And We Shall Have Bread

I’m quite pleased with myself today. I managed to bake edible bread!
You see, I had always wanted to bake some bread – after all how hard can it be right?
Apparently, baking bread is hard.
Oh I don’t mean putting everything into a bread machine or bread maker and turning it on and going to bed and waking up to freshly baked bread. (Cheater’s way)
I mean, the real bread making. The kneading, the baking, the smell of fresh bread wafting all about the apartment.
That sort of thing. Going back to basics.
I know. I’m no Martha Stewart. I can make a mean crispy curry puff, I can bake the moistest banana cake, I can make fine Cantonese soups BUT I cannot make bread!
Like Su Ping says, How can? Or rather, where can?
My first 2 failed attempts at making bread was a few months ago. I was in Tesco Extra and saw this box of flour specifically for making bread. And it was only RM2.80. OK, even if I fail, it’s just RM2.80 down the drain.
I failed.
Despite my gungho attempts at kneading the bread dough.
You know why? Because the damn recipe was wrong! Usually breads need some fat, shortening or butter. Usually butter is about 20 to 30 gm. The recipe printed on the side of the box said: 200 gm of shortening. And me being the first time blur bread maker, I followed it to a tee. I kept kneading and kneading but it was too oily. The dough didn’t rise. Maybe the yeast was suffocated by too much fat.
When I finally threw it into the oven for a 30-minute bake, it came out looking brown and hard. It was just a lump! (Felt so horrible throwing food away. Guilt!)
So I pulled out all my recipe books, went through all the bread recipes.
Finally after much comparison (and also noted in Betty Yew’s book) I learnt lesson number 1, that fat or butter in bread usually was in small quantities. I wanted to write a complaint email to the flour manufacturer – how could there be a misprint of quantities – 20 gm and 200 gm makes a whole lot of difference!
But I don’t give up – persistence is my middle name.
Armed with new information, I went to Tesco Extra and bought the same box of bread flour. I put in only 20 gm of butter this time, kneaded the dough for almost 45 minutes and left it to rise. Problem was, it didn’t rise! And the bread turned out hard and unedible.
So now I’m thinking: is breadmaking that difficult? Or am I just doomed to eat Gardenia’s for the rest of my life? Or did something else go wrong?
After researching a bit, I thought, it could be that the yeast was dead. So I tested the yeast. You can learn from me and save yourself the heartache of not having your bread rise.

Lesson number 2: Test the damn yeast before you bake bread.

Put 1 tsp of yeast into a half a cup of warm water. Stir in 1 tsp of sugar. Wait a few minutes. If your yeast is alive/active, you should see the mixture frothing, bubbles and all. And yes, you will smell a yeasty smell. It looks like the ‘head’ of a good beer. If nothing happens, you’ve got dead yeast. Throw it away and run out for another packet of yeast. Don’t worry – yeast is cheap. You can repeat this experiment until you are satisfied the yeast is partying hard.
And then I got smart. I watched AFC’s Chef At Home (Michael Smith) one night and he made bread and he made it by hand. Without using special bread flour. He just used all purpose flour which is really regular wheat flour.
So I jotted that recipe and after I tested my yeast, set about making that bread this afternoon. (I love Michael Smith for such a simple and easy way to make bread.)

Chef At Home’s Bread/Bun Recipe

All I needed was 3 cups plain flour, 1 cup oats and 2 teaspoons salt. Make a well in the centre. Add 1 tablespoon of instant yeast. Pour in warm water (1 cup warm water) and 1/4 cup honey. Mix into a pliable dough. Add 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil. Knead the dough well for 20 minutes. This gave me a good arm workout. Kneading dough is hard work! You can add some powdered milk and some orange zest but I had run out of milk powder and didn’t fancy zesting any orange!
Next, oil a bowl and put the dough into it. Cover with a wet cloth. I put this whole bowl, cloth and all into my oven. I figured the humid and enclosed condition of the oven would help the yeast do its work. It did! My dough rose after 30 minutes. I was doing a mental jig when I saw that. I took it out and ‘punched’ it down again. Rolled it out and made 7 lumps of round dough balls. Back they went into the bowl/oven for another ‘rising’ session.
Next I made some butterscotch by heating up 5 tablespoons of sugar with half a cup of water. Stir in some butter when the sugar’s melted. Keep stirring until the sugar turns brown. Turn off the fire and keep stirring this golden rich butterscotch (tastes heavenly!).
What you do is pour this cooled liquidy goodness into your baking pan (get a round pan). Arrange the rolled dough lumps and leave again to rise for another 20 minutes. I realised much of bread baking is about ‘resting and rising’ time. While you’re doing that, preheat your oven. Bread needs hot ovens so I set my oven to 220 Centigrade.
Finally, the bread/buns go into the oven for 30 minutes. The smell of baking bread is unbelievable.
I scorched my butterscotch but the bread/buns were edible! They turned out soft and chewy and I am imagining it with dollops of butter. Yummy!
I got it right on the 3rd try. And that pleased me to no end I tell ya. Already I am imagining all sorts of possibilities with this bread recipe. I could add raisins, nuts, chocolate…..