If you’ve ever guessed your baking skills because your homemade bread does not look or feel exactly like the picturesque breads you might find in the bread aisle of the supermarket, do not be annoyed: there are many additives in the bread shop that do not usually appear in the average home kitchen. (Unless that means you regularly stock up on preservatives like propionates and EDTA.) And the most important thing that keeps the plastic-wrapped breads as soft as a pile of Siberian kittens is a family of ingredients known as dough conditioner.
Bakeries use dough conditioners to improve bread volume, dough handling, crumb structure, crust color and even cutability. Their toolkit is huge: To get all these effects, they lean on industrially manufactured emulsifiers, pH regulators, oxidizing agents, reducing agents, vital wheat gluten, various types of malt and also a lot of enzymes.
If you look closely enough, you can find some of these ingredients at specialty retailers online, but they are often packaged for those who produce large batches of dough in a commercial setting. If you do not feel like buying more kilos of dough conditioner just to experiment with, there are some alternatives that might be sitting in your fruit bowl right now.
Pineapple, kiwi and papaya in particular contain powerful proteases – a class of enzymes that can break down proteins, including long strands of gluten. (These are the things that give your bread structure, but also what can make the dough hard to work with.) The result, if a given enzyme is used in the right proportions, is a dough that does not slam back when you stretches or rolls it out (a quality that bakers call “stretchability”). For pizza, pastry and bagel recipes, a casual dough is a real boon as you try to shape it.
But more enzyme does not equal better bread. In fact, if you use too much, you will only turn your dough into soup. This is why pineapple bread recipes require canned pineapple or pineapple juice; preparation of the fruit denaturs the enzymes and deprives them of their protein-gnawing power. Therefore, you should also always use fresh juice as a dough conditioner.
You may have seen some of these isolated enzymes on the shelves in the supplement section of your local health food store. Both bromelain (derived from pineapple) and papain (derived from papaya) have long been used as anti-inflammatory agents and to aid digestion. Elsewhere in the supermarket, bromelain also appears in some brands of powdered meat tenderizer. (They also soften the bread dough, but in even smaller amounts because they are purified – more on that below.) mouth irritation and sore tongue.
Fortunately for your mouth and your bread, you only need a very small amount of both enzymes to relax your dough. IN Modernist bread, authors Francisco Migoya and Nathan Myhrvold recommend anything from 0.01 to 0.05% fresh pineapple juice or 0.03% fresh papaya juice for pizza dough, pretzels, bagels and challah. Now it’s the baker’s percentage, which means that if you’re making a pizza dough recipe that requires, for example, 500 grams of flour, you should only use between 0.05 grams and 0.25 grams of juice. And if you do not have an extremely well-calibrated weight that is exactly down to one hundredth of a gram, you can manage with just one or two drops (eg from a pipette) of fresh juice, which you add to the water in your recipe just before mixing it into the dry ingredients. Your bread mileage may vary, so you will need to calculate how much juice your dough needs based on the total weight of the flour in the recipe.
Another caveat: Using fruit juice as a relaxing dough is not an exact science. Depending on the type of fruit you use and its degree of ripeness, it may contain more or less active enzymes. As Migoya and Myhrvold note, “using fruit as a means of transport for enzymes requires experimentation.” As with salt, when seasoning a new recipe, start with less than you think you need; add a little more in the subsequent batches if you find that your dough is not quite as relaxed as you would like. And if you use a whole pineapple, you have plenty left over to eat yourself, bake for cakes or even turn into tepache – which might as well just relax.
Originally appeared on Epicurious