My bread making journey has not been an easy one. I think I have about 10 failed attempts so far. Or at least 3 kgs of flour gone to waste!
During my first attempt, I was very ignorant and equated making bread to baking a cake, with a dough taking the place of batter. I glanced through the recipe for a basic white bread without looking at the actual methods involved. Yes, you guessed it, I baked the dough without proofing *blush*! In the bin it went.
The next attempt, I thought everything would work out after letting the dough rise for an hour. It doubled in size like the recipe stated and I was very confident! It was like a PlayDoh right out of the oven but turned stone hard after it cooled! I made bread crumbs out of this batch instead.
I tried again and this time, I let it rose twice! A-ha…..it must work this time! Again, still like PlayDoh.Very dense and heavy. Hardly edible. And it turns stone hard when its cold. So, more breadcrumbs at the end of the day.
I checked and checked the recipe. No, I did not miss a step or ingredient. I cross-referenced various other white bread recipes but they are all very similar.
(Step number 3)
I decided it must be the flour I was using. Over the next few weeks, I tried using a different (high protein) flour, adding an egg (or not), used vegetable oil instead of butter (and vice versa), adjusting amount of yeast, prolonged kneading, proofing twice (or thrice!), baking at different temperatures…..you name it, I tried it! My buns always come out too dense, heavy and gets stiff and dry when cooled. I could never achieve the soft, puffy and light texture of the sweet buns in bakeries. They stay soft even overnight. What was their secret?
After some serious trouble-shooting on the internet and chatting with a friend who is an avid baker, I had a good idea what I was doing wrong. Of course, it had to be the wrong ratio of flour and water content in my dough. The basic white bread recipes I have tried all have this line – add flour until you have a workable dough and knead. Being a newbie, a workable dough to me was like….well, (ironically) PlayDoh. Not a hint of stickiness. I must have added too much flour. But how do you knead a sticky dough if it keeps sticking to your palm? However, I was pretty sure this was my problem – adding too much flour.
All puffed up after proofing an hour (Step number 4)
I started searching for no-knead recipes and found one by The Pioneer Woman. I love her! Recipes with pictures, you will never go wrong! Her recipe calls for 9 cups of flour, and I halved that. Knowing that if I failed again, it won’t be too much of a waste. (Original recipe here.)
- 2 cups milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used vegetable cooking oil)
- 4.5 cups self-raising flour (or add 1 teaspoon baking powder/soda to plain flour)
- 2 teaspoons dried active yeast
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Pour milk, sugar and vegetable oil into a large saucepan and heat it until it bubbles and remove from heat.
- Let cool for 45 minutes or until lukewarm (~45 degree Celcius) and add yeast and stir. Let it sit for a minute.
- Add 4 cups of flour into milk mixture, stir to incorporate well.
- Cover and let rise for an hour in a warm and humid place. I usually rise my dough in the oven (not switched on) which also has a baking tray filled with boiling hot water at the bottom rack. Very effective in winter.
- After an hour, it would have risen near to the rim of your saucepan. Add in remaining flour, salt and stir to combine.
- Shape into balls and arrange in greased baking tray. Cover and let rise for another 20 minutes.
- Bake at 200 degrees Celcius for 15-20 minutes. Brush bun tops with melted butter right after baking for a soft crust.
The dough was very, very wet and sticky; almost impossible to handle. I was glad it was a no-knead recipe. It was elastic though, so I knew it had proven well. Because it was so sticky, I lathered my hands with lots of oil and literally just splat them onto the baking tray without properly shaping them into balls!
But at last, softer and more edible (albeit ugly and wrinkly) buns. However, it tasted more like muffins than bread. The springy-chewy texture of bread wasn’t there (aaaarghhhh….!). Terry said it was too “wet”. The buns turned very dense and heavy after cooling so it wasn’t a real success yet. The taste was good nevertheless. I will reduce the amount of milk if I attempt to make this again.
This recipe gave me the “feel” of the right dough texture and I became more confident in handling softer and slightly sticky doughs in my next attempt. Stay tuned for Part 2!
Anyone’s got any bread-making stories to share? Recipes? Tips??