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No rocket science this

Baking bread is a lot easier than it seems. Vinaya Govind suggests some foolproof methods to bake the best bread of your life right in your kitchen

The sheer joy of breaking fresh bread is wonderful.

I bet there is no aroma as heavenly and appetising as that of freshly baked bread. Golden and crisp-crusted with a delicious, tender and pillowy interior, fresh bread is a comfort food even today. The dough, which looks sticky, gooey and unappetising, reaches the pinnacle of taste when baked in an oven, turning into glossy, spongy pieces of gorgeous bread and buns. Once you master the art of bread-making, get creative in making various fillings and toppings.

Plain bread

Here’s how you can make plain bread (straight dough method)

Ingredients:

All-purpose flour - 500 gm

Milk powder - 25 gm

Powdered sugar - 20 gm

Instant dry yeast - 7.5 gm (approx. ¾ tbsp)

Any vegetable shortening or butter at room temperature - 40 gm

Salt - 7.5 gm (approx 1 ½ tsp)

Olive oil or any vegetable oil - 12.5 ml

Tepid water – approx. 300 ml plus a few drops depending on how strong the flour is

Method:

1. Sieve the flour and milk powder twice. Make a well in the centre and tip in the yeast, sugar and a couple of spoons of tepid water and mix lightly with your finger.

2. When you notice bubbles appearing after 3-4 minutes, add the salt and mix. Incorporate rest of the water little by little and mix as you would for chapati/roti.

3. The mixture will become like a thick porridge first, and then as you continue to knead, it will become thicker and more elastic. Pull out the dough and place it on the countertop.

4. Pat it into a ball and flatten it and make a fold towards you. The dough will stick to your hand and also the counter. Sprinkle very little flour if need be. Rotate the dough a bit and continue to push the dough away from you using the heel of your palm. Continue the folding, pushing and turning steps for a few minutes (at least 40-50 times) and you will notice the dough leaving your hand as gluten builds.

5. Once the dough becomes smooth and elastic, incorporate the butter. The dough will become sticky again and with constant kneading turn into a shiny, satiny ball. When you poke lightly with your finger, the dough will spring back and will not rupture even when it is stretched into a thin sheath.

6. Lightly oil the mixing bowl and put the dough into it. Cover it with a clean, damp kitchen towel/plastic wrap. After 20 minutes, you will notice the dough dotted with small air pockets. Remove the dough slowly and punch it down using your knuckle to remove air bubbles. Smear a little oil or flour on the counter and shape the dough into a smooth ball. Using a bench scraper/knife, divide the dough into two equal portions and roll them out into rectangles. Start rolling the dough tightly from the short end of the rectangle to make a loaf shape. Lightly pinch the seam and ends of the rolled dough to seal it completely. Put them into loaf tins. (Note: The dough should occupy only about one-third of the space in the tin. Once the dough is shaped, do not remove them from the tins)

7. Place the loaf tins covered with plastic wrap in a warm place for about 50-60 minutes. This process is called ‘proving’. Slightly poke the dough with your finger, if the depression stays, the dough is ready for baking.

8. Preheat the oven to 200OC for about 15 minutes. Brush the loaves with milk or beaten egg for a shiny crust. Place the loaf tins in the hot oven a few inches apart. Bake them at 200OC for about 25 minutes or until you see the bread getting a tender yet golden crust. Do not disturb the baking process for the first 15 minutes at least. Check the loaves after 20 minutes; leave them in the oven for five minutes if they need to be evenly browned.

9. Remove the tins from the oven. After a couple of minutes, turn them out of the tins. Tap the side and the bottom of the bread loaves. If they feel light and spongy and sound hollow, the loaves are done. Transfer them on to a wire rack for cooling immediately, else they will turn soggy.

Once you know how to make plain bread, you can experiment and make buns, rolls and more
Once you know how to make plain bread, you can experiment and make buns, rolls and more.

Time to experiment

The basic dough can be used for making buns and dinner rolls. For a healthier version, use whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour (50:50). If you have leftover potato or any dry vegetable subzi, just roll out small discs of the dough and stuff the subji in the middle. Roll the edges to the centre and pinch the seam. Place them on the tray (seam-side down) a few inches apart and bake at 200OC for 20 minutes for yummy stuffed rolls. You could use meat or chicken mince or prawns also for the filling. Make slight variations with sugar and salt, and this dough will be good enough to make sandwich bread and burger buns.

Freshly chopped garlic, basil and chilli flakes will make appetising garlic bread. Spread the dough into a disc (½-inch thick), make depressions with your fingers, drizzle a bit of olive oil, spread chopped olives, some bell pepper slices, crushed garlic, chilli flakes and sun-dried tomatoes. Bake at 200OC for 20 minutes and voila... hot foccacia is ready.

Depending on what you are baking, choose toppings, too. Caraway seeds, sesame, chilli flakes, poppy seeds, garlic flakes, basil and dried mixed herbs are a few. Insert herbs (viz. rosemary, dill, basil) in slashes and cuts when you make buns, for a twist of taste. Add tutti-frutti (candied papaya) and chopped dry fruits to make nutritious fruit bread.

When making stuffed rolls, try out little cubes of cheese with salt and pepper, toasted nuts, spring onion and capsicum bits, cinnamon powder, fruit jams or Nutella for the filling. You’ll be surprised with the results. Who knows, they could even turn out to be your signature dishes!

 

 

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