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Mumbai's bakers, homemakers tell you why baking bread is a cinch

When Aparna Surte, an architect for an engineering firm, returned to Mumbai from the US after having spent 10 long years there, one of the first things she missed about the country was its hearty bread. “I went around looking for the kind of bread that you get in the US here and always used to ask how come there aren’t any artisan bread here,” remembers Surte. “A couple of times I also got bread that looked homemade, but clearly wasn’t once you bit into it.”


Homemade multi-grain bread. Pics Courtesy / Aparna Surte

Surte finally decided to do something about her longing for good bread. She enrolled herself for a one-day baking workshop conducted by food consultant Saee Koranne Khandekar, where she was taught to use locally available ingredients to bake the Mediterranean olive and za’atar bread, focaccia, multigrain cinnamon pull-apart rolls and Grissini breadsticks with dried spice. On returning home, that very evening, she baked olive focaccia bread which turned out well. Since then Surte’s baked challah bread several times and can’t stopmarvelling about how easy it is to bake bread. “Oh my God. It tasted wonderful,” she exclaims, when asked about the bread. But the intriguing part about Surte’s experiments with bread is that she doesn’t even have a mixer at home. Or any fancy equipment, whatsoever.


Challah loaf with sesame seeds

Baking has the reputation of being an exact science that is tough to crack. But food consultants and baking enthusiasts insist that this is just a rumour. Baking a simple loaf of bread requires no fancy oven and not even a weighing machine (if the ingredients of your recipe are weighed in grams). “Baking bread is a more forgiving science when compared to baking cakes,” explains Khandekar. “If you add a couple of extra grams of ingredients, you can still get a good loaf of bread.” She also points out that recipe books tend to have exotic sounding ingredients. "People have approached me asking what multi-purpose flour is. On knowing that it is simple maida, they have wailed saying that they have wasted their whole life not baking,” says Khandekar, who once helped a student bake focaccia bread with an oven and a steel thali (instead of a baking tray).


Cinnamon rolls by Aparna Surte

Richa Lulla, who blogs at kneadwithlove.wordpress.com, explains that apart from kneading the dough, one can also make calzones, pizza bases and Irish breads on a tawa with an iron vessel covering the bread. With her simple oven, Lulla has so far baked focaccia, whole wheat bread, cinnamon rolls and chocolate pull-apart rolls to name a few, with cups and spoons (which cost between Rs 10 to Rs 50) as weighing gadgets. “All ingredients that you want such as maida, oil, ghee, butter, salt and spices are available at your local grocery store,” says Lulla.


Recipe by Saee Khandekar

Mumbai-based food blogger and baker, Anuja Sule, has been baking for eight to nine years but tried baking bread only two years ago due to a ‘phobia’. “I was not getting the technique right and so had this block,” she adds. Sule explains that the trick to baking a good loaf of bread lies in its soft dough. “You should knead, stretch and fold your dough,” explains Sule, who now makes cheese and garlic bread, focaccia bread, Danish bread, herbal masala bread and dinner rolls among others. “The dough must be soft,” she explains, adding that at one point during the baking process, the dough must be able to stretch from one end of the working area to the other.

Aditi Handa of The Baker’s Dozen points out that there is this great, sudden need to demystify baking bread as people percieve it to be tougher than it actually is. “All you need is an oven and a baking tray,” says Handa, adding that a few of her customers have tried baking bread in a convection microwave with good results.  The kitchen of The Baker’s Dozen has seen couples, fathers and daughters and friends elbow deep in flour, baking gourmet bread during several workshops. “The only tedious part is waiting for the bread to proof. And kneading physically takes energy without any equipment at home. But that’s about it,” says Handa. “There is something about baking a good loaf of bread. People find it therapeutic.” 

Cinnamon Rolls
Ingredients
Baking time: 
20 minutes
Baking temperature:  200 degrees celsius  
>> 200 g flour
>> 2 tsp yeast
>> 1 tbsp sugar
>> ½ cup lukewarm milk
>> 1.5 tbsp butter
>> 1 tbsp castor sugar
>> 1.5 tsp cinnamon, ground
>> 3 tbsp raisins
>> 2 tsp butter, for brushing
>> 1 tsp salt

Method
>> Place the yeast and sugar in a bowl and top with the lukewarm milk. Leave in a warm place to froth for 5-10 minutes
>> Make a soft dough using the frothed yeast and the flour, adding more milk if necessary. Work the dough on a clean surface such as a counter top
>> Rub the salt and butter together and work into the dough. Knead well. Rest covered with a plastic wrap or moist muslin for 15 minutes or until double
in size
>> Punch the dough and knead again
>> Roll out onto a floured surface until about ¼ inch thick
>> Mix the butter, castor sugar, and cinnamon powder
>> Spread the cinnamon butter on the rolled out dough. Sprinkle raisins
>> Roll the dough into a spiral log
>> Cut the log into two-inch pieces and place cut side up in a round nine-inch pan with some space in between for the rolls to rise. Leave to double in
size again
>> Bake for about 20 minutes at 200 Celsius
>> Remove and brush with the melted butter when hot
>> Cool before serving

Baking tips
>> Keep the dough of your bread soft
>> If you are using cups and spoons to measure your ingredients, be sure to know how many grams each can hold
>> You don’t need fancy equipment to bake. A convection microwave and a steel thali will do
>> A short course in baking can help you learn the technique of doing it right 

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