Sugar plays a role in the recipe's fermentation, as well as adding flavor and rich brown color to the bread's crust. However, too much can limit the yeast's activity and the amount of gluten that can be developed in the wheat flour; sugar competes with the flour for water, limiting gluten formation. Table sugar is commonly used, but brown sugar, honey, molasses or partially refined sugar may also be used.
Sugar provides "food" for yeast, which converts it to carbon dioxide and alcohol. It enhances bread flavor and gives the crust a golden color. Sugar also improves the crumb texture and helps retain moisture in bread.
Most bread recipes will include some kind of sweetening agent.
White sugar, brown sugar, honey, corn syrup and molasses can be interchanged equally in bread dough.
Fruit juices can also be a source of fermentable sugars in your dough.
Different sweetening ingredients create different flavors. Brown sugar, honey and molasses are often used in specialty flour breads to bring out the grain flavor.
Breads made with honey or molasses brown more quickly. A 25°F lower oven temperature is used - or watch carefully and cover with foil the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking.
Artificial sweeteners do not provide food for the yeast so they cannot be used in breads to perform the same function as sugar does.
USAGE TIPS FOR SWEETENERS
Yeast activity may decrease when it comes into direct contact with sugar (and also salt). Be mindful of this when measuring ingredients and adding them to your dough.
Sugar - too little or too much - can have a great impact on how yeast performs in your dough. Always double check your recipe and measurements for accuracy.
Too little sugar in dough can slow down yeast activity:
Yeast needs sugar to produce carbon dioxide - the leavening gas that causes the dough to rise. If there is not enough sugar available, the dough will rise slowly or not at all.
Certain doughs, like pizza, contain no added sugar. This is what gives pizza crust its characteristic chewy texture. Since yeast can ferment only the limited amount of natural sugars found in the flour, the rising process is dramatically slowed.
Too much sugar in dough can slow down or even inhibit (stop) yeast activity:
Sugar is competing with yeast for the available water in the dough. As your sugar levels increase, yeast becomes stressed as less water is available for it to function.
In sweet doughs, like Danish pastry or Hawaiian sweet bread, the amount of yeast is increased to compensate for the higher sugar levels.
A dough is considered to be sweet, or high in sugar, when it contains more than 1/2 cup of sugar for every 4 cups of flour.
If the ratio of sugar to flour is more than 1/2 cup sugar to 4 cups flour, an additional packet of yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons) per recipe is needed.
Sugar has the same effect as salt:
If too much is used, yeast activity will slow down. This effect can be seen from a 5 – 6 % sugar level. In order to compensate one can add more yeast. The sugar/yeast ratio should be 3/1. If you want to make a product that contains 15 % of sugar, the yeast level should be 5 % (baker's percentage).