Bake your own bread and eat it too

Jun 05, 2016, 08:51 IST | Gitanjali Chandrasekharan

Why be victim to potassium bromate when you can bake your own bread, and eat it too

It's when Riddhi Chaudhary lifts the dough that she has been kneading for 20 minutes and bangs it on the counter repeatedly that you understand the real lure of baking your own bread. It’s all about de-stressing. Applying pressure to the dough, digging your knuckles into it, flattening it on the counter, rolling it and then repeating the process, does look like an exercise recommended by your therapist.

Riddhi Chaudhary kneads the dough at her home in Mahalaxmi; (Below) she baked the semolina bread with a double-proofing method. PICS/ Satej Shinde
Riddhi Chaudhary kneads the dough at her home in Mahalaxmi; (Below) she baked the semolina bread with a double-proofing method. Pics/ Satej Shinde

There are other advantages, of course. Last month, a report by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) India exposed the presence of potassium bromate — a chemical that could possibly cause cancer — in 38 samples of branded bread sold in Delhi. That many of these also sell in Mumbai means that we are equally at risk. Baking your own bread then, means being in complete control of what’s entering your gut.

The semolina loaf at Chaudhary’s Mahalaxmi home, and the multi-grain and raagi loaves at the Goregaon West apartment of Rashmi Bakshi are proof that brown bread, dear hearts, is either white bread baked with caramelised sugar or with
colour additives. It’s not a healthier version. And, both will tell you that it doesn’t take much to prepare them.

Except, time.

Science of proofing
In between feeding us mushroom-spinach stuffed quiche and apple crumble, after we have finished half a loaf of multi-grain bread lined with carrot and garlic dips, Bakshi, a 52-year-old home chef starts mixing ragi flour with water and kneading it with a yeast culture that has been taken out of the deep freeze, brought to room temperature and mixed with sugar. It’s a process called proofing that is essential to bread-making.

After a 20-minute wait, the  ragi dough proofed by Rashmi Bakshi rose. Pics/Tehniyat Fatema
After a 20-minute wait, the  ragi dough proofed by Rashmi Bakshi rose. Pics/Tehniyat Fatema

Madhavi Chand, a post-doctoral researcher at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, explains that yeast is essentially a form of fungi that feeds on sugar. And while it does that, it produces carbon dioxide, which forms bubbles that makes the bread soft. To ensure that the bubbles don’t escape the bread, the flour you use needs to have elasticity (i.e. it should have gluten). “So, while flour from rye, barley and oats will also work along with wheat, millets, bajra, ragi, jowar won’t work,” says Chand, who will, at 11 am today, unravel the mysteries of bread-making at a Chai and Why talk conducted at Juhu’s Prithvi House (it’s a free talk, so if you have the time and haven’t woken up late you might want to attend it). Bakshi, who
has used raagi as her base, has added 350 gm of refined flour to the mix for the gluten content.

She leaves the dough to proof for 20 minutes in the mould. After which we see that it has risen and is now ready to be shoved into a preheated oven (170°C to 190°C for 10 minutes). Chaudhary, 27, insists on proofing the dough twice over.
If you are worried about the fungi in the yeast, don’t. Chand says the baking process — the dough is left for 20 minutes in the oven between 170°C and 200°C, kills it.

Sugar, no more
The health benefits of baking your own bread are obvious. Bakshi, who had been dogged by illnesses for the last few years, also chose to bake bread because it cut the possibility of added chemicals to her daily breakfast. The result? “You notice that your bread is fresher and lighter. Plus, there are fewer gastric issues,” she adds. The aroma of bread baking  also ups your appetite.

Rashmi Bakshi with a multi-grain loaf that will make 10 sandwiches
Rashmi Bakshi with a multi-grain loaf that will make 10 sandwiches

It’s the aroma, in fact, that also drew Chaudhary to baking. “It’s just breads, and may be cookies that I am interested in, not even cakes or other desserts,” she adds. The subject brings us to the focal point of our search for home baked breads. Can you make it without sugar?

Chand, the scientist in the mix, gives us hope. While market yeast needs sugar to feed on, you can make a healthy switch with either molasses or honey.

However, if neither suits you, you can opt for sour dough. This, she says, is the process of leaving the dough out to the elements in your kitchen. There’s lactobacilli (bacteria) and yeast present in the air. Given enough time, the bacteria will break down the starch present in the dough to sugar, which the yeast can then start working on. The dough is called the starter dough and can then be mixed in your regular dough for proofing. She is trying this experiment at home and may share results at the talk.

Easy does it
Between Bakshi’s single proofing process and Chaudhary’s double-proofing one, baking your own bread could take anywhere between one-and-a-half to three hours.

And, even though we are no domestic goddesses, it doesn’t look like a back-breaking exercise.

In fact, much of the time is spent waiting for the dough to rise and then bake. Which means you can still catch up on your current favourite web series. That one loaf can last you five days (if refrigerated) means your breakfast for the week is sorted. And cost-effectiveness?

A loaf in the market costs you Rs 35, while the semolina for, say Chaudhary’s loaf, costs R20 for a pack of 100 gm, Rs 133 for 100 gm of instant yeast (14 gm goes into one loaf). Other elements are water, sugar (two teaspoons) and salt (one teaspoon).  You do the math.

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