Yeast Bread Ingredients and Finishes

French Bread with Egg White Wash

I thought it would be a good time to visit about bread ingredients and finishes.
Essentially all you need to make bread is wheat flour, water or other liquids, yeast and salt.   
You can add all kinds of other ingredients, some which strengthen the structure of the bread, like whole eggs and milk, and those which make the dough more tender, like sugar, fats, egg yolks and acids.
That’s why you’ll see French and Italian breads with chewy crusts with not much more than the flour, water, yeast and salt, and sweet rolls and breads like Challah with fair amounts of butter or fats, eggs and sugar added.  Potato, potato flour and potato flakes help keep loaves moist and make them keep longer.
Other ingredients are often used for variety, like rye and oats, and additions like wheat germ and wheat bran or cracked wheat, for instance.  They need the gluten formed from regular wheat or bread flour to make a nice loaf of bread.  If I am using whole wheat, rye or oats in a yeast bread recipe, I look for ones that have no more that 25-35% of the weight of the wheat flour in these grains or flours.  Otherwise the bread is simply too heavy, small and coarse or crumbly for most tastes, since these other additions don’t contribute to the gluten-formation in the bread.
Whole Wheat Bread with Buttered Tops
I personally would rather have a partial bread flour, partial whole wheat loaf than have to buy and keep on hand all sorts of additives that are hard-to-find, like vital wheat gluten and dough enhancers, but I'm also not able to grow my own wheat.
For a nice look on homemade breads, many recipes recommend a “finish”.  I usually try their suggestions at least once to see how I like it.  These finishes can make your bread much more appetizing to look at and can improve the taste or texture of the crust too.
I like natural bristle brushes for this, and mark one to use for eggs and one for butter.
Beaten Whole Egg:  Gives a shiny, crisp crust.  Carefully brush the top of the risen, shaped dough with a glaze made from beating an egg with a pinch of salt.
Brushing on Egg Wash 
Beaten Egg Yolk Wash:  Even more golden than a whole egg wash.  You usually add 2 teaspoons of water to an egg yolk wash.
Egg White Wash:  This is usually beaten with 2 teaspoons of water and is usually used for crusty, chewy breads like Italian and Fresh breads and rolls.
Milk Wash:  The also makes a golden loaf, but it is more tender and less shiny, often used on sweet doughs.
Cornstarch and water:  For a dull finish and crisp crust, carefully brush unbaked loaf with a mixture of one teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in ¼ cup hot water.  Brush loaf again after 15 minutes of baking.
Whole Wheat Buns with Egg Wash
Flour dusting:  Dust the risen dough with a teaspoon or two of flour right before baking for a rustic “snowflake” effect.  Rolls  can also be brushed with milk and then dusted very lightly with flour.
Butter:  For a tender crust, lightly brush the top of baked rolls or bread with melted or soft butter.  This is usually used on doughs containing milk as part of the liquid.

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