Bread is the basis for all our favourite sandwiches, burger buns, cinnamon rolls and pizzas.
Without bread dough, some of our favourite foods would not even exist!
I have been making bread for a while now, but recently, I have taken it upon myself to get to know bread a little better by making a ridiculous amount of bread and really looking into each ingredient added to the dough and why it is being added.
One thing that I never really paid attention to was the sugar that I was adding to my dough.
Every bread recipe that I tried always asked for sugar to be added. This varied between 1 teaspoon to as much as 2 tablespoons of sugar, depending on the size of loaf I was making.
But, I never really questioned why I was adding sugar. I trusted the recipe so just went along with it.
Do you add sugar to your dough without really questioning why? Have you ever wondered why most bread recipes ask for sugar to be added to the dough? And can you make bread without sugar?
When I started looking into it, I realised that sugar can actually play quite an important role in your bread.
Let’s take a look and see why sugar is added, what the benefits are of adding it and whether you can make bread without sugar.
Why Add Sugar to Bread Dough?
Sugar is a vital ingredient in baking. Whether we are making a cake, muffins or brownies, sugar is key in making our bakes moist and tender.
It also adds to the texture of our bakes and of course, the taste, as it makes our desserts sweeter.
If we use sugar in our desserts to make them sweeter, then why put it in something so savoury like bread?
To make bread, you only really need 4 key ingredients; flour, water, salt and yeast. Flour and water are the most important as with those..well..you won’t get bread!
Yeast is the leavening agent that gives bread a rise and salt adds to the taste and controls the structure of the dough. Keep in mind that you can make bread without salt too!
Sugar is an optional ingredient, yet you will find it in most bread recipes and for good reason. Sugar can do various things when you add it to your dough mixture.
Food for Yeast
Adding sugar to your dough can activate the yeast faster and make the dough rise faster. Yeast on its own will naturally break down the sugars in the flour so your bread will still rise without the sugar.
But if you add sugar, the yeast will feed on it, adding an extra boost and making the dough rise faster. This is great as it can reduce the time you are waiting for your dough to prove.
You need to watch not to add too much sugar though as you can ‘overdose’ the yeast and have the complete opposite effect of your dough not rising fast at all.
One of the main reasons why I like to add sugar to my bread is because it gives it a lovely golden and crisp colour.
As the bread bakes, the sugar crystallizes, giving the crust a distinctive brown, golden colour.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the photo below! The loaf on the left is without sugar and the loaf on the right is with added sugar.
Sugar is also great for adding moisture to your loaf. It attracts and holds moisture while it’s baking in the oven.
Without sugar, moisture will evaporate in the oven, resulting in a dryer and denser loaf.
With sugar, moisture is trapped in the loaf so you should get a soft and light textured loaf. Added moisture will also help the bread stay soft and fresh for longer.
Sugar is not as important to the taste of bread as salt but it can certainly help enhance the taste of your bread without making it too sweet.
Overall, sugar doesn’t really add any valuable taste to your loaf and it’s your choice whether you want to add it or not. Unless you are making an enriched dough.
The quantity of sugar added to dough is so small that you won’t see any noticeable difference.
You may notice a slight dryness with bread that does not have sugar as sugar adds moisture, but again, it’s not enough to notice any major differences.
Baking tip: If you don’t want to add refined sugars to your bread recipe, you can always substitute it with honey.
An enriched dough is a regular dough but it contains higher quantities of sugar, fat and dairy.
Brioche bread, panettone, donuts and cinnamon rolls are examples of enriched dough.
They all contain milk, butter or oil, eggs and lots of sugar. You can definitely taste the sweetness in enriched doughs as a lot of recipes will ask for around half a cup of sugar or even more. That’s a lot of sugar for a dough!
Sugar, or any other sweetener, is an essential ingredient for an enriched dough. It adds a lot of moisture to the dough, making it very moist.
The added eggs and butter add to the soft, pillow like texture you get with a panettone and brioche bread. Without sugar, you don’t get an enriched dough as it won’t be sweet.
Can You Make Bread Without Sugar?
Like we said, the amount of sugar added in bread is so small that it won’t make much of a difference whether you add it to your bread dough or not.
Just keep in mind that without sugar, your dough will take a little longer to rise and the crust will be a lighter.