Saturday, March 24, 2012

Personal Notes About Breads

Sometimes, the breads I bake in class turn out to be exceptionally good. I go home and manage to replicate what I did and because it was all fresh in mind, I am able to do an equally good replica or an even better one. Then I move it to the back of my mind to be compartmentalized and generally forgotten. The next time I try to do the same thing, I fall flat and bake some hideous monstrosity that even the dog wouldn't touch.

I had been bothered by a few of these failures for the last few weeks since it had been a while since I did any baking. With the new "school term" starting this week (actually today), I had been practising and was shocked initially that I failed miserably at things I used to do very well. But that's what practises are about - finding mistakes and correcting them. And along the way, I learnt even more. Here're some sort notes that I had made...

1. Salt and yeast. Never together.

2. Wet goes with wet and dry goes with dry. But salt and yeast can do with a little water so they integrate better when kneading. Meaning make a salt solution or yeast solution and knead those into the flour when the recipe calls for it. Remember to deduct the amount of water used from the main hydration allowance for the recipe.

3. Unless the recipe specifically calls for it and tells you why (haven't seen one that does), add your fat/butter in the very last stage of kneading. Fat will coat the flour particles when it is kneaded into the dough, restricting the formation of gluten and hence making the dough flaky and generally unpleasant - the end product will taste like soft crusts instead of slightly chewy bread. You want the gluten to form during the kneading process and that is why you add the butter only when you are happy with the state of the dough - i.e. at "windowpane" stage.

4. Additional flavourings other than salt (i.e. chopped olives, chilli, etc) are also added at the end of the kneading phase for the same reasons above.

5. While "instant yeast" may be added directly to the flour before adding water (NO SALT!), "dry active yeast" will need to be "activated" by adding water and some sugar before adding the whole yeast solution to a dough. Take note not to over-activate the yeast - once it gets foamy on the surface of the yeast solution, the chemical reaction had started and you can add it in. If you wait too long, the yeast will over exert itself and loses its purpose.

5. A simple bread making process

- misen place
- create yeast and salt solution using water from the main recipe (1 part yeast/salt to 4 part water)
- pour water into the flour and create the dough
- add yeast solution and knead till everything comes together
- add salt solution and knead it into the dough
- knead until dough reaches desired consistency
- add in fats if the recipe calls for it and knead it into the dough gently
- add any other ingredients

There are other things to watch out for as well. For example, the difference between "resting", "fermenting" and "proofing". The science behind "fermenting" and how it is absolutely important in creating the fantastic smell and taste of the bread, etc. I will try to do a write up on these topics in my next post about breads.


  1. Patty,

    Talking about bread, I am so glad there's a 70's styled (time stood still) bread shop near our HDB heartland.

    The pointed-head bread (baguette) only costs $1.20.

    Great to go with mom's curry!

  2. Hi SMOL,

    Try making it yourself. It is very satisfying and probably healthier too! No offence to the neighborhood (or even commercial) bakers but many had resorted to chemical yeast to raise the dough and while it gets the job done (chemical yeast is not harmful), it just lacks soul.

    A home made loaf will really bring you to the days when the food you buy is made with love and pride!