Cooking Tips · Techniques

Bread Doughs – not all the same

Do you make your own bread? Do you want to learn how to make your own bread? When you look at recipes, there are certain similarities among the ingredients such as flour, yeast & water. However, other recipes might call for sugar, eggs, butter or milk. Why these ingredients are added in some recipes and not in others is the subject of this Cooking Tip.

All bread dough is not the same. There are different ways to categorize doughs but for the sake of this Tip, we will look at just one way. Doughs can be thought of as either Lean Doughs or Enriched Doughs.

Lean doughs

This type of dough has a short ingredient list, generally only flour, salt, yeast and water. Some lean doughs may contain sugar/honey or even oil but only in very small amounts. For example, my favorite pizza dough recipe is a lean dough although it contains olive oil but only 2 tablespoons for a pound of flour.

When baked, lean doughs produce a bread with a crusty exterior and an airy open crumb (the interior). It also has a hollow sound when baked.

Examples of lean dough products

  • French & Italian breads
  • Artisan breads
  • Sourdough bread
  • Pita bread
  • Pizza crusts

Enriched doughs

These doughs will have added ingredients such as fat, dairy, eggs and/or sugar. These ingredients enhance flavor and give you a bread with a soft and tender texture.


  • Fat tenderizes the dough by coating and shortening the gluten strands, creating a softer and more tender crumb.


  • Sugar weakens the gluten network by bonding to water molecules, blocking the flour proteins from doing the same. Remember that flour contains the proteins glutenin and gliadin. When these are mixed with water, the proteins combine to form gluten. So, by limiting the interaction of the flour and the water, you are limiting gluten development.
  • Sugar also absorbs water giving a moist, tender crumb.
  • Sugar browns quickly and so, many enriched doughs are baked at lower temperatures.
  • A sugar content of more than 10% will slow down yeast activity by pulling water away from the yeast, which means a longer fermentation time. Some recipes will call for an increased amount of yeast to compensate for this. You may also use what is termed “Osmotolerant” yeast. It is a special strain of yeast that works well in this environment.
  • This dough will also be heavier since sugar, butter and eggs are heavy ingredients.


  • Egg yolks will weaken the gluten network by bonding to flour proteins.
  • Egg whites contribute to the dough’s structure.
  • Breads made with eggs are tender and slower to stale.


  • This is another ingredient that weakens the gluten network while also yielding tender breads with a longer shelf life.

Examples of enriched dough products

  • Brioche
  • Challah
  • Soft dinner rolls
  • Sandwich bread
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • Hamburger/Hotdog rolls

You may ask why this should make a difference to you. Afterall, you just want to follow the recipe and end up with a delicious bread. Knowing the above information can help you achieve the end result you want. By looking at the ingredients in the recipe, you can immediately see if it is a lean or enriched dough. You will then know what your bread will be like – either crunchy and chewy or soft and tender. If you know what type of bread you want to have, you can then pick out a recipe that will produce that result. If you want those soft, pillowy dinner rolls, you are going to want an enriched dough recipe. On the other hand, if you want that chewy baguette, don’t use a recipe with those added ingredients.

Some people may ask which dough is better but it isn’t really a matter of better or worse. They are both equally great doughs but just give you different results. If you bake much bread, you will want to have both in your repertoire.

Here’s to a great Baking Year!