Bread. Plain, simple sandwich bread. Soft and airy, melt-in-your-mouth and almost creamy. Easily taken for granted because it is available at every corner shop. And generally eaten in an almost distracted and mechanical fashion, without a thought given to it because one brand is as good or bad as the other.
Except if it’s freshly made at a neighbourhood bakery. Or even better, at home.
I’ve been listening to my friend, Revati, wax eloquent on the wonders of fresh home-made bread for a while now. I’ve heard that the aroma of fresh baking bread is one of the the most heady aromas in the world. I’ve even heard that a taste of a fresh home-made loaf will turn you off store-bought, mass produced bread forever. I never really took all of it seriously. Until last night.
Bread baking has been on my mind for a while, with (sort of) conflicting feelings of terror and fascination. The idea of freshly baked bread at home, without the bleach and the preservatives has been calling my name. More so with regard to rustic, crusty breads and dinner rolls than plain old sandwich bread. But the act of replicating something that has always been taken for granted, and has been so consistent, was terrifying. Not to mention the “scientific complexity” and time involved in readying the dough.
I know I’ve written about this before, but I don’t think I can pen the depth of conflict in my head. What I don’t understand is why there was so much resistance. I mean, even though I don’t have formal training, I have been baking for almost 20 years. And there’s nothing a bit of research and practice can’t fix!
Tuesday was a mid-week day off for Gandhi Jayanti as well as the T-20 World Cup Match between India and South Africa. The boys were coming over to watch so I put Lemony-Herby Roast Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Grilled Vegetables on the menu. Since I did have a whole day off and the other things on the menu wouldn’t take too long to prep, I decided that it was the day to make the bread plunge…
The pizza dough and pretzels had given me the confidence to skip Lesson 1 and I began straightaway with Lesson 2. Which worked out well because it resulted in what I know as bakery style milk bread, perfect for sandwiches.
Here’s what I used:
2 cups all purpose flour/ maida
1 cup whole wheat flour/ atta
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 tbsp sugar (you can also use honey, cane sugar or jaggery)
1/2 cup warm water
Approx 1 cup warm milk
2 tbsp butter (you can also use olive oil/ vegetable oil)
2 tsp vegetable oil to grease the bowl and 1 tsp to grease the loaf pan
Here’s how I made it:
(I didn’t take step-by-step photos but am linking reference photos from the pretzel post for the basic steps).
Stirring the yeasty liquid, I poured it into the flour along with the butter and stirred with the wooden spoon. It was still pretty dry and lumpy. I added the warm milk in small amounts and kept stirring till the dough came away from the sides of the bowl but was quite moist and sticky.
Greasing a bowl, I placed the dough in it and twirled it around to make sure it was well coated. Covering it with a lid and wrapping it nice and tight in a big fluffy bath towel, I let the dough rise for about 90 minutes. At the end of it, it was almost double the size.
Punching the dough a few times, I brought it back on to the counter and kneaded it for about a minute and shaped it before putting it in the greased bread loaf pan – 9″x5″. I didn’t pay much attention to the shaping and sort of stuffed it into the pan. Slight mistake. I should have paid attention to this video. I’ll show you what happened as a result of not paying heed. Not a catastrophe, but could have done without the side effect!
Anyhow, I covered it with the upturned mixing bowl and wrapped the towel around it again, letting it rise for about 45 minutes. Once I had set aside the loaf to rise in the pan, I turned on my oven to 250 C and placed the pizza stone on the middle rack.
After 45 minutes, the loaf didn’t rise as much as I thought it would. But nevertheless, I made 2 shallow, diagonal slits on the surface to ease the tension little and ensure that the loaf didn’t split down the middle. Then I placed the pan in the oven on the hot stone and baked it for about 50 minutes, checking once at about 35 minutes. It had risen well in the oven but cracked a little bit (mainly because I didn’t shape it like the video, I think). Oh, and I had turned down the heat to 200 C after the first 10 minutes.
Allowing it to cool in the pan for about half hour, I gently lifted it out on the cutting board and this is what I got:
Can you see that fold on the side facing outward? Totally because I didn’t follow the video! And I turned the crack away from the camera, but it’s very much there!
I sliced it up and we used up half the bread to eat with the roast chicken, mashed potatoes and veggies. Because it was so fresh, we didn’t feel the need to warm or toast it. Just slathered on some butter and dug in. Big hit with the boys!
I also toasted a slice after dinner and slathered butter and maple syrup on it for dessert. I would show you the sketchy phone picture but it’s a photo of the bitten-into-slice. And I’m conscious enough of my bunny teeth to not put more embarrassing proof out there.
So instead, I’m going to show you the nice thick slices I toasted for breakfast – 1 with butter and apricot preserve and 1 with Dhaniya-Pudina Chutney (because I always need something savoury to balance out the sweet!).
So what do you think? Worth a try – baking bread at home, I mean? I think I’m going to try baking a loaf once a month, at least until I’m confident enough to start making my own modifications to fool-proof recipes!
Time to pat myself on the back for a good first attempt, and go off into la-la land to dream about the next!