingredient in baking and yet a lot of Germans cheap out on it.

However, cheap supermarket flour is often not of the same quality as flour from a local mill. It is true that for some products it doesn’t make much sense to buy the premium version. For example, unless you’re a candymaker, it will be hard to notice a difference in granulated sugar between different brands. For home cooking, the particle size distribution of sugar granules is of no interest. So, unless you’re making chocolate or some other candies with crystals in them, just buy the cheap sugar and save money.

But bread flour is an ingredient that will have a huge impact on your final product. There are large and noticeable differences between cheap and more expensive types of flour. The great news is: You can easily observe them at home with two simple experiments.

To judge the quality of flour, bakeries typically check three main parameters:

  • The moisture content of the flour (wet and clumpy flour will spoil fast)
  • The gluten content and quality
  • The enzyme activity of the flour

There is a large range of testing methods to obtain these parameters.

The moisture content of the flour is very easy to obtain. You weigh the raw flour and then put it in the oven to dry overnight. Once dry, you weigh the flour again. You divide the dry flour weight by the wet flour weight. Then you subtract this value from 1 and you get the moisture content of the flour. Ideally, the moisture content should be less than 15 %. Usually, you don’t have to worry about this parameter with store-bought flour.

How to determine the gluten content and quality in your flour

More interesting than the moisture content is the gluten content of flour. To show you the difference between cheap and more expensive flour, I bought two types of organic flour for this experiment. One is a cheap wheat flour from a major food discounter in Germany (Bioland Weizenmehl Typ 550 by Lidl) and the other one is a more expensive flour from a local mill (Bioland Weizenmehl Typ 550 by Tonmühle Ditzingen).

Expensive and cheap flour side by side
Cheap flour (left) and expensive flour (right).

A common way to judge the gluten content and quality of wheat flour in Germany is to determine the wet gluten content (‘Feuchtklebergehalt’). For that, you have to separate the gluten from the other flour components.

If you’re familiar with Asian food, you might be familiar with seitan. Seitan is wheat gluten that has been extracted from wheat flour. It has a meat-like consistency and is therefore often used in meat analogs. The way to produce seitan is the same as the method to determine the wet gluten content of flour.

You first prepare a dough consisting of wheat flour and water. This dough gets kneaded until you have developed a stable gluten network. The dough is then left to rest for about 20 minutes. After that, you can wash out the gluten in a pot of cold water. The starch in the flour will dissolve in the water while the gluten network will be left behind.

The gluten is weighed to obtain the wet gluten content of the flour. The higher the wet gluten content, the better the flour is suited for baking bread. Besides weighing, the gluten also gets analyzed qualitatively. The gluten network gets stretched to analyze its elasticity and stretchability. This way, the dough can be categorized as:

  • inelastic
  • elastic – little stretchability
  • elastic – sufficient stretchability
  • elastic – good stretchability

For baking bread rolls, the wet gluten content of the flour should be above 30 % and the flour should at least possess a sufficient stretchability.

Wet gluten contentQuality of the flour
> 30 %High:
ideal for light and airy loaves, high proofing tolerance
27-30 %Average:
suitable for baking bread
24-27 %Relatively low:
the dough has a decreased gas holding capacity
< 24 %Too low:
not suitable for baking

My experimental set up to determine the wet gluten content at home

To determine the wet gluten content in the cheap and the expensive flour, I prepared two doughs (one for each sample). They consisted of 100 grams of flour and 60 grams of water each. I hand-kneaded them for 8 minutes and then left them to rest, covered in plastic wrap, for 20 minutes. Then I proceeded to wash out the gluten in a bowl of water. I then weighed the gluten to obtain the wet gluten content of the flour.

Washing the gluten -1
Washing the gluten -2
Washing the gluten - 3

There was a huge difference in the gluten content and quality between both flours. Just take a look at the gluten structure and stretchability in the pictures below:

Comparison of expensive and cheap flour gluten
Expensive flour (left) and cheap flour (right)
Comparison of expensive and cheap flour gluten
Expensive flour (top) and cheap flour (bottom).

The gluten network formed by the expensive flour was much smoother and much more elastic than the one formed by the cheap flour. The cheap flour was elastic with sufficient stretchability while the expensive flour was elastic with a very good stretchability.

I weighed both flours to determine the wet gluten content. These were the results:

Sample of FlourWet gluten contentRating
Cheap flour
(Bioland by Lidl)
31 %High wet gluten content, suitable for baking bread rolls
Expensive flour
(Bioland by local mill)
41 %Very high wet gluten content, superior quality that ensures a high water and gas holding capacity

How to determine the enzyme activity in flour

Usually, the enzyme activity in flour gets determined by measuring the viscosity of a gelatinized flour paste. The flour gets heated with some water until thick and gelatinized while constantly stirring. Then the stirrer gets dropped into the paste. The higher the viscosity of the flour, the longer it takes the stirrer to reach the bottom.

This experiment is called falling number test and is a standardized procedure performed by food manufacturers to determine the alpha-amylase activity in flour. As I have discussed in detail in my post last week, alpha-amylases occur naturally in flour. They cleave the starch into smaller sugar units which can be consumed by the yeast.

Yeast cannot digest starch. It can only digest simple sugars. Thus if there is no alpha-amylase activity in your flour, your bread won’t rise. The yeast will starve to death.

During the growth of the wheat berries, the enzyme activity in the berries is highest. Once they start to ripen, the enzyme activity declines to a minimum. This is when the wheat berries are harvested. Once the wheat berries start to sprout, the enzyme activity will rise again.

Wheat plant on the field
Ripe wheat berries have low enzymatic activity. Yet it shouldn’t be too low as only flour with moderate enzymatic activity is suitable for baking.

High-quality flour should have an enzyme activity level that is neither too low nor too high. If the enzyme activity level is too low, the bread won’t rise. If the enzyme activity level is too high, the alpha-amylases will cause too much damage to the starch granules. Damaged starch granules can hold less water. You can thus only add less water to the dough so that your bread becomes very dry. If you add too much water, the dough gets soft, wet, and sticky so that you are unable to shape it into a bread loaf.

If the damaged starch granules can’t hold onto enough water, there’s a high risk for the crumb to become unpleasantly wet. It’s not moist. It’s wet and very unpleasant to bite into. In German, this phenomenon is called “glitschige Krume” which translates to soggy or glibbery crumb.

Flour sold to consumers typically has an acceptable enzyme activity level because manufacturers obviously have a quality assurance department. Typically, if the enzyme activity level of the flour is too low, enzyme solutions can be added to standardize the flour. If the enzyme activity level is too high, however, the flour is not suitable for baking.

Home bakers most often experience a wet bread crumb when they add too much enzymatically active baking malt to their doughs or if their sourdough starter has a very high enzyme activity level. Typically, no more than 3 % baking malt in relation to the flour weight should be added to wheat-based bread. For rye bread, it is rather untypical to add enzymatically active baking malt because rye flour has a much higher enzyme-activity level than wheat flour.

How the falling number test works and how to perform it for home bakers

To perform the falling number test to determine the enzyme activity of flour, you need specialized equipment. If you have a standardized machine, you can measure the time the stirrer needs to sink to the bottom while passing through the wheat paste. This time can then be compared to reference tables. The quicker the stirrer sinks to the bottom, the higher the alpha-amylase activity of the flour. That is because damaged starch can hold less water and thus the paste is less viscous.

If you are interested to learn more about the falling number test, then please take a look at the video below:

I obviously don’t have this equipment at home. But it is still possible to perform this test at home and to judge the viscosity and structure of the flour paste by sight and feel. I took 15 grams of flour and combined it with 50 grams of water in a small saucepan. I then heated this mixture up while stirring constantly with a whisk until it resembled a thick paste. Then I kept it over medium heat for one more minute before I set it aside to cool down to room temperature.

I observed a difference between the cheap and the expensive flour. Just take a look at the pictures below:

Cooking the starch paste - expensive flour
The expensive flour was so wet that it stuck to the whisk.
Cooking the starch paste - cheap flour
The cheap flour formed a smooth paste that is much less sticky.
Starch paste of cheap and expensive flour - comparison
At room temperature: The expensive flour on the left and the cheap flour on the right.

As you can see, the expensive flour formed a wet and sticky paste while the cheap flour formed a smooth paste that was not very sticky at all. So, obviously, the cheap flour was able to absorb more water than the expensive flour. That is because the starch structure of the cheap flour was more intact while the expensive flour had a larger amount of damaged starch granules. This tells us that the alpha-amylase activity in the expensive flour is higher.

Higher enzyme activity is a good thing, especially for baking bread rolls. That means our dough will have a higher sugar content and thus the bread will turn out airier with a beautiful golden-brown crust. If we would bake bread rolls with the cheap flour, they would turn out denser with a pale and soft crust unless we add alpha-amylases (eg. in the form of enzymatically active baking malt or through a dough improver) to compensate for the lower enzyme activity compared to the expensive flour.

Both flours would’ve passed the falling number test under laboratory conditions comfortably. There is no visible leakage of water which would indicate an overly high enzyme activity neither is one of these pastes unusually firm. That was, of course, to be expected from a product sold to the consumer that is required to fulfill a certain quality standard.

Let’s bake some bread rolls

There are, of course, many more tests that are applied by professionals to judge the quality of flour. However, the two methods I have shown you above are the most suitable ones for home bakers. After analyzing the gluten and enzyme activity in the flour, it’s usually time to perform a baking experiment.

I didn’t bother to compare the quality of both flours in a baking experiment because I think it wouldn’t add much to the discussion (the results from the gluten and enzyme activity analysis are quite obvious) and there is a more interesting aspect that many people care about: How big is the impact of dough improvers on the final product. So, for all my baking experiments, I used the higher-quality flour from the local mill.

I did three baking experiments:

  • Bread rolls with enzymatically inactive malt
  • Bread rolls with enzymatically active malt
  • Bread rolls with a commercial dough improver (‘Brötchenbackmittel’)

I used my basic bread roll recipe and just replaced the enzymatically inactive malt with active malt or dough improver. The formulations can be found in the table below. The amount of malt or dough improver added was according to the package instructions.

IngredientBread rolls with inactive maltBread rolls with active maltBread rolls with dough improver
Soft wheat flour (Type 550)150 grams150 grams150 grams
Water95 grams95 grams95 grams
Salt3 grams3 grams3 grams
Sugar1.5 grams1.5 grams1.5 grams
Lard1.5 grams1.5 grams1.5 grams
Fresh yeast5 grams5 grams5 grams
Enzymatically inactive baking malt3 grams
Enzymatically active rye malt6 grams
Commercial dough improver (‘Brötchenbackmittel’)4.5 grams

I hand-kneaded the doughs for about 10-15 minutes until they all were able to pass the windowpane test. Then I left them to rise, covered, for 1 hour. After that, I shaped them into bread rolls and left them to proof until ready to bake in the oven. I baked them at 230 °C (445 °F) on a preheated tray with a lot of steam for the first ten minutes and then without any steam for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.

Windownpane test
Don’t stop kneading the dough before it passes the windowpane test.

All doughs behave differently during production

During production, all three doughs behaved in a different way. They were all easy to knead, however, I noticed that after the first rise the doughs with active malt and dough improver were airier and fluffier than the dough without added enzymes. All doughs were easy to work with and to shape into bread rolls.

The biggest difference was in the proofing time. The dough without added enzymes and the one with enzymatically active malt took around 40 minutes to proof. I had to put them in the oven because otherwise, the dough would’ve gotten too fragile. If the dough is over-proofed, it won’t rise in the oven and might even deflate.

At first, I thought the dough improver might save me some time because the dough would proof faster. But that was not the case. The bread rolls with dough improver proofed at around the same rate as the other two doughs. However, after 40 minutes of proofing, the dough was still very firm. The dough conditioners and strengtheners in the dough improver allowed me to prove the dough for 60 minutes before it became more fragile so that I had to put the bread rolls in the oven. That, of course, allowed the bread rolls made with dough improver to get much airier and bigger than the ones made without dough improver.

The final results of my baking experiment

Here are the results of my baking experiment:

Bread rolls with different formulations
Left: Bread Rolls with inactive malt, Middle: Bread rolls with active malt, Right: Bread rolls with dough improver.
Bread rolls with different formulations - size comparison
Left: Bread Rolls with inactive malt, Middle: Bread rolls with active malt, Right: Bread rolls with dough improver.

It’s obvious from these pictures that the bread rolls with dough improver are larger than the bread rolls without dough improver. The bread rolls made with active malt are about the same height as the bread rolls made with inactive malt, however, they are a little wider and longer than the bread rolls with inactive malt. So the active malt helped a little to increase the volume of the bread rolls. But, as is very apparent, if you want your bread rolls very light and airy, you have to use dough improver. The dough conditioners and gluten strengtheners in the dough improver make the dough firmer and more stable so that it can entrap more air.

There are two mechanisms that help to achieve a larger volume and lighter crumb:

  • Amylases that cleave sugar molecules off the starch granules so that the yeast has more to eat and thus produces more carbon dioxide. To enhance this effect, malt and dough improvers not only contain amylases but also sugar molecules ready for direct consumption by the yeast and for a better crust color and aroma.
  • Gluten strengtheners and dough conditioners that help to toughen the gluten network so that the dough is more robust and can entrap more air without deflating.

Only dough improvers combine these two mechanisms. Enzymatically inactive malt just helps a little with the crust color and gives a nice aroma. Enzymatically active malt helps the yeast to produce more gas. However, there’s a limit on how much gas a dough can hold without deflating. To set this limit above what is naturally possible you need to add strengthening agents to the dough. I hope this helps you to understand what a dough improver is and how it works.

In the pictures below, I have photographed the bread rolls with a scale next to them.

Traditional bread roll
Bread roll with enzymatically inactive malt: About 9 centimeters long and 7 centimeters wide.
Bread roll with active malt
Bread roll with enzymatically active malt: About 10 centimeters long and 8 centimeters wide.
Bread roll with dough improver
Bread roll with dough improver: About 9.5 centimeters long and 8 centimeters wide. Although it is not quite as long as the bread roll with enzymatically active malt it is much taller.

Let’s take a look at the inside of these bread rolls:

Comparions of all three bread rolls
Left: Bread Rolls with inactive malt, Middle: Bread rolls with active malt, Right: Bread rolls with dough improver.

Are there any taste differences between the different bread rolls?

The most important tool to judge the quality of a food product is a sensory analysis. This includes the look, smell, and taste of the product.

As you can see, the bread rolls with added enzymes have a beautiful looking crust. It’s dark golden brown and has a nice sheen. This crust looks like you know it from a professional bakery. For the bread rolls made with inactive malt, the crust is much paler and less shiny. Yet I like the rustic look of it.

The crust of the bread rolls made with inactive malt is not very crispy. The bread rolls made with active malt are a little bit crispier. However, the bread rolls made with dough improver are by far the crispiest. The difference in crispiness is enormous. In all honesty, the bread rolls made with dough improver are by far the best product in this regard. In comparison, the other two types of bread rolls are a disappointment.

The crumb of all the bread rolls looks perfect. It’s regular, soft, and shows that these bread rolls have all been properly proofed and shaped. You can’t get a much better result than that for breakfast bread rolls.

The smell of all the bread rolls is very aromatic and delicious. They all have malt powder added to them (malt is an important ingredient in dough improvers) so that there is no observable difference.

Bread rolls with dough improver
The bread rolls with dough improver came out perfect.

So let’s get to the taste. All three bread rolls have a similar taste that is very pleasant. Yet the bread rolls with the dough improver are so much lighter than the other bread rolls. Honestly, these are by far the best-tasting bread rolls if you take texture + taste into account. They are crispy, light, and have the same great aroma as the bread rolls without dough improver.

I am not disappointed to admit that. I had already worked with dough improvers before I performed this experiment. Dough improvers are a fascinating innovation that really helps to bake better bread rolls. You still get the same great taste as with traditional bread rolls yet the texture is vastly improved. It’s almost unbelievable. Bread rolls with dough improver are so much crispier and airier than traditional bread rolls.

However, that doesn’t mean that I dislike traditional bread rolls. Yes, they are denser but I also enjoy bread that has some more substance to it. I would happily eat traditional bread rolls without dough improvers for the rest of my life. No complaint about them, they are tasty.

A word of caution

I want to conclude the sensory analysis with a small remark on the crumb of the bread rolls made with enzymatically active malt. I added a little too much to the dough so that the crumb was slightly wet. I followed the package instructions which stated to add between 3-6 % malt based on the flour weight. That’s already a large amount. Usually, you only add between 0.5-3 % malt.

Bread roll with active rye malt
The crumb of the bread rolls made with 4 % enzymatically active rye malt was light and airy yet it was a little too wet.

But I decided to trust the package instructions and added 4 %. That was a mistake. The crumb wasn’t horribly wet but it was enough to observe the phenomenon of a soggy crumb (‘glitschige Krume’). I should’ve known better to be cautious as I already knew that my flour had high initial enzyme activity. So, if you want to try this recipe, add no more than 3 % enzymatically active rye malt. That is sufficient to make your bread airier without the crumb getting wet. The bread rolls were still edible but the enzyme activity was just a little above the upper limit.

Don’t overdo it with the enzymes! They only make your bread better if you add them in the right proportions. I added 3 % dough improver in relation to the flour weight and these bread rolls came out perfect.

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