A Must Try Bread Recipe For Every Newbie Baker

By now you would’ve known that I got myself a bread machine if all those bread recipes haven’t clued you in yet.

Pullman Loaf - a soft, milky white bread

Pullman Loaf - a soft, milky white bread

Yes. It was either this or the magic thermal cooker (which I figured would help me make soups without watching the fire on the stove). In the end I chose the bread machine because I love bread!

And the best part, I didn’t have to buy the bread machine either.

I’d accumulated that many points on my credit card that I could redeem a Lebensstil Bread Machine from CIMB. I still don’t know how much the bread machine actually costs but I really don’t care. It’s a machine that helps me make bread so that’s that, right?

As I’m typing this, the smell of baking bread is wafting around. I don’t know about most people but I love the smell of baking bread. It’s so comforting and so homey. It makes me feel like some domestic goddess (not Nigella, mind you, she’s pretty much the ultimate domestic goddess) somehow. Even though I did not roll up my sleeves and knead away at the bread.

Purists will sniff at having a bread machine but I’ve made bread prior to getting a bread machine and I tell you, it was tough. Kneading bread is not exactly easy. It takes strong arms and lots of determination to make a good loaf of edible bread.

While I don’t mind eating ‘gwai lo’ bread, you know, the type that is chewy and full of mind-expanding goodness (oats, rye, barley etc), after sometime I want some soft textured bread. The kind that is similar to Gardenia and perhaps now Massimmo.

And while I do live near to a local bakery called Amei which bakes bread without preservatives, I somehow think I should be making bread. Call it an intense fascination with bread or the desire to cross one more thing off my list.

So, let’s see – how long have I had the machine? Possibly 5 months.

In that span of time, I’ve tried like 5 different types of bread recipes. You name it, I’ve tried it. Thanks to reading Flavours magazine and my bread bible, trawling King Arthur Flour’s website and a bunch of helpful blogs out there, I’ve experienced bread-making at its maniacal.

I tried the water roux method (tang zhong method which is clearly a favourite for most people who love Asian style soft breads and buns) and also the much-talked about Alex Goh’s sponge method. The sponge method is similar to tang zhong; the only difference is you don’t need to cook the flour and water mix, you just pour boiling water over the bread flour.

Both methods are good. They create breads which are soft like pillows. I even made sausage rolls. The only drawback was, the bread tasted good the day it got out of the oven. The day after, the rolls were a tad hard.

With a bread machine, it wasn’t that difficult to use either tang zhong or sponge method. I just put all the ingredients into the machine (all liquid ingredients plus tang zhong or sponge followed by the dry ingredients) and set it to the DOUGH programme. It kneads the dough and even proofs it. It does take a while though so this is not something you want to do on a day when you’re rushing around.

I finally tested a bread recipe which I really liked – the bread smells heavenly when it’s baking, it tastes soft and buttery (even without pats of butter) and fragrant and the best part, it retains its lovely softness the day after! Even Nic gave this a thumbs-up – we polished off the whole loaf in two sittings. That’s how amazing this recipe is.

And to think I almost passed it over!

I looked at the ingredients and didn’t see what made it so exceptional. And to think it is made entirely in the bread machine. All I did was eat the bread.

Pullman Loaf - a soft, milky white bread

A closer look at the sliced Pullman loaf

Here’s the recipe for the Pullman Loaf. It’s called Pullman because it’s supposed to be baked in the oven in a pullman tin (a bread tin with a sliding cover so that the bread is square shaped – like the kind of roti you get from your roti shop). I didn’t have one so I just decided to do it all in the bread machine.

Pullman Loaf

Put the ingredients in this order in your bread machine:

190 ml chilled UHT milk
330 gm bread flour
30 gm caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt (do not put the salt near the yeast; salt inhibits the yeast)

Set your machine to BASIC and let it knead.

About five minutes into the kneading, open up your machine and add 25 gm of cut up butter.

Close the lid and let the machine do its work. After 3 hours, your bread is ready!

It will have a lovely brown crust (choose MEDIUM crust setting on your machine).

You won’t be able to resist slicing into this bread the moment it comes out of the bread pan. But resist you must. At least let the bread cool for 30 minutes. It will be eaten up with relish!

This is definitely the kind of no-fail bread recipe any newbie bread enthusiast can try.

Of course you can knead this bread by hand. I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t tell you how it’s made but trust me, if you swoon over bread like me, go get a bread machine.

Calculate your credit card points and redeem one!

Or else, go buy one for yourself. ;-)

Wholemeal Goodness in a Loaf

As you know, I’ve been in a bread-baking mode ever since I got  my bread machine.

Wholemeal bread made with bread machine

Wholemeal bread made with bread machine

I’ve had it for a few months now and I’ve made bread for my aunts and mom who are often surprised that homemade bread tastes rather good and yes, it is possible to make bread at home.

See? That’s one myth de-bunked and thrown out of the window.

After years and years of eating commercial breads, we think making bread is like climbing the Great Wall of China. Possible only for the mad ones. Our breads will never taste like store-bought breads.

True.

Our breads, the homemade kind, will taste even BETTER than store-bought bread. And have less preservatives.

And it tastes gobs better because at least we made it. Artisan bread – though in this case – bread machine bread can also lay its claim to fame as semi-artisan bread.

Actually truthfully, I was pretty unconvinced too about homemade bread. I had the same thoughts as my aunts and mom before I embarked on this bread-making craze. (By the way, if you’re not a fan of loaves and such, how about a cinnamon bread roll recipe? Pretty darn good.)

I always thought it would be hard to replicate commercial bread. I had tried the European types of breads and while I enjoyed a good chew, I am frankly a Malaysian at heart.

I’ve been brought up on soft bread – the softer, the better. Like pillows, you know.

Although European breads are what I go for sometimes, nothing can beat a real pillow-soft bun or bread. Top that with dabs of good butter and my breakfast is all set and done!

So it was very much a surprise that I managed to make good loaves of bread using my bread machine.

Yummy wholemeal bread sliced

Yummy wholemeal bread, sliced

The thing about commercial bread is its preservatives (yes, mentioning it for a second time!).

I somehow feel that if I could make my own breads, I can at least control a little less preservatives going into my body. I am not a super health freak but I am trying my best not to ingest too much preservatives.

With homemade bread, you can only keep them out on the kitchen counter for 2 days maximum. Otherwise, they will go moldy. I have bought and left commercial bread out for more than 5 days and still they never went moldy!

Actually this recipe preceded the cinnamon roll recipe by a long way. I started experimenting with wholemeal bread before doing all those fancier bread.

So this wholemeal bread is a sure winner – I have not made this the traditional way with lots of kneading and such. I do know that if you have a bread machine, it is easy and though not exactly fast (3 hours is what it needs), you can make start making it early in the morning (say 5am if you have a pre-set timer on the bread machine) and by 8am, you have bread for breakfast! How cool is that!

OK, onwards with the recipe which I’ve tried for a few times now. Like all homemade bread, it tastes great the moment it pops out of the bread machine. Once it cools enough to slice, you can have it with butter.

Then you need to put it into an airtight plastic container (Daiso sells bread containers for RM5 which fits the bread machine loaf just nice) and you can leave it at room temperature for a day at best. You should place the bread into the fridge the next day if you don’t want mold.

The next day, just lightly toast your bread and you will have a nice, crisp toast for breakfast. Or use the leftover bread to make bread pudding. It’s all up to you how you choose to eat or upcycle your bread.

Wholemeal Bread Recipe

Note: This is a soft textured wholemeal bread. There are 2 parts to this bread. Mix Part 1, cover and let it proof in a warm corner for 90 minutes. Then you can put the ingredients for Part 2 into your bread machine and add in Part 1 and let the machine knead and bake the bread (3 hours duration).

Part 1: Mix these ingredients to form a dough. Cover and proof for 90 minutes.

  • 120 gm wholemeal flour
  • 85 gm bread flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 130 ml water

Into your bread machine, place ingredients for Part 2 in this particular order.

  • 50 ml water
  • 10 gm milk powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 15 gm caster sugar
  • 85 gm bread flour

Add the proofed dough from Part 1. Set your machine for “Basic” and let it knead and mix. About 5 minutes later, open up your machine and add 15 gm of softened butter.

Then let your machine do the rest.

In 3 hours’ time, you will have perfectly baked soft wholemeal bread!

Enjoy this recipe and let me know how it turns out!

(Just in case you want those European chewy bread, here’s a no-knead bread recipe from a friend. If you want to roll up your sleeves and knead some bread, here’s a rosemary raisin bread recipe. And for more bread recipes, you can check out this friend’s blog. He bakes bread. And if you like chef Michael Smith, you might want to check out one of his recipes which I managed to scribble down one night after watching his TV programme.)

Next up, I shall share with you a soft as silk, milky and buttery loaf called a Pullman Loaf.

Can’t You Spell For God’s Sakes?

These days, I get mighty annoyed when I get application emails from fresh graduates of  local universities. They could be applying to intern at our company or they could be applying for a job, part-time or full-time.

As I sift through their applications, a number of things strike me – and in most cases, annoy me a lot.

Maybe because I write.

Maybe because I can’t stand people who don’t pay attention to details.

Maybe because I dislike carelessness.

Of course I know that most applicants these days will copy and paste their friends’ resumes, changing only what’s necessary. No one types their own original resume any more. It’s so 1990s, you know. (Ya, but lest I sound like an old fudge past its expiry date, in the 1990s at least we made*some* effort. These days, effort is so damn rare!).

Today someone sent us their email with an attachment called “Proposole”. Is that a new kind of shoe in town? Not a Jimmy Choo I hope?

These days, half the people who apply can’t even string a sentence of 10 words without getting at least 2 or 3 words misspelt.

Someone even mentioned “dateline” when it should be “deadline”.

I cringe. I cringe because this is the result of an education system going to the boondocks and never returning in a million years.

I cringe because if this is the state of the future of our country, I shall be glad to have passed on when it is 2085. (“Mou ngan thaaei” – in Cantonese it means “no eye see”.)

I cringe because these kids do not know that they are not in competition with each other; no way. They are in competition with the other global kids.

In no time, these kids will be overtaken by cheaper, better and more language-savvy kids from other Asian countries. (Have you seen how quickly the foreign workers catch on to our languages when they work here for a year or so? They lack opportunities – they don’t lack brains. When their countries start moving upwards, these kids will be up to their necks in night soil, I tell you.)

At my age (I am 38), a lot of my friends are senior managers and a lot of them too run their own businesses. When we meet up, the biggest tirade we have is this: “Whatever happened to the generation after ours because they don’t turn up when they’re supposed to, they can’t be bothered to be accountable and blinkingly lie through their teeth?”

When my friend Jin came up for a short visit two months ago, we had this conversation during our nasi briyani dinner. She was lamenting that she couldn’t find good candidates for her company. One girl who agreed to come to work on a specific date did not turn up at all. Jin then called her but to no avail. Finally the girl sent an SMS that she was ill and could not come to work. The day after, the girl still hadn’t turned up. This time, she SMSed again, saying her grandmother passed away. And a few more excuses after that.

In my case, it is frustrating both with interns and with work candidates.

Just the other day, I gave a boy a benefit of the doubt. He hadn’t replied my email in 4 weeks after we’d interviewed him. He needed a part-time job and I needed someone to help out. He was going on and on how he was a quick learner and came from a poor family so he really hoped we’d give him this chance. He had seen how my assistant writer was doing and he thought he could easily do her work.

After 4 weeks of not getting a reply, he suddenly replies saying he was helping his family move home and he had no Internet access. That was why he couldn’t get back to me.

In today’s day and age, free Wifi is everywhere so I was quite curious that he could not even get 5 minutes to pop into a McDonalds to check and reply his email. If you needed a part-time job bad enough, wouldn’t you make it a priority to at least check your email?

Anyway, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I do give people chances but 2 chances are all they get. I told him to come on a specific date so we could try him out for a week. I may be kind but I am not stupid. Most people who proclaim they can write/design/etc usually are hot air vessels…. they can’t design and they can’t write for nuts.

I was even thinking of SMSing him to remind him – just in case he’d “forgotten”. Nic told me to wait and see. I heard that Jobstreet has this feature that sends a reminder to one’s phone to remind one of interviews and such. My husband being what he is thinks that it’s all hogwash. If a job is what you’re after, can’t you even remember the date so you can turn up for an interview? If it is not that important to you, no amount of reminders will get you to the place of interview.

So on the day that this boy was supposed to arrive, he didn’t. Not a call, not an SMS, not an email even. No accountability at all.

We have a category for folks like this. They’re blacklisted.

Another time, a girl with no writing credentials nor writing samples came to ask for a job. She had worked in a tax planning firm and found it boring. She believed she had writing chops.

We decided to try her out for a week. Frankly I told her that she had nothing to show us – not even a blog post. So we were taking a huge risk in taking her in for a week. After a week, we’d decide if she could continue. It was a Friday when we agreed that she would come in the following Monday for a week’s testing.

She said OK.

I thought, hey, not bad. Can rise to the challenge.

On Saturday, she SMSes – saying her dad said it was better for her to take a more “confirmed” job at another company since we were just going to test her out anyway. She said she would follow her father’s advice.

On Monday evening, she emails. She says she had gone to her “confirmed” job but after 8 hours, she decided it was boring and could she come to our company the next day to try out her writing job?

Hell no!

You see, the horror stories of hiring people are aplenty. Just ask those who are in businesses. I could write a tome on these experiences.

Interns are no better.

Interns these days think an internship is a given. It’s part and parcel of their college curriculum. Everyone gets internship so it’s not like it’s a big deal right? You can’t get fired during your internship, can you?

Well, think again. I don’t know about other companies but we take our interns seriously and we expect them to take themselves seriously. We do fire our interns because I’m not going to let deadweights annoy the rest of us who are seriously working. And we did fire interns.

Part of the problem with today’s interns and fresh graduates is that they’re too pampered – at the mere hint of toil, their parents will rush to their defence and say “Oh poor baby. You had a bad time huh? Well, we won’t stand for it, will we? You can quit. It’s OK, Papa and Mama will be able to take care of you while you find another job. You don’t need all that flack. How dare they make you do this.”

Ah. I could say a four-letter word to this.

That is why their kids will be audacious and stupid. They will demand things they don’t have rights to in the first place. They want the good stuff but they’re not prepared to lift a finger to do a day’s work (not that they have much to offer really in terms of social skills, not to mention real skills).

Colleges and universities these days don’t give a damn either. They’re there to do business. They don’t care if the placement is going to be beneficial to their college kids. All they care is, just take my college kids and make sure they intern for 3 months and we can officially stamp a nice fat credit so they can graduate and get out of our hair.

Since interns who come to our company really get a whole lot of alternative experiences and learn stuff no one’s ever taught them, sometimes I think, they should pay us for teaching them life skills!

That is why we’ve been very careful in accepting interns. We’ve gone through our fair share of horrible interns and interns who were too cocky for their own good.

But enough griping. Griping won’t solve anything except save me from going to the doctor’s. (Frustrated Employers Anonymous could be a great club to start!)

Everyone tells me that it’s Gen Y. They’re not like us Gen X folks.

What do you think? Do you have any Gen X-Gen Y horror stories to share?
Or am I just getting (GASP) old and cranky?

But I have spoken to a lot of people and the responses are often the same. Today’s youth are totally different. In fact, looking at my younger cousins and my own nephew and niece makes me wonder – will they annoy their future employers too?

I am still trying to figure this out and whether seriously there would be anyone worthy to hire in the next 2 years!