Thursday, September 25, 2008

poppy seed + mixed fruit

i read about the polish poppy seed roll in linda collister's "bread - from ciabatta to rye" and got interested.

the polish version uses some rum (2 tablespoons)
but since i didn't have any at home, i went without it.

i wanted to bake using just plain wheat flour but stupid me ran out of flour so had to sub with wholemeal. thus the heavy loaf.

i used 3 cups of wholemeal + 1 cup of wheat but you could use 4 cups of wheat. no problem there.

as for the fillings, this depends on how much you like. i used slightly more than half cup of mix dried fruit and about a quarter cup of poppy seeds.

the poppy seeds have to be soaked in warm water for a few minutes, then drained out.

as the mixed fruits is already sweetened, i didn't add any sweeter. i added some olive oil though (2 teaspoons).
  • 4 cups of wheat flour (i ran out of flour so went 1 cup of wheat + 3 cups of wholemeal)
  • 1/2-1 cup of mixed dried fruit
  • 1/4-1/2 cup of poppy seeds. soaked in warm water then sieved.
  • as again, 1 teaspoon of yeast, 1 teaspoon of honey
  • and finally 1 teaspoon of salt

follow the "basic bread recipe", but after the initial rise (~2 hours), take out the dough and stretch/spread out to as big a piece as you could but still maintaining thickness of around 1cm. if spread too thin, it won't be strong enough to hold all the fillings. it'll break when you roll it up. a mess with all the poppy seeds all over the place!

the fillings consist of the poppy seeds, mixed dried fruit and optionally some honey. as my dried fruit mix already has castor sugar, i didn't bother to sweeten it. add some olive oil if you wish. the original polish recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of rum as well.

spread the filling evenly over the spread out dough to almost the edges. then roll up the dough from one side like a swiss roll.

let it sit and rise again for 1-2 hours. bake and enjoy!

PS :  yes, poppy seeds contain trace amount of opiate, from which some quantity is needed to produce drugs like morphine/heroine. however, to have any such "high" effect, you need to consume at least more than 300 grams. the above recipe uses less than 100g in the whole loaf. so you need to bake 3 times as much and consume ALL within a day! i bet you'll be feeling something else rather than a "high"!

poppy seeds are pretty nutritious. described as "a good source of thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and copper.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

a tale of 2 foccacias

i was browsing peter reinhart's book on bread baking and got me interested in his foccacia. a search on the net shows a few folks have baked it, ate it and blogged it! best instructions came from annie's eats so i'd rather not repeat here.

i did 2 versions though, both the white and wholemeal versions. at the same time.

i started at 6pm and took out dough from oven at 12.30am! my wife said if only i work so hard in my day job... hate what do you mean?!

white foccacia
  • 5 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. yeast
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups water, at room temperature
  • ¼ to ½ cup herb oil 
i used less salt and less yeast, and also less herb oil. having made foccacia couple of times, the herb oil is new to me. however, messy/disorganized me have only rosemary and oreganos, so have to make do with just these 2 herbs.

white foccacia just before baking.

during second rise, i spread out the dough as wide as possible, then made all the dimples using my fingers. herbed olive oil goes on top.

there were hell more dimples i made but after 90 minutes, the dough grew more and obscured some of the holes.

 wholemeal foccacia
  • 4 cups of wholemeal (i didn't have enough wholemeal so went for 2 cups wholemeal + 2 cups white)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups water (actually you need a little less than this)
  • ¼ to ½ cup herb oil 
for the wholemeal foccacia, i made a mistake and used 2 cups of water. it was a very wet dough and i had a mess trying to knead it! in fact, it wasn't kneading at all, just stretching and keeping dough off my fingers.

wholemeal foccacia just before baking.

oh yeah, sprinkle some salt (table salt or sea salt, up to you) on the dough before baking.

the salt brought up a bit more flavour to the whole mix.

the recipe calls for quite a lot of herb oil on the dough. err, it's better to go less. just sufficient to cover the dough.

white foccacia!

wholemeal foccacia!

both taste wonderful! 

feel free to sprinkle some salt before serving.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

stout + rye bread

my wife once commented, if i could bake bread, anyone could!

she's right, of course! bread baking is sooooo easy.

if you have read my previous post on my "basic bread recipe", then it's easy to just move on with variations of the recipe.

now here's something which really intrigues me. i have been reading about beer bread and it looks really interesting but i have never tasted one before.

not available locally and i didn't even know there is such a thing when i was in the usa back then.

so why not make it yourself and see if it's really that good?

since i prefer stout over beer, hey, let's go for it! and since i like rye a lot, let's do that as well. so here we go.
  • 2 cups of rye flour
  • 2 cups of unbleached wheat flour
  • a 330ml can of guinness stout or beer if you like
  • 1 teaspoon of yeast
  • 1 teaspoon of honey (feel free to use more)
the process is the same as described in "basic bread recipe" but instead of using water, use stout! or beer! heat up to lukewarm (use the finger test. if you can't dip your finger into it for more than 5 seconds, it's too hot.)

i have made this bread 3 times and each time i used slightly more than a can of stout. the last time i did, a can of stout was just nice. but i already opened the other can. oh well, what to do, but to drink it! even though it was only 9 in the morning! see, bread baking is fun!

now rye flour doesn't form gluten well, that's why we need the wheat flour. substitute with all purpose or just plain white flour if you want to. i go for unbleached and the one easily available is of the organic unbleached variety here. excellent...

the dough is a bit heavy to knead but what the heck, kneading by hand is so enjoyable. whenever i bake bread, i do 2 doughs separately, each with a different recipe. so i knead twice. that's how much i like kneading! :)

if you worry that the dough is too heavy, experiment yourself! try 3 cups of wheat flour and 1 cup of rye. or 2 cups of wheat flour, 1 cup of wholemeal and 1 cup of rye... don't worry, nothing much can go wrong here. that's how easy bread baking is!

some recipes call for an acidic element to be introduced into the dough, to break down the starch and let water be absorbed into the dough. i've seen recipes calling for 2 tablespoons of yogurt or some ascorbic acid (vitamin c) into the mixture. some use sourdough starter but i don't want to go there... but feel free to experiment.

anyway, such a heavy dough needs plenty of encouragement for the yeast to grow. i let it sit in a cool place for up to 8 hours and let it slowly, very slowly grow.

after 8 hours, dough is slightly more than doubled. proof it and wait for another hour, then bake it!

the long hours really help in developing the flavour. the resultant dough is pretty dark and has a very nice aroma. you could smell it when baking! the flavour is not unlike wholemeal as rye it a type of wholemeal too but the stout adds complexity to the taste. there's nothing to worry about the alcoholic content as it evaporates during baking. hey, at 200 C, alcohol doesn't stand a chance ok?

this is one of my favourite bread which i keep on baking. even if my wife doesn't like it... hee hee!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

basic bread recipe

baking your own bread is very simple. the ingredients are cheap and easy to source. the basic recipe consists of only 4 ingredients, namely flour, yeast, salt and water.

yeast plays the leavening role here though you could substitute with baking powder for "quick breads".

of course, you need measuring cups, spoon and an oven too!

my first 2 attempts at bread baking was an utter disaster. i got interested after reading all those "no knead bread" blog posts around the net. tried it but instead of getting soft fluffy bread, all i got was tough hard-to-chew bread, if we could still call it bread.

i later traced this to the mistake of not paying attention to the yeast i bought! i bought active dry yeast but thought it was instant yeast.

be careful here! you could make this mistake too!

there are 3 types of commercially available that yeast i know of, fresh yeast, dry yeast and instant yeast.

both fresh and dry needs to be "activated" first before mixing with flour. activation requires mixing the yeast into lukewarm water and then wait 5-10 minutes where you'll begin to see the water become cloudy and bubbly. this is when you know your yeast is ready to begin work.

instant yeast could be mixed into the flour right away but not dry yeast. be careful here!

okay, here's my basic recipe. works every time. every bread i've baked is just variations of this.
  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1 teaspoon dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • approximately 2 cups of lukewarm water (read on)
to begin, heat some water (preferably filtered water as we don't want chlorine here) until boiling point. then mix into equal quantities of room temperature water. total volume of about a cup.

this will be about just nice for yeast to grow. about our body temperature. to test, put in your finger. it should feel a bit warm but not uncomfortably hot until you need to pull out your finger. easy test huh?

then pour in 1 teaspoon of honey. the purpose of honey is for the yeast to feed on. you could substitute with sugar or malt extract. understand the rationale here. once you do, then you understand it wouldn't matter at all even if i were to put in one tablespoon of honey.

once your lukewarm water + honey mixture is ready, put in your teaspoon of yeast. stir it. 5-10 minutes later, the mixture will be cloudy and bubbly. excellent!

now if you are using active yeast, you could skip all the above and just go to the next step. i prefer to use dry yeast as i could test whether my yeast is alive. with instant yeast, you only know it's dead when it hasn't risen in hours!

now it's time to mix into your flour mixture. put the 4 cups of flour into in a large bowl and make a little well in the center. pour in the yeast mixture. then stir...

okay, here's where i get a little unscientific here. i don't care how much water any bread recipe calls for as i don't care whether the resultant bread is more french or italian, or has a higher water extraction blah blah blah... my other hobbies are wood working and electronic stuffs, so permit me to be a little unscientific here. baking bread is very relaxing for me and i surely don't want all that details to curtail my enjoyment.

to me, bread is bread! so i usually just add more lukewarm water until the resultant dough is slightly sticky on your hands. if it's too sticky, add more flour! if it's too dry, add more water! see? so simple! but add 1 tablespoon at a time, so that you don't overdo it.

most likely you'll have to use your hand here to mix everything up. don't worry if it looks like a mess. once you mix everything up, we'll stop for a break here and wait about 20 minutes. this process is called "autolyse" - a rest period giving everything to settle down together and let the yeast grow a little. you could skip the autolyse process and add salt into the flour first but autolyse helps you develop better bread and reduces kneading time. here's one important point to remember. never never mix salt with yeast. the idea of salt is to slow down the yeast fermentation process. if you mix salt into yeast directly, it'll kill it. remember this!

so after the autolyse period, you knead the dough and knead in the salt, little pinches each time.

here's a pretty good video on kneading.

YouTube - Kneading Bread Dough

after kneading, put into a large bowl and cover with cling film or a moist towel. then wait... magically after about 2 hours, the dough would have doubled in volume! however, if it hasn't risen much, do not despair as yeast activity is greatly affected by ambient temperature. i usually place in a cool place and let it rise slowly. with rich doughs, sometimes i wait up till 8 hours. it doesn't matter as the longer the yeast works on the bread, the better the overall flavour.

then you need to do "proofing". this video explains so well!

YouTube - Second Rise (Proofing)

the idea of "punching down" shown at the beginning of the video is to distribute the trapped air bubbles inside the dough so that the resultant bread won't have just large holes at the top but little holes everywhere inside. the dough is then stretched so that the yeast can be exposed to more starch and let it feed on again, and thus release more air into the dough.

then finally bake into an oven at about 200 C for 20-25 minutes.


why bake your own bread?

as i write this, i have been baking bread for the past few months. nothing can be a simpler purer pleasure that a loaf of good freshly baked bread!

in this age of instant gratification and supermarket convenience, bread baking not only provides a lesson in humility, it teaches to connect another level with our food. the connection that for ages, for centuries, our ancestors have been baking bread using more or less the same time tested techniques.

also, can you imagine teaching your kid to look for information in the library? flipping through thick thick pages of encyclopedias in this age of google and wikipedia? get them to bake bread together and learn learn learn!

well, enough about this first blog post. i'm so inspired by bread baking i have to start a blog, to document what i'm doing and also, sharing what i'm doing. right or wrong, you tell me! 

as time progresses, i'll probably veer to other topics. but it's bread for now. 

let's begin!