Bread Winner (Part 1)

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.)

Ingredients:

  • 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

Method:

  1. Pour milk, sugar and vegetable oil into a large saucepan and heat it until it bubbles and remove from heat.
  2. Let cool for 45 minutes or until lukewarm (~45 degree Celcius) and add yeast and stir. Let it sit for a minute.
  3. Add 4 cups of flour into milk mixture, stir to incorporate well.
  4. 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.
  5. After an hour, it would have risen near to the rim of your saucepan. Add in remaining flour, salt and stir to combine.
  6. Shape into balls and arrange in greased baking tray. Cover and let rise for another 20 minutes.
  7. 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!

Ugly "splats"!

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??

Half-successful buns

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27 comments on “Bread Winner (Part 1)

  1. Anonymous says:

    i had the same problem with trying to make pizza dough. No matter how hard I tried or changed the method or ingredients I could never get it right. I’ve pretty much given up at this point but I’ll probably give it another try sometime down the road.

  2. Beth Ann says:

    Keep trying!!! You will get it! I have not made bread for years but when I did I remember it took awhile to figure out the right combination of ingredients and handling. Your post got my mouth watering….I would love to make some cinnamon rolls now…….now where did I put that recipe?????:-)

    • Tien says:

      You are right Beth Ann! Making bread is not just following the recipe. The “feel” of the dough is the most tricky part I think. Oooooh, please make some and blog about it!

  3. D... says:

    Baking is an absolute science, in it’s own way. It’s chemistry, you are looking for a chemical reaction depending on the ingredients you add and the technique you employ. To me it’s also therapy. I wonder if you lathered your hand up with too much oil? Remember all that oil is getting integrated into your dough, so maybe put in less oil to the dough mixture and then knead, or flour your hands. Also how are you Kneading, how fast, how long, you know that makes a difference too. The kneading process creates that chewiness (elasticity), but you can overwork a dough. Do you by chance have a Kitchenaid? I can’t live without mine, if so use a dough hook, when it’s done it will wrap itself around the hook. Or if you have a food processor the same thing will happen. If it helps here’s a video about kneading.

    I’m not a bread maker myself, my Mom is, but it always comes out pretty good. Also this is going to sound unhealthy, try frying your bread before you bake it as a tester. Fried bread is tasty, sometimes I sprinkle some sugar on it after it comes out right away, it makes this sort of glaze. I think I may go make some bread now….

    • Tien says:

      Thanks for the video Danielle, its really useful! Yes, baking is therapeutic for me too. Yes, I have a dough hook on my mixer but I find it very messy. Especially when the dough gets stuck in those little openings. So I’d resorted to using my hands….its good excercise though tee hee!

      • D... says:

        There are little openings on your dough hook? Mine’s just a J shape, and it makes a ball on the hook when it’s done.

        But it’s good that you’re getting exercise. It can be an upper body workout 😀

        • Tien says:

          No, no…not on the hook sorry to confuse you. I meant that opening at the top where you fixate your metal hook onto the mixer? The dough gets twisted upward too fast before I could stop it and pieces of it gets stuck inside those little openings. My dough hook is a like a cork screw with a J at the tip and about 3 turns on the body. I don’t like it! Yes, biceps workout haha!

  4. Claire says:

    Wow Tien that looks absolutely yummy!

    But yeah baking bread is like a whole differnet universe…. that’s why I never bake bread 😛 too much work and I never get it right.

    Although there is a focaccia recipe I found online. I think it’s called the easiest focaccia or something like that. It was SUPER easy and it turns out right all the time! Maybe you could try it.

    • Tien says:

      Thanks Claire. But they are so wrinkly! I know what you mean, but now that I started, I can’t stop until I got it right. Kiasu much? Hehehe…. Please blog about the focaccia recipe!

  5. nadia says:

    Your buns, shown in the last picture, looks so good! Sorry, I’ve never attempted baking bread before, but I’ll definitely try – specially after learning from you 🙂

  6. kimberlycun says:

    i feel u…all my bread attempts were quite dense too..looking forward to your posts on bread! i’m too lazy to figure it out haha

  7. fariza says:

    haven’t got the chance to try.. probably because I’m not really a fan of bread…
    but those buns look yum to me ;D (yeay!) reminds me of those i used to buy from carrefour!

  8. Patti says:

    I’m glad you’re not giving up! Bread baking is very much about developing that “feel” for what the dough should be – then there’s stuff like oven temperature to deal with! The more you do it, the better you will get.

    • Tien says:

      Thanks Patti! You are absolutely right. The “feel” of the dough is really the trickiest part for me. And I am glad I kept trying….I am beginning to “get it” now! 🙂

  9. nrhatch says:

    They look good, Tien.

    I use an Oster Bread Maker to make bread. Our favorite is Crusty Cuban Bread ~ a very basic recipe: flour, water, yeast, salt, and sugar. It’s like a good chewy French or Italian bread.

  10. […] Bread Winner (Part 1) (tienunscripted.wordpress.com) […]

  11. Sendie-Lou says:

    Wow.. that’s looks delish! It remind me of ‘roti sobek’ in Jakarta that I love/miss so much! I’ll give it a try!

  12. […] up from Part 1, I have solved the problem of stone hard buns by increasing the water content in my dough. The […]

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