In baking 101, there are two categories that every type of yeasted dough can be defined as: lean and enriched. While you might not know the technical difference between the two (yet) I am willing to bet you can already see, and taste, the difference.
Even from the name, I think it’s pretty obvious which one will create the more luxurious, decadent bread. At a glance, a lean dough is easily identified by the hard crust that they develop after being baked – french baguettes, sourdough, ciabatta – if it has a hard crust, it’s most likely a lean dough. An enriched dough, on the other hand, has a softer exterior, a lighter texture.
So what makes these two types of bread different? What is enriched dough exactly? Here’s everything a budding baker should know about lean and enriched dough.
The difference between a lean dough and enriched dough
What is lean dough? A lean dough is simply a dough that is made through the use of flour, water, yeast, and salt. These ingredients are the foundation of any dough, although a lean dough uses these ingredients and very little more. As the name suggests, this type of dough has very little to no fat or sugar. Because of this, some would say they are the healthier option, less calorific, and better for the waistline.
Like I mentioned earlier, these types of bread usually tend to have a crispier crust; think sourdough, baguettes, and focaccia. These simple doughs don’t need you to knead them for long; you just need to throw all the ingredients together, mix until combined, and then they are ready to prove and bake. An excellent option for those who have just started to bake.
So what is enriched dough then? An enriched dough is simply a lean dough that has been enriched with fat, sugar, or dairy, or all three of the above!
Enrich, by the dictionary definition, means to improve or enhance the quality or value of, and that’s precisely what baked goods of enriched dough are. They are enriched with more butter, sugar, or dairy. Think challah, brioche, and panettone; these are examples of enriched bread and are more flavourful and scream luxury and richness to me.
These baked treats tend to cost more due to the additional grams of butter or sugar, and one would expect them to be more calorific for this exact reason.
A higher price is also expected as it takes a certain skill set to learn to make these enriched doughs. Yes, the concept stays the same, but a certain level of experience is required to add the fat or laminate the dough correctly.
Adding fat to the dough hinders the yeast’s activity and slows the development of gluten, resulting in a more tender bake in both crust and crumb. It also makes the bakes moister. Plated, rolled, in a loaf, marbled with goodies- you can use enriched doughs in both sweet and savoury bakes.
Examples of enriched dough
So we now know what enriched dough is and how to identify it, let’s have a look at a few examples.
Brioche is a bread of French origin, a very rich bread. A yeasted dough with the addition of egg, butter, and milk; this formula gives this bread a rich and tender, almost a cake-like crumb. A brioche dough has a half-fat to flour ratio; it’s no wonder why it costs more than other types of breads! Back in the 1800s, the amount of butter that you put into the bread showed how wealthy you were.
This artisanal bake, which is often classified as bread, actually belongs to a category called Viennoiserie, which is the meeting point between pastry and bread. A very popular sweet bread in France enjoyed throughout the day. The brioche comes in several shapes, whether rolled, braided, or as a loaf. It has a reputation for being a celebratory bread, but you can find it all year round, worldwide. Brioche burger buns are a game-changer to the burger world.
Babka is a bread of Jewish origin. Babka is a sweet, braided bread and is often referred to as a yeasted cake. But first, let me discuss what challah is, as Babka is traditionally made with the left-over challah dough.
Challah- an enriched dough with the addition of eggs, honey, and oil- creates a rich sweet bread that is so good you can easily eat it as is or on its own. Interestingly oil is used instead of butter because of the Jewish faith. Lightly toasted the following day with butter and honey, is my personal preference for Challah. It’s heavenly!
Coming back to Babka, my granny would roll out the left-over challah dough, and she would spread it with things like chocolate, cinnamon, fruit, then roll it up, braid, and then bake it.
When you cut into a babka, it’s delightfully marbled with the chosen filling. Something I could happily eat for breakfast, tea, or dessert.
Why have a regular burger bun when you can have a brioche kind of one enriched with butter and eggs. The one way to take a burger to the next level, but who says you can only use these buns for burgers. Think bacon and egg, fried chicken, or a simple slice of cheese sandwich between a sweet, rich pillow of bread. Toasting the buns is a must; this gives the best caramelized sweet flavour but be careful; they brown very quickly.
Is it spelled donut or doughnut? Who cares! All I know is these are super tasty, sweet treats. Either ring-shaped or made without a whole, donuts can either be filled with a filling, think sweetened cream, or custard, or simply left unfilled and topped with icing or both. The donut dough is enriched with milk and sugar, kneaded, left to prove, shaped, and then deep-fried. Once fried, the donuts can be tossed in sugar and enjoyed as is. Or they can be flavored up with delicious fillings and toppings.
The perfect teatime treats, but I could happily eat these for breakfast too.
I’ve saved the best for last! This, for me, is the best of all the enriched doughs. An Italian Christmas bread, the enriched dough is dotted with rum-soaked candied fruit. Think of the flavor of Christmas cake infused with sweet bread. Made and sold over Christmas time traditionally, you can find these beautifully wrapped tall round cakes can be found all year round now in most Italian delicatessens. Perfect just toasted and served with a cup of coffee, or the best for me is bread and butter pudding made with slices of panettone. You can’t beat that flavor of rum-soaked fruit, custard, and sweet bread. I’ll have to give you the recipe one day!
I want to add croissants to this list of enriched dough bakes. But that will complicate things as croissants are an enriched dough lamented with tons of butter. So let’s save that for another discussion.
Baked enrich doughs have been described as billowy, and that is the only to describe it. Think of challah that you can tear so beautifully and easily. The extra time it takes to ferment and rise, the more flavour the bakes have! Rich dough bakes also tend to be heavier and dense and take longer to bake. So be sure to bake them at a moderate temperature; otherwise, you will end up with a dark crust, a raw doughy center. What you really want is golden delicious billowy pillows of dough, the perfect description of enriched dough bakes.
So be sure to try your hand at an enriched dough over a lean dough the next time you bake a loaf of bread.