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FAB – Hands-Free Bread

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, Recipes on June 5, 2010 at 6:49 pm

For these past 10 months in Europe, I have been forced to give up my normal diet of tropical veggies / soy products / surimi / seafood/ kueh / malay and indian foods and adjust to a diet very much based on seasonal vegetables, dairy and bread products. I think the largest change I had to deal with going from Singapore to Europe would be this difference in the variety of food, but also the absence of like-minded superduperly-food-obsessed companions (I think other cultural changes are slightly easier to deal with haha). There is no better homesick-therapy than dining with a friend who explodes in fireworks of joy over bakkwa (Chinese sweet bbq pork) and a bowl of plain rice porridge.

But 10 months is also long enough to start feeling at home in this different world of food, and one of the things I will miss very much as I delve back into my Asian food haven this summer would be the crusty and flavourful European breads. Perhaps it was a sign to start nurturing my bread-baking skills when this week, Fakta slashed the price of high gluten wheat flour from 18kr (2.4 euros/SGD$4.20) per 2kg to a third of its price.


Honestly, my experience with bread-baking is almost entirely limited to theoretical knowledge. Apart from knowing that the requisites include a high-protein flour (to form strong gluten networks to trap the gas bubbles and give the bread a good structure) and yeast (that generates CO2 bubbles and lotsa lotsa lovely aroma compounds as it ferments the starch)…. I’m pretty useless when it comes to practical bread-baking. Hence for starters, I’ve decided to try Steamy Kitchen’s No-Knead Bread recipe, that is apparently ‘so easy even a 4 year old could do it’.

My bread-baking skill level is evidently lousier than a 4-year old because I had some trouble following the instructions and ended up with quite a mess in the kitchen. I aborted the plan and decided to just shove my dough into the oven anyway and ended up with a pretty good result 🙂 Crispy crust and a soft spongey interior, though lacking in some saltiness and flavour. Well, I never eat my breads plain anyway — so I enjoyed it with a slop of salted butter and sweet thick honey. Delicious. 🙂 Goodbye <Gardenia>… Goodbye <Sunshine>….
Kneadless Bread-Baking adapted from Steamy Kitchen

  • 350-400g bread flour
  • 1/4 yeast cake- I’d double it next time for better flavour (1 yeast cake ~ 2.5 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 tbsp salt ( I misread it as 1tsp and hence learned the importance of salt in bread flavour)
  • 350ml warm water
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water then mix with the flour and salt using a spatula.
  2. Cover mixing bowl with plastic wrap and leave to ferment overnight. Dough becomes puffy and stickier.
  3. Fold dough around in bowl with a spatula, flouring the surfaces of the dough to reduce sticking to the spatula. After 5min, dump it into a floured loaf tin and leave aside to rise for another 2 hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 230˚C half an hour before baking. Cover loaf tin with aluminium foil and bake for 30 min. Uncover and bake for another 20 min or until golden brown and crusty.

Min Chiang Kueh | Apam Balik

In Recipes, Singaporean on May 9, 2010 at 12:25 am

It’s probably only in Singapore and Malaysia that you’d have two very different names for the same food. With our multi-ethnic composition, it’s very natural for cultural boundaries to be blurred and cuisines to be merged– hmm, I just couldn’t figure / find out whether this is supposed to be a Chinese pancake or a Malay pancake… so, let’s simply call it Singaporean / Malaysian!

I noticed while looking through recipes for Min Chiang Kueh that ‘alkaline water’ was a recurring ingredient in most recipes. Whenever the word ‘alkaline’ pops up, there’s always something interesting to say about the recipe. After all, how often do you add stuff that tastes like soap to your food? Or try this: name as many acidic foods as you can, and now try to name the alkaline ones. Umm baking soda (chemical leavener), ehhh egg white (very slightly alkaline), ehhhmmm sodium hydroxide (used to make Chinese century eggs or to make pretzels a rich dark brown!), uhhh… *blank*

Alkali is simply not normally found in food environments, but it sure has some useful properties — for instance, enhancing the Maillard reaction! [Let’s save the century egg chemistry for another day.] As spoken of in the earlier pretzel post, raising the pH promotes this chemical reaction that leads to the formation of more brown pigments and a more intense roasty aroma. That’s exactly what happens in my beloved Min Chiang Kueh, or so I believe to be true, as how else would it be possible to get such a lovely dark brown sheen by merely pan-heating the batter on medium heat for 3-5 min, without developing a crisp crust?

That said, now that we know what the alkaline solution is for, there’s no need to comb the country to find ‘alkaline water’ on the retail shelves (they sell it in baking stores in Singapore for several other Asian food applications), as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) I have used, worked perfectly well too. Yeast was my trusty leavener, conferring a nice bready flavour to the thick pancake that was porous enough to yield a satisfyingly soft yet chewy texture. Definitely one of my favourite Singaporean snacks!

Min Chiang Kueh / Apam Balik Recipe adapted from Lee Lee

Pancake

  • 150g plain flour
  • 10g corn / potato / rice flour (for a more tender texture)
  • 250ml warm water
  • 30g sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp instant yeast

Filling

  • 50g peanuts
  • 12g sesame
  • 25g sugar
  1. To make the filling, pulse the peanuts and 50g of sugar in a food processor (not too fine, nice to have some peanut bits to chew on). Mix in sesame seeds. (Or make more and store for the next time you make the pancake!)
  2. Mix all the pancake ingredients together and go do some studying for 1 hour.
  3. The batter gets all puffed up and sticky — add additional water (~50ml) to get a consistency that will flow on the pan.
  4. Use a paper towel and grease the surface of a 30cm diameter non-stick frying pan. Heat pan on medium heat.
  5. Pour half of the batter into the pan, swivel pan to spread evenly, and cover pan with a lid.
  6. Pancake is done when the top surface just completely dries out (about 5 min).
  7. Remove from pan and make the second pancake (batter makes two ~25cm pancakes).
  8. Spread a generous portion of peanut filling on one half of the pancake and fold over. Cut and serve!

Just 5 min of preparation, 1h of proofing (go do something useful meanwhile), and 15min of pancake-making. Creating delicious snacks hardly gets any easier than this!

All packed up for sharing! 🙂

FAB – Soft German Pretzels

In Baking, Friday Afternoon Baking, German, Recipes on March 29, 2010 at 1:48 am

Friday Afternoon Baking (FAB) is my new venture into regular baking. I love to bake goodies for special occasions such as festive seasons (Chinese New Year and Christmas), as well as for parties and birthdays. But why should I wait for such occasions in order to bake? Loving to bake IS good enough reason to get myself away from boring lecture notes and whip up some yummylicious goodies. My theme for FAB is the search for quick and easy recipes with affordable common ingredients that I can whip up in a jiffy and give away to friends weekly without burning a hole in the pocket.

I first learnt about pretzels through Auntie Anne’s, a pretzel chain that is ever so ubiquitous in Singapore. In fact, Auntie Anne’s is pretty much synonymous with pretzels to almost any Singaporean. I’ve tried it once but never quite liked it because the one I had was soaked in an incredibly soggy amount of fat. Never really wanted another pretzel since then (in 2003 maybe?) until I had the fresh soft pretzels (mit Weißwurst und süßer Senf ) in Baden-Württemburg when I was there for a music festival in October 2009. The roasty flavour of the crust, with its soft interior and specks of saltiness was absolutely addictive. I was instantly hooked and each time I pop over to Germany (I was studying in Wageningen, NL for 6 months before Copenhagen), I’d always make it a point to grab a bag of these ‘steering wheels’.

Pretzels are pretty simple to make, they’re affordable and they make a great breakfast or mid morning / afternoon snack. They are also particularly interesting, from the perspective of a food scientist. If you’ve had any hint of a chemistry education, you might have heard of Maillard browning — the non-enzymatic browning reaction that makes our lovely roast chicken brown and bursting with caramelic roasty aromas. The Maillard reaction is a very complex one, involving a cascade of reactions that begins with sugar and protein (I shan’t go into details of Schiff base formation)… but one interesting fact is that this reaction is promoted by a basic (opposite of acidic) environment, enhancing the extent of browning and flavour development. This is the key to the pretzel’s beautiful dark brown crust. Check out khymos for more chemistry!

Here’s my first attempt at pretzel-making. Not exactly how it would look in a German bakery, but it tastes good, alright! Recipe was adapted from The Fresh Loaf, but I made 9 smaller pretzels instead of 6, sprinkled some poppy seeds and used yeast cakes instead of instant yeast (matter of availability). Enjoy!

Soft German Pretzel Recipe

  • Half a yeast cake (or 1 tsp instant yeast)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar / malt sugar / any sugar
  • 2-3 cups plain flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Baking soda bath (about 2 tbsp sodium bicarbonate in about 500ml water)
  1. Disperse yeast in warm milk.
  2. Mix 2 cups of flour with salt, sugar and milk-yeast mixture.
  3. Add additional flour until combined into a soft dough. Knead until smooth (about 5 min), cover with plastic wrap, then set aside in a warm water bath to rest for an hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 220˚C while preparing to shape dough.
  5. Shaping of dough: divide dough into as many portions as you want pretzels (how big do you want your pretzel to be?), stretch into cylindrical lengths of dough (I find it easy to grab two ends and gently flick it like an elastic rope). Shape as desired.
  6. Dunk the pretzel in a simmering sodium bicarbonate bath for about 5 seconds, then transfer to a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt / sesame / spice mix / poppy seeds / cinnamon sugar / really, anything you want on your pretzel.
  7. Bake for 12-14min or until golden brown.