Oil In Bread Dough - Yes or No?

oil in bread
Should you put oil in bread dough? What does it do for the bread? What happens if you miss it out? This article addresses the question of oil, or fat, in bread, so you don't make the mistake I made.

Oil is commonly included in bread recipes. I'm pretty sure my mum used to routinely add a slosh to her dough mixture when I was young (did you mum?!).

When I first started to make bread, I often baked loaves that were dry and crumbly. I imagined that I needed to add something to my dough - something to make it richer, softer and silkier. One of the things that I imagined would work was oil.

I thought that for a smooth, elastic texture, I would add a few big glugs of olive oil.

It didn't work.

What Does Oil Do For Your Dough?

French baguette doesn't last. Obviously, that's because it is so delicious. If you do happen to leave some, it goes obstinately hard overnight. French bread is made without fat. This is the reason for both its airy texture* and its tendency to dry out. French baguette is the oft-cited example for why oil is helpful in bread dough. Oil, so I'm told, helps the bread to stay softer for longer.
*More on that in a moment.

Well, I'm not so sure. My bread is made without oil and it certainly doesn't dry out overnight. I can keep it for several days without it going dry and stale. My bread isn't baguette-shaped thought, it's usually a loaf.

Perhaps baguette, like bread-rolls, goes stale quicker than loaves due to its higher surface-area-to-volume ratio.

So, I'm a little undecided about the preserving effects of oil in bread, but that's the reason most often given for including it.

There's Something Else You Need To Know

The presence of oil in bread alters its texture.

Oils and fats are 'shortening' agents. It wasn't until I started my deep exploration into the ways of yeast and gluten that I really appreciated what 'shortening' might mean.

In order to achieve the required spongy texture, two things need to happen. One is that the yeast has to ferment, producing bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. The other is that the gluten in the flour has to absorb water and form long strands, that criss-cross into a kind of lattice to hold the aforementioned bubbles of gas in the dough.

Long strands, you see? Fats and oils interfere with this process, causing the gluten to form only shorter strands, making it less able to trap the gas, leading to a more crumbly texture.

So, for a spongy, open texture you want lengthening, not shortening. Fat definitely won't help.

So How Do You Get The Smooth, Elastic Texture?

To achieve the best possible texture for your bread, work with a flour that is 'strong' (high in protein). Combine it with the correct proportions of yeast, water and salt (see the Formula for Great Dough), and ensure that it is sufficiently kneaded.

Once I had been on a bread-making course and developed my Master Method, I saw dramatic improvements in the texture and appearance of my bread. It was nothing to do with oil and there was no missing ingredient.

It's simpler than I had first thought and it's my mission to help you achieve great results too. Let me know how it's going!

There's More...

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  1. Interesting. I will try it without fat next time and see. This lot is a no rise experiment!
    J x

    1. Ooh I'd like to know how you get on with the lack of rising

  2. As I started my bread-making saga after getting a copy of Paul Hollywood's book 'Bread', I had always added olive oil to the mix. As I've 'progressed' I've occasionally tried it without but my methods have been a bit hit-and-miss so I'm undecided on the value of it on basic bread.

    This is an great post though and your point on its effect on the gluten structure is interesting. What I think I will do is spend time excluding it from my recipes as the current way I start the dough process gets around the stickiness of the dough during first folding. I did use oil as a way of helping during kneading, a la Hollywood, but I now find it isn't necessary.


    1. I find I can now make a good 'clean' dough that I can knead without flour or oil on the work surface, so long as I get the hydration right. I'll be interested to hear your conclusions.

  3. Yes Rachel, we did - and still do add a "slosh of oil" invariably virgin olive oil these days. What really is appearing to make a lovely texture is the inclusion of puréed vegetables for the liquid measure! These have usually been oven roasted in olive oil too. Currently we are adding a good sprinkle of chili powder which imparts a background warmth - and often a handful of sesame seeds for nuttiness. Fun!

    6 August 2014 11:16

    1. Very tasty! I have yet to try adding chili but I do love sesame seeds. I expect the fibre of the vegatables helps to retain moisture in the dough??

    2. Putting the sesame seeds IN the dough stops all that wastage likely to occur when they are sprinkled on the top. By the way, none of our chili / veg flavoured dough is unduly "savoury" and can still be used with sweet spreads. I remember an earlier post of yours stating that you have to add a very great deal of flavour to make much difference to the bread!

    3. Ah yes, good tip. Because seeds do fall off all over the place when supposedly stuck to the top!

  4. I have been making Bread very successfully for more than 40 years.
    French bread is made with Soft wheat which is why it is needs baking twice per day. Adding butter of olive oil adds flavour and moistness to bread.
    In my early years I did make bread without oil or fat, there was no difference to the risen quality of the dough but the baked bread was definitely less moist.
    If I was to use your water recommendation I would need 945 ml for 1.5 kg of strong flour, (2 parts wholemeal, 1 part white.) Also I usually add more bran and various ground seeds, even then from experience I know this would be excessive, giving a very loose slack dough.
    Bread making is so easy I cannot imagine how anyone can get it wrong.

    1. Hopefully, in 40 years time, I will also be able to say;

      "Bread making is so easy I cannot imagine how anyone can get it wrong."

    2. I will be over 100 years old - and don't think I'll be baking any more.......

    3. I'll be 110 which, needless to say, didn't register until after I'd hit the 'Publish' button.

    4. I won't be *quite* that old ;) and I plan to still be baking. I love these comments - thanks - you've kept me amused!

    5. We'll only be able to do that for another thirty years or so!

  5. There's a new image on Flickr but can't see it yet on your page. Hopefully it's live or I've done it wrong.

    Baguettes using new dough method.

    1. Sounds lovely, thanks for sharing! I'll have to check later because I'm on the wrong computer right now(!)

    2. PS Yes! It's there! Looks super :)

  6. Second loaf from the current experiment. Hope it tastes as good as it looks. Can't add image here but it's on Flickr. It's a mini boule.