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!


  1. Hi Bg: I will try out your biga method sometime this week...maybe on Friday when things aren't so busy. I read about this method before but I think you've given me the confidence to try it out. Also, I got this book - The Complete Book of Bread and Bread Machines (Christine Ingram and Jennie Shapter) from Borders at a steal(RM20.90). I want to know your thoughts on getting a bread machine. I saw the Kenwood one in the papers last week. What say you?

  2. hi maya

    you asking me about bread machine? you are asking the wrong person!

    this is someone who builds his own stereo, builds his own minibar, bookshelves... and of course bakes his own bread. (one day i shall rear my own meat too!)

    seriously, when i do something, i love to be REALLY involved. baking with a bread machine, is cheating to me.

    philosophy aside, the machine is.. just a machine. it can't tell when the dough has risen enough. it can't tell whether you have a rich dough thus need a longer rise time. all it does is go by time and my experience tells me baking by a fixed schedule is a bad idea.

    anyway, as i have never used a bread machine, you should take all this with a HUGE dose of salt. :) just don't mix it with yeast though.

  3. Hi BG: Haha, I was thinking of that myself too. That getting a machine would be kind of cheating yah? After all what did god give us 2 hands for if not for kneading bread? I am like you too. If I had a piece of land, I would be doing organic gardening too like I once did when I was a kid at home (where I had a bit of a garden). Now in Penang in an apartment, there's no space for much gardening except potted plants. I like your philosophy of getting really involved. There's so much satisfaction in making/building/creating stuff on one's own. ;-)

  4. yes, my next project, will be to plant my own vegetables. will be using those large trough like containers. problem is i haven't done any research on this yet, like which types of grow etc. i'll be looking for those that need only little sunlight as i'll be planting them in an area partially shaded from the sun.

    this is, after i'm free from my day job commitment, which i hope everything will be done before the upcoming chinese new year...

    happy diy!

  5. Just about to put this in my convection microwave. Realized I forgot to add honey���� let's hope it works. Rising beautifully