There are certain smells emanating from the kitchen that make you want to grab a spoon and investigate. A chicken curry on a slow bubble, basmati rice steaming, cookies or anything else baking. And then there’s bread. If you have not had the smell of bread baking wafting through your house, then I’m sorry to say, you have not been living. Bread is the easiest thing to make. It has just 3 ingredients – flour, water and yeast. I get the feeling that despite just three ingredients people are put off by the yeast part. This might be because while every Indian household actually does make bread i.e chapatti but it is an unleavened bread, it does not need to rise or prove (as we bread purists say). Making leavened bread is as easy as making chapattis. Actually there’s less labour involved, just some waiting around. Instant active yeast is very easy to find. Any half decent supermarket or kirana store will have it. Active yeast is best stored in the freezer in an airtight container. And if you live in a warm country like India you do not need a bread maker, it’s a waste of electricity and space. The natural heat and moisture in the air is all you need. Sourdough bread, which does not use yeast at all but catches the natural yeast in the air does not need a bread maker either. More on sourdough in the next post. Meanwhile, these pictures of the bread we’ve made and the very easy recipes I have tried after trawling many websites, will make you want to strap on that apron and get in to the kitchen. If you are seriously in to bread then I recommend buying Peter Reinhart’s Bread Maker’s Apprentice. But don’t feed your dog this bread, or he’ll never eat any other bread again. For that matter, neither will your spouse.
Things to remember:
- Yeast gets activated when mixed with warm water. Water must be tepid (or blood temperature), you should be able to hold your finger in it. Water too hot will kill the yeast and too cold will not activate it.
- When mixing flour in to water the best way is to keep your hand in a claw shape and start moving your ‘claw’ from the centre outward, drawing in flour with each movement.
- Bread needs salt but salt can kill yeast. So add the salt in to the flour to one side. (exception is the French baguette recipe below)
- If you can get your hands on double zero flour that’s the best. But you can use ordinary flour as well, no problem.
- Use a wide bowl.
- All bread dough needs to rise or prove, which is when the yeast is working its magic.
- If you live in a cold place, put your bowl of dough to rise in very warm place, on top of a pile of newspapers and away from a draft.
- Be very gentle with the dough, treat it like a baby. Don’t knead too hard or you’ll break up the air pockets.
Recipe: Italian Ciabatta In a wide bowl add 4 cups (500 gms) of flour and 1 tsp salt to one side. Warm 2 cups of water till tepid. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the water. Sprinkle 1/4 tsp of yeast on to the surface of the warm water. Mix the water and flour with the claw like action. Once all flour is incorporated this will be a very wet mixture, more like a batter. Don’t worry, that’s how it’s supposed to be. Resist the urge to knead. Cover the bowl with plastic cling film or a lightly oiled plastic shower cap (reusable) wrapped tight for 8 hrs. Preheat oven to 210 degrees Centigrade. Flour your hands well and pour the dough on to a baking tray. At this point, treat the dough like a baby. Gently nudge the sides up in to a loaf shape. Sprinkle either dried rosemary, oregano, basil or thyme. Be generous. Bake for 25 mins. The bread will have a hollow sound when you tap the bottom.
Recipe: French baguette To 4 cups (500gms) of flour add 2 tsp salt. Mix the salt through the flour. To half of this mixture make a well and add 2 cups warm water and 1 tbsp yeast. Cover with cling film wrap for 3 hrs. After 3 hrs gently incorporate rest of the flour/salt mix. Knead very gently for 5 minutes. Lightly oil a bowl and add the kneaded dough. Cover with a kitchen towel for 1 hr. Preheat oven to 250 degree Centigrade. In the top of the oven put a bowl of hot water, this will create an envelope of steam. Shape the dough in to 2 long loaves. It is best if you have a baguette baking tray See here: http://cgi.ebay.com/Mrs-Anderson-Double-Baguette-Bread-Pan-Non-Stick-/160588360466?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item2563cfeb12 Bake for 20 mins.
Recipe: Irish Soda Bread – it’s hard and crusty on the outside and soft and creamy with small holes through it. This bread does not need to rise and does not use yeast.
To 370 gms of white flour add 130gms of whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp salt Make a well in the centre of the flour and add 40 gms of melted butter and 340 mls of buttermilk* and 1 tbsp of honey or treacle.
Bring together gently with the claw like motion. Turn out on to a lightly floured surface and bring together further in to a round, tucking the sides under it self. Not much kneading is required. Using a well-floured rolling pin, press the rolling pin horizontally on to the surface and then vertically. Be forceful (see picture above) to make the indents.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Place the dough on to a lightly oiled baking tray for 30 to 40 mins. Tear off four quarters of bread or slice.
* To make buttermilk, blitz 1 cup of yoghurt for 15 secs in the blender. Then add 2 cups water and a pinch of salt. Amul makes a great spicy buttermilk that comes in Tetra Packs. This will work too for the recipe. Next post: Italian Focaccia