To Live, Love and Learn: A Cookworm's Tale
As I mentioned before, getting breads off the racks of your local bakery or mall food store is definitely easy. But baking them the way you want at home is healthier, cheaper and you have a greater variety of breads to bake. Baking at home might be time consuming to begin with, but once you get used to the process, you can fit in the steps according to your schedule.
In my house, for example, we divide the steps over a span of 6-8 hours. My mother and I generally fit in housework, shopping, a short visit to the archives (in my case), reading, watching TV and napping during this period, and trust me, that just makes it more fun and hassle-free!
Baking with precision is very important. What you need, to begin with, are measuring cups and spoons. These are available at any mall or store (I got mine from Modern Bazaar, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi), along with a variety of yeasts, flour, etc. For beginners, using dried yeast is probably easier.
450g (3 cups) plain bread flour
1 tbs (12g/2 sachets) dried yeast
2 tsp caster sugar
1/2 tsp salt
250ml (1 cup) warm milk
or 2 eggs at room temperature
2 tbs melted butter
Combine flour, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Stir in salt. Make a well in the centre. Add milk/eggs and butter.
Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until well combined, then use your hands to bring the dough together in the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Brush a large bowl with olive oil/white oil to grease. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with a damp tea towel/cloth. Set aside in a warm place to prove (Proving is the step where you let the ingredients react together and allow the bread to rise for the first time) for 45 minutes-1 hour or until the dough has almost doubled in size. (Here comes your first break, go enjoy!)
Punch down the centre of the dough with your fist. Turn onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 2 minutes or until the dough is elastic and has returned to its original size. You can either set it back to prove for another hour or so, or you can shape the dough.
If you are doing the latter, then you can shape the dough in any way you want and place it on a baking mold or tray, cover it with a damp cloth and let it rise fr another 30-45 minutes. Let your oven preheat at 200°C. (A hot oven is a must for baking bread. Most bakers let their ovens preheat for more than an hour, but that’s really not a viable option for us home cooks, eh?)
After this final rising, you can lightly brush the surface of the bread with an egg, or milk, or butter, and add toppings. Your average garlic bread at food stores in India has a garlic and cheese topping. Sesame seeds, poppy seeds, etc also make good toppings.
Put the dough in the oven. A loaf of bread takes around 25-30 minutes to bake, while dough shaped in smaller sizes take up t 20-25 minutes. Baked bread should turn golden brown, the crust must crackle and must sound hollow when tapped on the base.