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.
•The texture looked like a complex network of dough muscles, it almost looked like art.
•Below is a picture of how the texture looked after it was baked.
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.