Sunday, November 30, 2008

have you seen this watch

well, i collect vintage watches too. i find it utterly fascinating and am always awed by the complexity and level of craftsmanship shown in vintage watches. have some swiss variety but this one completely surprised me. it's a made in china watch!

yeah, while we are used to low quality china goods, this watch... is finely made it rivals its swiss peers. it's a handwound unit so it could be 30+ years old. make is "dongbao". never heard of it.

"17 JUAN" means 17 jewels. "ZHONGGUOZHIZAO" - made in china. the chinese characters at the bottom say "china" and "shanghai".

back of the watch. literally translated, "stainless steel shanghai supermarket". 

despite its age, it's condition is still beautiful. the design is best described as classic. doesn't look dated at all!

this is one of my favourite watch!

Monday, November 24, 2008

multi-grain wholemeal again but using biga

i think it's time i try out new stuffs. again, i'm baking the multi grain bread. seems that we can't get tired of this stuff.

  • 1 cup rye flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast

baking day
  • 1 cup wholemeal + 2 cup white flour
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast 
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup simmered-for-5-minutes amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, sunflower seed, flaxseed, pumpkin seed
  • about 1/3 cup water. add more/less until dough feels "sticky".

for added pizzaz, sprinkle the top of the dough with some sunflower or pumpkin seeds.

 actually when making this bread, i forgot to account for the 1 cup of rye flour in the "ferment". so i had 4 cups of flour on baking day.

so had 5 cups of flour in total! not a problem, just add more water till it feels right.

told you bread baking is easy. it's very forgiving.

as you could see, good to eat on its own!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

went crazy with wholemeal and biga!

using the "better basic bread recipe", i went nuts and got on a bread-baking spree.

since this method is so much more fun, i decided to redo all our favourite bread recipes using this method and see how it goes.

all i can say is it works well with all our bread recipes! told you bread baking is easy!

first off, tried the rosemary raisin. used 1/2 wholemeal and 1/2 white. excellent! still our favourite bread.

then tried a plain wholemeal bread. my wife's company organized a potluck and they asked for my bread. hmm... either i'm doing something right or they are just to size me up. see whether i'm all hot air!

2 cups wholemeal flour

2 cups white flour

then tried the multi-grain again. again! but this time, went a bit nuts. went 100% wholemeal!

if you ever bake bread before, you know it's always a better idea to bake with some portion of white bread flour as it develops gluten better.

100% wholemeal is more difficult and the dough needs lots of encouragement.

i dared to try this as we have yeast on steroids! yes, using the pre-ferment method, the biga method.

pleased to tell you that this bread turned out very well. denser and chewier than those made with some proportion of white flour but it sure tastes divine!

all in all, this is the method i'm going to use for all future bread baking. highly recommended!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

a better basic bread recipe

i wrote a basic bread recipe some time ago. and have been using that same recipe with good success for so long.

however, after trying the pre-ferment method, i'm sold! this is better, works faster and tastes better. only snag is the work is now spread out over 2 days. if you don't mind this (hey, good bread comes to those who are patient), then try this. i assure you you won't be disappointed.

[btw, it's called the pre-ferment method as a small quantity of dough is left to "ferment" overnight, then mixed with the rest of the ingredients. this method was in use when commercial yeast first came about as commercial yeast was expensive back then and this method utilizes less yeast. also, said to have some "sourdough" qualities. what i know is, it works fast! like yeast on steroids! and taste better. so i'm sold!

sponge, biga, poolish are all different variations of the same technique. the method shown below is about 100% hydration (meaning equal  weight of flour and water), so it's more like a biga.]

the day before
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 3/4 cup of water
  • 1/4 tsp of instant yeast (after using instant yeast, i find dry yeast a hassle)
mix above ingredients and let it sit in a bowl, overnight. of course, covered with a plastic cling film. it could sist for 8-16 hours, it's all fine. overnight is best.

the next morning,  it should look wet, with holes and smell mildly acidic. what happened is that the dough has grown until its max, then collapsed down. if the dough looks like the same as yesterday, you can be assure the yeast is dead!

notice that no salt is used above. so we encourage the yeast to grow and grow until it collapses. hence you get a mild acidic smell.

baking day
  • 3 cups of flour
  • about 1 and 1/4 cup water (mixed with 1 tsp of honey). add more if dough feels dry
  • 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • optional: 1 cup of "extras"
on baking day, mix all the ingredients above together with the overnight dough.  note that this differs from the basic bread recipe in the sense that we use more salt than before.

the amount of water needs to be estimated. the best feel is this :  the resultant dough feels sticky but doesn't stick much to your hands. some add more flour if too wet, add more water if too dry. if not sure, let it be a bit wet.

the optional 1 cup of extras could be anything of your fancy. it could be
  • 1 cup raisin, 1 tsp rosemary for our favourite rosemary raisin
  • 1 cup of grains like amaranth, quiona, buckwheat, millet, flaxseed, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed for another favourite of ours, the multigrain bread.
hey hey! anything to your fancy! you could slice open the dough before baking and put in some slices of ham/cheese...

anything goes!

even the flour mixture, you could vary. it's a good idea to use a "stronger" flour for the pre-ferment. i usually use rye or wholemeal. the other 3 cups of flour could be anything of your fancy!

so after you have mixed up everything, hand knead vigorously for about 30 minutes. machine knead is too much trouble for me. i hate the washing!

then put aside and let it grow.

within an hour, you should see some substantial growth!

once doubled in size (just slightly more than an hour needed)... gently "press down" the excess air and stretch the dough somewhat, so that the yeast will work for you again. be gentle here.

shape it to whatever shape you want to, then let it sit for another 45 minutes, then bake it!

i usually bake at 180c for about 23-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

easy peasey!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

multi-grain bread, again? more than that...

remember the multi grain, multi seeds bread? the one where i used the organic ancient grain mix from "radiant whole food"?
it is a favourite here so i baked this again. but it's no fun doing the same thing same way again.

hey, even great bands like led zeppelin don't play the same song the same way twice. i guess this is how we learn, by doing the same thing in different ways, then observing and learning from there.
i varied 2 things differently here. 
first of all, after all that terrible problem with my moisture-contaminated yeast (just chucked it away), i'm using a new packet now. this time it's instant yeast, not dry yeast.  instant yeast is easier to use as you could mix into the flour directly. no need to proof it with warm water to get things going.

[to store instant yeast, pour out into a small container than pack, reseal and air tight the rest into the fridge. next time when you bake, take out from the small container.]
the second thing i tried this time, is the pre-ferment method.
usually we leaven with instant yeast and that's about it but the pre-ferment method consists of 2 parts, the night before and baking day.
the night before, mix a small quantity of yeast into some flour and water. let it sit overnight.
the next morning, you'll find the previous night's dough has risen and collapsed. now mix in the rest of the ingredients and flour to  previous night's mixture. and so on... here has as nice step-by-step tutorial. it so happens that my favourite flour mixture is quite similar to pumpernickel [i love this word!].
i used the method above, but instead of bran flakes, i used almost a cup of grain mixture (consisting of buckwheat, quinoa,  millet, amaranth, flax seed, sunflower seed and pumpkin seed)
i used 2 tablespoons of honey instead of malt extract.
i didn't use any cocoa powder.
for the baking day mixture, i used 1/2 teaspoon of instant yeast rather than 1 teaspoon.
well, the dough works much better! much more active!

if before i had to wait for 2 hours for the dough to double, this time it was only an hour and half! second proofing was only 40 minutes but it was an hour with dry yeast before.
and for the first time ever, the dough grew and grew until it almost touched the cover of my plastic container. something that has never happened before.

nah, it's not some mutant yeast here, but more of "yeast on steroids". left to sit overnight, the yeast has grown and multiplied till there's enough of them. then even though you don't add much yeast the following day, as the yeast is already healthy and active, it works a treat.

taste wise, there's some hint of sourdough. don't know about you but i like it.

and i'll be trying more of this method from now on!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

hand knead or machine?

i was browsing through some bread books lately when i recalled reading this experiment from a team of bakers.

the bakers were divided into 2 teams. both teams baked bread using the same ingredients with the only difference being one team kneaded the dough by hand, while the other via a mixer (man vs machine practically).

the resultant dough was then compared, then the bread.

the result was interesting.

the machined processed dough had more gluten, stretched further and rose higher compared to the hand kneaded dough.

doh! this is a disappointment for me as i just love to knead! in fact to me, the most fun part of bread making is the kneading process.

a friend confirmed this as well. so this explains why the breads i bake still aren't as soft/supple as store bought breads. grrr...

so i got to try this. when making the 10-grain bread, i used our food processor's kneading function. as the machine started to spin the dough, i realized something. if your dough is rich, heavy and wet, then there is no sense of kneading at all. the dough just "couldn't come together" in the food processor.

the resultant bread? still heavy. so i guess this depends on the type of bread you make. if you are making a light sandwich bread, then it makes sense to go for machine. the result will be soft and supple. 

if you are going for heavy breads, enriched with fruit/nuts/grain or what-else-you-can-think-of-putting-in, then i'd rather go for the manual method.
of better still, develop the dough first, then after the dough the first rise only you put in the ingredients. i'll say this is the proper way to go.

at the end of the day, i still went for manual, as the cleaning of the food processor is a major turn-off! 

also the only time i tried this with a food processor, i have no idea the motor is so weak. it worked just for a few minutes then gave up. sigh... 

but... i'll try the machine again some day... or when i get sick of kneading...

i bet this is strong enough for any type of dough!

Monday, November 3, 2008

more grains! more seeds!

bread with grains and seeds is fast becoming a favourite here. it's nutritious, packed with fiber and because we use so much grains/seeds, it screams "premium". you know for sure it can't be store bought as it's just too expensive to do it commercially.

baking this bread was very eventful too. more on that later.

first of all, i bought this "organic ancient grain mix" by radiant whole food from hock choon. the description on the package says

"ancient grain mix is nutritious and has not undergone modern technology of hybrid nor genetically engineered. grown mainly in the andes in south america, africa and central asia, ancient grains can be referred as "super grains" or "mother of all grains"."

interesting eh? i can't vouch much for the above as i have not been around for THAT long ok? but this package is said to contain organic buckwheat, organic millet, organic quiona and organic amaranth.

spot the grains!

can you identify which is buckwheat, millet, quiona and amaranth?

neither could i!

well, i know buckwheat is the largest fella in the group. millet is the tiny yellow colour grain. not sure about quiona and amaranth though.

let's face it, these grains are generally nutty flavour... like wheat and rye so they don't stand out in your bread. so for added flavour, fun and texture, i mixed in sunflower and pumpkin seeds (bought from bake with yen).

  • 4 cups of bread flour (i used 2 white + 1 wholemeal + 1 rye. going all out for grains.)
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 or 1.5 cup of grain mix (here we have buckwheat, millet, quiona, amaranth, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
  • adequate amount of water

as before, boil/simmer the grain mix for about 5 minutes to soften them up first. soaking overnight doesn't soften them enough.

i'll advise to stir in the grain mix into the flour first. i didn't make an attempt to drain them dry and just let the flour soak up the excess water. after i mixed in the yeast mixture (i used dry yeast so if you use instant, your procedure should be different from mine), then i mixed them up well and only added water as required.

then knead as usual until you get that ubiquitous "dough feel" --- smooth like a baby's bottom but yet a little sticky.

then we wait!

however, this time my "waiting" period got pretty eventful. i waited for 4 hours but the dough hasn't risen much. it did a little but too little. as it was already 10.30pm and i was already feeling sleepy (i have no idea what i did the whole day), i thus put the dough into the fridge for a slow slow rise. after all, slow rise makes better bread.

i woke up at 2.30am (body clock has gone all haywire), took out the dough (hasn't risen much either) then waited for it to rise. while waiting, i read paulo coelho's the alchemist, a book recommended by a friend. so who says men can't multi-task?

5am and still the dough looks the same to me! alright, time for "dough express"! heated up the oven to 60c and put in the dough. 6.30am, still the dough looks the same.

it is then i realized something is SERIOUSLY wrong. SERIOUS.

i recalled the last few bread baking sessions... they worked but the dough was having trouble rising and i had to resort to "dough express" couple of times. the only possibility is the yeast is bad...

well, i bought a packet of instant yeast a week ago so seems like this is the time to salvage my dough!

mixed a teaspoon of instant yeast into 3 tablespoons of flour + water. then spread out flat the "almost dead" dough and spread the new yeast mixture on the dough as evenly as possible. then roll out everything like a swiss roll. knead for a few minutes.

put back oven and set to 60c again.

2 hours later... signs of life! the dough has risen somewhat.

so proof the dough, and let it rise for another 2 hours. then bake!

so what's the conclusion here?

reading is not recommended while baking bread?

i think you need to take care of your yeast. for this new packet, i took out aboout a quarter and stored in a small jam jar. the rest, i packed it nicely, sealed it into a plastic bag, then kept it in the freezer.

i doubled above recipe. so about 2 cups of flour per boule.
(i onced baked without dividing into smaller boules. the bread looked impressive but the center was gummy. so go for smaller boules.)

we ate one. gave 3 away to friends and relatives.

no wonder everyone loves us!