Mar 20 2010

Artisan Breads baked in an Urban Apartment in Singapore, it’s possible!

Published by under Breads


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Mar 15 2010

Common Q & A about Bread Baking

Published by under Breads

Q1. My bread does not rise; my baking instructors do it so easily, why?

First of all, yeast that is used in bread rising is alive and it should be treated like a living thing. The following are common reasons why breads do not rise:

  1. The yeast is dead. I recommend that you buy yeast that is vacuum packed and that once you open a packet of yeast, store in airtight in the FREEZER.
  2. During the dough mixing, the yeast and salt are mixed directly into the same spot. Salt kills yeast when mixed directly together, period. The best strategy is to mix all ingredients first then add the salt last.
  3. Impatience. In today?s world of instant noodles, oat, coffee, we have lost most of our patience in food preparation. When you decide to bake bread, be prepared to wait, it’s like line fishing, the thrill is in the waiting, when the bread finally blooms in the oven, it is pure bliss.  Sometimes the bread recipe is designed to take a while to rise, go for a movie and you may be pleasantly surprised.
  4. Temperature.  Today many people have air-conditioned rooms.  With temperatures too low, rising slows down; add on some impatience, people will think that their bread does not rise.  A warm kitchen is best.
  5. Drying up.  When we do not cover our dough, it forms a dry skin that prevents rising, so I suggest you either cover the dough with cling wrap or a piece of wet cloth.

Q2. Tried making barm or mother dough for my sourdough. I do not seem to get bubbling in the barm. Sometime the barm turns bad, why?

Actually many people asked me whether sourdough can be done in small urban living spaces like Singapore. The answer is yes, but do not expect Sanfrancisco Sourdough, the yeast and bacteria strain just does not exist in this part of the world.

The traditional method of producing barm is 50% luck and 50% process. The yeast is usually harvested from the air, and the 50% luck is dependent from whether the good or bad bacteria get into your mixture first.

I have designed a method that reduces the luck part to almost zero %. The idea is to introduce wild yeast into the flour & water mixture without exposing the mixture to air. All you need to do is to pick up a good barm recipe from any book. The barm recipes usually have a 7 day mixture process. In the first two processes, all you need to do is to throw in a few pieces of crushed organic blue berries. Make sure your hands and equipment are sanitized.

You see, the white stain on organic blue berries is actually wild yeast, not pesticides.  This method does have one setback though, the sourdough does not taste as sour because of the lack of bacteria, but it does produce that chewy sourdough crumb; simply sumptuous!

Q3. Why do bread in Europe smell so good, but here in Singapore could not get that mouth watering smell, why?

For those who have been to Europe have probably experienced that unmistakable aroma of bread not found commonly in this part of the world, especially when you take the first bite into their bread.  The aroma is often described as ‘sweet smelling’, which is infact, baked malt.

This beautiful aroma is the result of allowing yeast & water to ferment the bread dough slowly. When flour is mixed with water and left overnight, the natural enzymes in the flour produces malt. Yeast feeds on this malt to produce carbon dioxide, thus soft bread. The idea is to get the yeast to produce the air bubbles without consuming most of the malt. The malt is the one that gives that distinctive aroma.

Most bakers slow down the fermentation by putting the dough to rise in the refrigerator over 24 hrs. Some even put the dough for 24-hr fermentation without the yeast first, the yeast is put in during the next stage of dough rising. There are many names to such methods, polish, sponge, pre-ferments and etc.

Q4. I want to bake my own bread; do I really have to invest in expensive machineries?

The only machinery that is absolutely necessary is the oven, and I do not mean a toaster. Small little oven like machines out there in the market are actually toasters, so that does not work for bread baking.

Kneading machines are actually not necessary if you understand the basic dough handling techniques.  The number one reason for kneading machine is to ensure good and even mixture of ingredients at the shortest possible time.  The number two reason is that the vigorous kneading produces gluten, gluten traps air bubbles produced by the yeast, thus the soft bread crumb.

The idea is to mix and produce gluten without the machine. Do you know that just leaving the mixture to rise for 10 minutes produces gluten? Fascinating isn?t it?

Q5. If I am committed to bake bread and I want to start reading up, what type of materials should I read up first?

Always buy books that educate you about the ingredients, its use, characteristics and etc. Most recipes in books needs twigging, in order to twig, you need to understand all the ingredients. Like math, learn to recite the 123 before going to the formulas.

Q6. How do I get into a network of bread enthusiast?

I encourage you to make friends in baking classes; it is the best method to expose yourself. These cooking schools have resources to attract them; you just need to jump into the same pool.

For a starter, let me introduce you to another Artisan Baker in Singapore, his name is Thomas Heng and he is Goooooooooooooooood. Check out his blog site

Q7. For basics, can you recommend books I can use and understand easily?

Let me recommend some books for your use. I use them myself and found them to be very useful. For basics, try out ‘The World of Bread, by Alex Goh’. Quite easy to follow for beginners; This book can be found in most Popular Bookshops and I have seen it in Carrefour.   For more advanced Artisan bakers, the two books I highly recommend based on simplicity and taste of breads from the recipes, allow me to recommend the two master bakers, I am a real fan of these two masters. First, Richard Bertinet and his book ‘Dough’ is just simply fabulous; it also includes a VCD of his kneading demonstration. Secondly, Peter Reinhart and his book  ‘Artisan Breads Every Day’ explores the possibility of making complex artisan breads in simplified processes, really simple. Oh yes, for the more adventurous, try Dan Lepard ?The Handmade Loaf? ; this book is a real adventure traveling the globe.  If I have left over rice, barley, nuts, anything, I open my Dan Lepard book.   I have almost the entire library of bread books mostly purchased from Kinokuniya Singapore. For those who are keen in Pizza, try, “American Pie,” by Peter Reinhart.  Just bought the book on 28th June, fabulous!  It has pizza dough from all over the world, including one designed for freezing.

For secrets of good oven spring, I found a website that caters to just that :

Q8. Can you name me some features a good baking oven should have, and how do I save electricity if I do lots of baking?

A good oven for baking need not be expensive. But the following features are recommended:

  1. A convection fan. These types of oven are often called convection ovens. A convection oven circulates hot air, and therefore saves on electricity. I was told a convection microwave can do baking, but I personally have not tried it.
  2. Double glazed door. What it means is this; the glass door of the oven must have two layers of glass not one layer. This feature seals in heat better.
  3. See through oven. Some ovens when closed have no see through glass door. This type of oven you can hardly see what is happening to your bread. Very often a bread baking enthusiast feels the bread by watching the bread rise, also called the oven bloom.

To save electricity in this oil dependent world, all you need is to put baking stone in your oven. Baking stone hold heat well and is especially useful if you do lots of baking.

Common Clay bricks at the bottom and Pizza stone in the middle of oven

Common Clay bricks at the bottom and Pizza stone in the middle of oven

Q9. Can you recommend some baking ingredient and equipment suppliers?

For ingredients, the first stop should always be Phoon Huat, anything under the sky, even in bulk sales. They also have a fair range of baking equipment and disposables. Do take note that however, their flour is mostly bleached and white. Our good old Cold Storage is a good haunt for unbleached flour, whole grain flour and a good magnitude of whole grains, even in powdered form

For a massive range of kitchen equipment, take a walk down Temple Street in China Town, there are perhaps two maybe three suppliers there that supplies to restaurants and bakeries. You too can buy in small quantities, they do cater to walk in shoppers, however take note that it is usually very crowded and getting attention from the service staff can be quite an adventure.

And for those whom just want to take a walk down a street to get just about anything, try Chip Bee Gardens off Holland Road, there is Pantry Magic for kitchen equipment, Phoon Huat and some gourmet, organic ingredient supplier whom I have forgotten their names.

There is a new boy in town, the name is Kitchen Story, off 482 River Valley Road, Singapore.  The owner Donald is a baking enthusiast himself, so you can find some of the hard to find tools of the trade.  I bought a Benetton and a Lame from this shop.  Thank god this shop exist

Please feel free to update me if you have information of more suppliers.

Q10 How come mushroom pizzas in italian restaurants smell so aromatic with musky flavours of mushroom?

The restaurants probably use dried Pocini mushrooms.  They are very aromatic, some people say it smells like dried cuttlefish.  To top off the flavour, I recommend you use Parmigiano-Reggiano, the original Parmesan cheese.

Q11 Some soft breads in specialty shops are chewy, and it bounces back even after we press it, why?  And these breads does not stick to your teeth when eating, why?

At first it may sound a bit contradicting, soft bread is chewy?  Well, commercial off the mill breads does stick to your teeth, for a surprise answer……to the artisan baker, they are under baked!  As simple as that.  These commercial breads very often have a pale soft crust and a very limp crumb.  To push them off-the-mill, they are added with bread improvers, softeners, mold inhibitors and etc and to top it off, their industrial engineers will cut short baking time so that they can sell you the loaf at S$2 a piece.  It is no wonder Europeans have difficulty finding ‘real’ bread in Singapore.

To make soft bread chewy, there are two methods, for the traditional rustic breads, artisan bakers use the sourdough methods.  This gives off a very chewy crumb, so chewy, some say that it will inflate back even after a truck runs over it.  For sweet dough category, where sugar, butter, plain flour, bread flour and egg is used, I recommend that you replace 50 grams of your bread flour with Tapioca flour, it’s real bouncy after that.

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