There are few smells that can rival that of fresh bread baking in the oven. I tried my first bread with trepidation many years ago. I was afraid not because I thought it to be a daunting task, but because I had no special ingredients – just regular maida (all purpose flour) and atta, Indian whole wheat flour. All those years ago it was difficult to find even reliable yeast granules. But bread baking has been easy and frequent since my sister became the yeast supplier. Thank you, Minnie.
But, potential bakers of the land, don’t despair. That problem is history too. I recently bought an industrial size half-kilo pack of yeast manufactured and packed right here in Delhi. So, you are all set. Don’t have fancy bread flour, gluten, or KitchenAid-type equipment – neither did the people who discovered bread making. Indeed, the French are trying to move back to pre-modern ways of bread making to recapture the taste of real bread. You will need a good oven though.
The French baguette that I ate at a small decrepit Parisian bed-and-breakfast place long time ago was my first taste of real bread. The place didn’t have showers included but the baguette was. (Did you know that one can rent a hotel room in Europe and not get an attached bathroom?) I marveled at the crusty bread with the holey soft white interior. Butter was all that was needed.
While I haven’t yet come around to baking the baguette (there is a recipe I have been eyeing for years), I do bake loaves of plain, no-fuss, whole wheat bread now and then. When I prepare non-Asian food, I will often, put some fresh rolls to bake in the oven. The thing with home-made bread is that it gets noticed, and everyone will rave about it. Even picky teens. Be assured that the ones who are quiet have been rendered speechless by your obvious proficiency. You are Annapurna personified.
Pizza is an easy bread to start with – it will help you get over your fear of bread-making, if you feel any. This is a very forgiving dough. Thin-crust pizzas can be made without any leavening even.
Once, you’ve made the pizza a couple of times, you’ll be hungry for more. More kinds of bread. You can try making this dough into dinner rolls. For a more traditional loaf shape you are going to need loaf tins. If you are done experimenting with loaves and other shapes, you could try your hand at making these beautiful and bestest bagels! Make them regular size or these oh-so-cute mini sized.
These last couple of weeks I have been reading A Year in Bread, bread making adventures of Kevin, Beth, and Susan. Beth recently wrote about her Potato Bread, and mentioned that it might adapt well to a whole-wheat situation. That is right up my alley for you surely know by now that I have to replace half the all purpose flour in most recipes with good wholesome atta. Even in chocolate chip cookies! Makes you feel that much better when your kid bites into it.
Susan advises, “It is better to bake one bread twenty times than to make twenty breads one time.” By now I know my basic bread dough well. And if, as Beth suggested, the addition of mashed potatoes makes for a softer bread, then that is the tweaking my whole wheat bread could well use.
So here is the standard recipe with just a few tweaks. This recipe uses no sugar and less yeast, but with my kitchen at 30 degrees centigrade, you cannot but rise quickly to the occasion. I did make a few changes to the basic method as were suggested by Beth.
And I had a fine and dandy bread. Much much softer; three hours of cooling was not enough to get great looking slices. We finished an entire loaf for dinner (4 servings). Only next morning, after overnight refrigeration, was I able to slice it properly. I couldn’t tell any difference in taste, but it made for a much softer crumb.
Whole grain breads are good, but home-made whole wheat bread is an entirely different animal. Tastes best smothered with good butter (such as Amul’s) fresh out of the oven, or toasted next day and smothered with aforementioned butter.
Whole Wheat Potato Bread
Based on Beth’s Potato Bread
3 C atta (or whole wheat flour)
3+ C water
2 t yeast
2 medium potatoes (about 1 ½ C), boiled, peeled, and mashed
3 C maida (all purpose flour)
2 T oil
1 T salt
1 ½ t Italian herbs (optional)
In a large mixing bowl combine atta, yeast and as much water as needed to make a wet sponge (consistency of a thick batter). Set aside for 10 minutes so that the flour can hydrated well. You will need less water if you are using only refined white flour. Add the mashed potatoes, oil, and 2 C of all purpose flour, and mix till well combined. Add more water if you need – you should have a slightly sticky dough. Let rest for 20 min.
Flour the counter top with the remaining flour and turn the dough on to it. Sprinkle with salt and any herbs you may be using. Knead for 5 min using additional flour if required, to produce a smooth, soft, but not sticky ball of dough. Oil a bowl, put the dough into it, flip the ball of dough over so that there is a thin film of oil all around. Cover and let rise till doubled (about an hour).
Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface, lightly punch down, and divide into two. Shape dough into two loaves and put into greased loaf pans. Cover loosely and proof till doubled (about an hour and half). Whole wheat flour is heavy and allowing it to double in bulk will ensure a lighter crumb.
Bake in a pre-heated oven (375 degrees or Gas Mark 5) for 20-30 min till golden. These got done really quick this time around. My kitchen was filling up with the heavenly smell within just 10 min of baking. I checked in 20 minutes and they were ready to come out.
Cool completely, preferably overnight, before slicing. Serve with salted butter, maybe some jam, and the mandatory cup of tea. With milk and sugar.
And this I am taking to Meeta’s Birthday Bash. I know she’s got a loaded table groaning with all sorts of goodies…but I also know she likes a good loaf of bread. And this loaf is as good as it gets. There will be all the sauces from all those dishes, and what better to mop them off with! Happy Birthday, Meeta! Use the leftovers (if there are any) for breakfast next morning!