Learning to make bread, and succeeding at it!

Few weeks ago I got this thought in my head that I should try baking some bread at home. ‘Bread baking’ doesn’t really belong to my specific culture, and hence making one myself always seemed like a foreign concept to me. But I was curious, about what and how much effort went into making a loaf. What were the techniques used? So off I went searching for ‘bread recipes’ and ‘dinner roll recipes’ on the internet. There were tons!

•First try, first batch of bread- The first loaf was pretty much a disaster. The most popular recipes on the internet ask for only 2hrs +30 mins total of rise time and use only water for moisture. They were backed up with a lot of positive feedback from reviewers and consumed the least amount of time. Hence I decided to give it a shot. The bread came out a bit weird though. The dough didn’t have air in it whatsoever and hence was very thick and heavy.

What had I done wrong?- The yeast I had used had gotten a bit old and didn’t grow much; The salt & sugar to flour ratio was off and it ended up tasting sour (more salt makes the bread taste sour); After baking for 10 minutes the moisture had disappeared and the bread came out dry (baking temperature and time was off); I had zero experience in baking bread and kneading was done by hands.

The bread was a disaster! But in the back of my mind I always knew that it would turn out so. Making good bread takes practice and one seldom gets it right in the first try.

•Second try- This time, I used the same recipe as above, but bought a new dry active yeast and substituted milk for water. This bread came out better than before i.e it was moist and didn’t feel like a watered down version of a biscuit. :) It tasted sweeter than before and was definitely edible. But it still lacked the lightness that I like in my breads. There was no fluff whatsoever and was still pretty dense.

•Third time’s the charm- Desperate to figure out what I was doing wrong, I started researching ‘bread making techniques’ and came across The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. I looked it up and started reading whatever I could find. And I found a recipe from the book here. And I have to admit, this recipe makes one hell of a gorgeous and delicious bread! Soft like a dream! I received tons of compliments for it! At times, I couldn’t believe that I had made that bread myself! I stored a loaf in an air tight container for a week and it stayed fresh, that too without any added preservatives. I highly recommend this recipe for any one who wants to bake some clean and healthy bread at home! It takes a bit of a work and lot of patience, but it’s worth it.

What did I do right? I ‘invested’ in the most expensive yeast I could afford. The one that foams beautifully while proofing; Ingredients used were used accurately, as mentioned in the recipe; Longer rise time for better flavor and air; kneading was done using kneading hooks. The vow of baking with more patience was made ;)

RECIPE: FROM THE BREAD BIBLE BY ROSE LEVY BERANBAUM

WAS FOUND: HERE ( I skipped the butter dipping step)

I have posted some of the pictures that I took on my journey. It was a ton of fun! :) Scroll down for a list of things I learned in the process.

•I flipped the dough on to the counter after it’s first rise, and this is how its bottom looked.

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•The texture looked like a complex network of dough muscles, it almost looked like art.

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•Below is a picture of how the texture looked after it was baked.

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•Drumroll, please.

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Things I learnt in the process-

1. Why let the dough rise, then deflate it, and then let it rise again? At first, I really couldn’t understand why it was so necessary to deflate the bread after it’s first rise. Why not bake it straight away? Well, the deflation redistributes the yeast in the dough, and reduces the amount of CO2 in the dough, and lets the yeast grow again. Thus increasing the air in the bread! And this is what creates bread with nice holes/ air pockets inside it, like the one we see in gourmet shops and cafes. After the first rise, most bakers stretch and tuck the dough into a round to give it a smooth, tight top that will trap the gases produced by fermentation.

3. Use machine or hands to knead the dough? Definitely a machine!  Unless you are someone who has a lot of practice with making breads and know how to achieve that right texture and elasticity, it is highly recommended that you use a machine with knead attachments to make your dough. I have learned from my research and a little bit of practice that in order for the dough to rise, it should be extremely elastic, to the extent that it sticks to the hand so much that it becomes difficult to knead. Not using a machine and kneading by hand was one of my biggest mistakes when I made bread for the first time. A thick and dense dough will produce bread, heavy and dense as the amazon forests!

4. Good Yeast! Good Yeast! Good Yeast! I just cannot stress enough on the importance of using a good quality yeast for your dough. The amount of yeast normally used in the bread is so little as compared to the rest of the ingredients, that I didn’t think that using an ‘OK’ quality yeast would matter all that much, but trust me, it does! Big time! And I have learned it the hard away. I used an ok-ish quality yeast in my first two batches of bread, and the bread came out as dense as the London fog. Buy the most expensive yeast you can afford, and when you store it in the refrigerator, make sure that it’s kept in an air tight container.

5. Proofing Dry Active Yeast It’s impossible to find Instant yeast in my town, hence I don’t have another choice but to use Dry Active Yeast and using it comes hand in hand with another tricky process- PROOFING. The process itself only takes about 10-15 minutes and is pretty easy once you get the hang of it, but for a novice like me, there was a lot of confusion and nervousness involved. And so many doubts!

•How hot should the water be? It should feel warm, lukewarm to the touch and not hot. Yeast is a living organism and hot water will kill the beast.

•Should I stir in the yeast or just let it float and sink on its own? It isn’t necessary, but I got a better foam after I stirred it in. Stir it really slowly and gently.

•What does yeast foam look like? Check this image I found on the internet. Now my foam didn’t overflow or cover the top of the bowl, but it definitely looked similar to the foam in the picture.

•Here is a link that explains ‘proving’ in lay-man terms- http://www.thekitchn.com/baking-lessons-how-to-proof-ye-94555 6.For a tastier bread Let the fermentation process be slower and longer. Let the dough starter sit in the fridge for 8-24 hours.

 

Peach Crumble

My first food film! I find food to be gorgeous. The process of cooking is my biggest stress buster, my version of meditation- a relaxation technique. I love everything about cooking- the gorgeous colors, the variety of textures, even the mess that it creates in my kitchen. This is a film about me making a crumble with some nature made gorgeous peaches.

Directed, Photographed and Edited by Neha Deshmukh
Background Score: Ballerina Platform Shoes (Set In Sand Remix) by Origamibiro http://www.origamibiro.com/

Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: canon 24-70mm

Some shots from the film.

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Indian Butter Biscuits (Naankatai)

I have been super excited about baking new recipes in my tiny new OTG! I baked a semolina cake last week and this week i baked some Indian Biscuits called ‘Naankatais’, a favorite tea time snack of my family. We had never made naankhatais at home, just always bought from the store because they are so easily available. But I wanted to make them at home, just for fun, and they turned out (almost) better than the store bought biscuits! I received tons of compliments on my biscuits! And so, obviously, I had to put them on the blog!

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Use What?

1 1/2 cup all purpose flour, sifted

3/4th cup caster sugar, sifted

1/2 cup melted Ghee (Indian butter)

1/4th teaspoon cardamom powder

1/4th teaspoon nutmeg powder

1-2 pinches of salt

1 teaspoon pistachio flakes

1 teaspoon pistachio flakes (optional)

Do what?

Preheat oven to 170 degree C.

Mix all the ingredients (except for the optional pistachios) to form a soft dough.

Roll the dough into soft balls of 1-1.5 inch diameter, and place them on a baking sheet.

Press the optional pistachio flakes on the top of the dough balls and bake for 30 minutes

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Tip: We (Me, my family and a lot of other Indians) love having these biscuits by dipping them in sweet chai!!

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Lemon Semolina Cake

…and I am back from a short hiatus. I baked this Lemon Semolina Cake a few weeks ago and I don’t have any words to express how awesome it was. I came across this recipe by Kim Coverdale on taste.com and the cake looked so good that I had to try it for myself. And believe me, it turned out exactly the way it looked in the pictures! The cake tasted like something I would eat in a Brooklyn coffee shop. It’s kind of a super easy and fail proof recipe. The only thing I did different from the original recipe was that I increased the quantities of butter and milk to increase the moisture in the cake as I wasn’t going to serve it with any kind of syrup.

Things to remember: All the ingredients should be at room temperature. I only made a small amount of batter (using 1 egg) for my 15 cm diameter baking pan, so double the quantity of all the ingredients if you are using a bigger pan.

All Images © Neha Deshmukh

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My mom’s recipe for Asian clams (shimplya). Spicy, coconuty, slightly sweet and tangy masala.

Wednesdays and Fridays  are for seafood, Sundays for meat and the remaining days of the week are reserved for vegetarian food. My family has been following this simple rule of thumb since I was a little kid, or may be since before i was born. It’s not just my family but a lot of Indians I know follow this pattern regularly. In Hinduism, each day of a week is dedicated to a particular god in the Hindu pantheon. Monday is dedicated to Lord Shiva, Tuesday is dedicated to Lord Ganesha, Durga, Goddess Kali and Lord Hanuman, Thursday is dedicated to Lord Vishnu- hence meat-free food is consumed on these particular days of the week. Now, my family isn’t strictly religious, but the habit has stuck. I believe that this simple habit has been great in balancing out our diets (veggies + meat) evenly.

Yesterday, was a seafood day, and my mom had cooked Clams (Shimplya) for lunch. Clams are used widely in Konkani cooking. Konkan region is a rugged section of the western coastline of India which includes the district of Mumbai. The ‘coconuty clam masala’ is one of my mom’s specialties! The slightly dry coconut masala is hot, spicy, tangy, and sweet all at the same time.

While using clams for cooking, the clams are opened carefully and the soft meat inside the shell is used in a variety of dishes. Usually one of the two shells is kept intact as the shell works as a container for the masala that goes along with the flesh.

All Images © Neha Deshmukh

Recipe @ My Mom :)

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Shimplya (Clams)- Opening & Cleaning

The cleaning process of freshwater clams is a lot different from the cleaning process of mussels. Unlike mussels, clams don’t clean themselves when they are soaked in cold water. They have to be opened, and cleaned individually! Thats right, individually! I have to admit, this process can be time consuming and could be a ton of hard work, but it’s worth it. It’s very important that the clams are cleaned thoroughly from the inside or else the grit will be terribly unpleasant and will ruin the dish. The grit, a lot of times, won’t be in the shells, but will be in the bodies of the clams themselves. Sometimes, there will be tiny crabs inside the clams that would be have to discarded as well.

Here it goes…

Wash the clams under running water, clean all the sand that is stuck on the surface of the shells. Put the clams in a large dish so that they are all spread out. Then, put them in the deep freezer for 20-30 mins. After sitting in the freezer for about half hour the clams should start opening their mouths a little (all of the clams won’t open their mouths at the same time though). Insert a knife or a fork to open the rest of the clams and check if there is any sand inside. Once opened, only wash the clams that have any dirt in them, not all of the clams are going to be gritty and dirty. Washing the flesh unnecessarily will rid it of it’s taste.

Once you open the clams, you will see that the flesh will be sitting in one shell while the other shell will be almost empty. Break off the empty shell from the flesh filled shell, we won’t be using the empty shell. So at the end of the cleaning session we should end up with a bowlful of clean singular flesh filled shells ready to be used in our recipe. Beautiful!

The above explained cleaning process is what my family has been using since I can remember, and it’s been passed down from generations. I researched a little bit on the internet and a lot of articles recommend using either cornmeal or oatmeal in the purging water, but I have no idea if that works or not. Let me know if you have tried it. :)

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Ingredients

  • 2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup opened clams
  • 1/2 cup grated coconut
  • 1- 1.5 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 1/2 inch long piece of ginger root- grated
  • 3 amsul pieces (dried kokum)
  • 1/4th teaspoon garam masala
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • coriander leaves for garnishing

Preparation

  • Heat (low heat) oil  in a pot, add grated ginger root to the oil and stir instantly or else the grated ginger will stick to the base of the pot. Keep stirring the ginger for 10-15 secs till it’s color changes to nice roasty brown.
  • Now add the chopped onions to the pot, and stir. Let the onion cook for 10 minutes till it turns translucent and soft.
  • Add clams, red chili powder, turmeric, salt to the pot and saute for 5 mins (till the moisture in the pan almost dries up)
  • Mix in amsuls, coriander powder and coconut with the ingredients in the pot.
  • Cover and cook for 10 mins on low heat stirring often.
  • When done garnish with cilantro leaves.

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shimplya

So what do we have this with?

This recipe goes really well with chapati or simple dal and rice. Sometimes I like having this dish as an appetizer along side my beer :) The drink in the picture is lemonade with ice.

Gorgeous red cherries and almond cake

The last few weeks have been crazy busy. My sister and her family flew down to Mumbai from Singapore to visit us and we spent a lot of quality time together- which included laughing, giggling, gossiping, drinking, and indulging in some buttery not-so-healthy food. I kept feeling guilty at the back of my mind for not having posted anything on the blog, but then there was too much chaos around for me to get some work done. Also, I only get to meet my 7 year old nephew once every year, and that too only for a week. How could have I missed this golden opportunity of playing with him and spoiling him?

All Images © Neha Deshmukh

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Just a few days before my sister arrived, my dad bought some fresh cherries from the food market in my town. The color of the cherries was a breathtaking red. They glistened in the daylight as my mom washed them clean and dried them in a cotton cloth. Some cherries carried shades of saffron and crimson. Some, were a gorgeous deep red. They tasted sweet and juicy, like nature had decided to add a hint of honey to them before we tasted them. They were absolutely perfect and inspirational. I googled some fresh cherry recipes and decided to bake a fresh cherry and almond cake.

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Fresh Cherries and almond cake

Recipe from: bbcgoodfood.com

    • 150g golden caster sugar, plus a little more to sprinkle on top
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1 egg
    • 125g butter, melted
    • 175ml Greek yogurt
    • 200g plain flour
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 100g ground almonds
    • 250g fresh cherries, pitted and halved

Heat the oven to 180C. Mix the sugar, vanilla, egg, butter and yogurt together. Sift the flour, baking powder and almonds into a bowl (use a wide mesh sieve), add the liquid ingredients and mix quickly (don’t worry if the mix is lumpy), add the cherries and mix.

Now, I made a couple of changes in this step. The original recipe asked for using muffin tins but i used a baking dishes instead. I own cupcake moulds, but i don’t own any muffin tins. So the baking process itself was a bit of an experiment for me. I used two 7 inch long,  3 inch deep baking dishes and baked the cake until the crust was a nice golden brown and the inserted knife came out clean. The baking time according to the original recipe using the muffin tins was just 20 mins, my baking time ended up being 2 hours! Which, btw, got me a bit freaked out and i started wondering if i was doing something wrong. I am new to the baking world, but to my surprise the cake turned out pretty good. Phew!

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The cake was nice and soft on the inside and had a nice crusty texture on the outside, similar to muffins. The slightly bittersweet cherries complimented the sourness of the yogurt and the sweetness of the sugar in the cake. I loved the texture that was added by the ground almond. It was a very delicious cake and went very well with freshly brewed coffee. I will definitely try making this recipe again, next time though, I am going to use muffin tins instead of baking dishes and see how it turns out.

 

Mangoes out, monsoons in. Fire Roasted Corn on the Cob (bhutta), the perfect monsoon companion.

It’s pouring cats and dogs right now while I am writing this post. Like many Indians, I love monsoons as well. Monsoons mean the much needed relief from the crazy summer heat, the start of a new school year and new beginnings, colorful raincoats, the bottom of your pants soaked dead in water and charcoal roasted Bhuttas!

Bhutta- pronounced bhoo-ttah is hindi for corn. Roadside ‘bhuttas’ roasted over charcoal furnaces are extremely popular in India.Roadside food in India can be tricky, but roasted bhutta is pretty safe to consume as there is no water involved in the cooking. Raw corn ear is roasted over a charcoal furnace and rubbed with salt, pepper, lime juice, butter and is eaten while still hot.

This is a recipe for home cooked bhutta. In my house we roast corn cobs over the stove, the way we roast roti fulkas. I wish we could own a grill but the apartments in Bombay are so tiny that there is no place to keep one, hence stove is a substitute.

Ingredients and preparation

  • Strip the husks, fibres away from the top of the cob to the base. Discard the husks.
  • Roast the corn over an open flame or charcoal furnace till the corn ears look like in the photographs underneath.
  • Rub a 1/2 teaspoon butter, a pinch of salt, a pinch of pepper and some lemon on the hot corn.
  • Sprinkle cilantro for garnish (optional) and serve hot.

How to check whether the raw corn is fresh.

Pierce one or two kernels on the cob. They should pierce easy and almost feel like a tiny burst of moisture. And the juice coming out of the corn should ideally be milky. The silk fibers at the top of a fresh corn are usually golden brown and slightly sticky. The stem of fresh corn is usually creamish yellow in color with no bruises. Hope this helps :)

All Images © Neha Deshmukh

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