I have been afraid of baking bread at home for the longest time. Yeast and dough starters have scared me. I have often felt overwhelmed with terms like kneading, proofing, oven temperatures, bulk fermentation and enriched dough. Tell me, why do you “punch down” kneaded bread dough meant to rise? And do you know the difference among all those bread shapes and names – boules, batard, baguette, pain au levain, miche, the list goes on. If like me all this confuses you, then perhaps the below post will be of interest to you.
Bread making is a complex skill. I have learnt to be patient in my learning and hence after numerous failed attempts, I have finally been able to pick up a few bread making skills for a home baker. Sure I have been making and eating Rotis or Chappatis (unleavened Indian wheat breads) all my life. The failed attempts however relate to those yeasty sandwich breads (aka Pain de mie or Pullman Loaves), dinner rolls, Italian breads or breads made with ancient grains. Notice the picture of the savoury hot cross bun I wrote about here on this blog over 3 years ago looking as flat as a pancake. I also attempted David Lebovitz’s brown bread recipe from the famous Ballymaloe school convinced I had followed all his instructions right until I discovered that the dough continued to remain wet refusing to bake into a loaf. I even dived straight into the world of sourdough bread baking. No sooner had I started than I had killed my sourdough starter. Or perhaps I never made the starter right in the first place as the bread came out a semi-wet mass of dough looking worse than a dog’s dinner. I convinced myself I had a faulty oven with faulty temperatures and faulty flours available in my city.
I browsed through websites and read Samuel Fromartz’s “In search of the Perfect loaf”. My dear husband even gifted me the book “Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson” on my birthday to help me learn 🙂 Somehow I was just not confident of this whole bread baking process. I was overwhelmed with the yeast-flour-water-salt ratios , the kneading techniques, the oven temperatures and creating steam in a home oven (which was a disaster by the way). And this whole thing of figuring out how to source the good stone ground flour was too much to do in Singapore , a country that imports over 90% of its food from abroad. Sigh! It couldn’t be this difficult, I thought, especially when I am checking out thousands of posts on Instagram showcasing the picture perfect freshly-baked-out-of-the-oven-loaf of bread. Besides bread is one of those basic foods that should be available to the rich or the poor. A common food available since the ancient ages. So how difficult could it be?
After various dismal bread baking episodes, I stuck to buying fresh bread from a few local bakeries here in Singapore whose bakers are passionate about baking bread and baking in general. They source their ingredients ethically and have worked in some renowned world wide bakeries particularly in France and Germany. For those interested in these bakeries check out East Manhattan, Nick Vina Artisan bakery and Baker &Cook in Singapore. They sell a variety of rustic, chewy and artisanal breads with a crust good enough to be eaten as is or smeared with smashed avocado or relishes and cheese or just good old creamy butter.
So it happened one late Sunday afternoon when my husband and I were enjoying a crusty and chewy sourdough pizza at Plank Pizza (also another venture by Baker & Cook Singapore) at their Opera Estate in the east side of Singapore, that I noticed pamphlets kept on our table advertising their new Baking and Cooking school opened up in the Hillcrest area in the west side of Singapore. As I skimmed through the pamphlet, I read about “Dean Brettschneider’s Baking & Cooking School“ where 1 to 2 full day baking classes will be taught for the complete novice to the more experienced. Bread baking classes would be conducted by the owner and world renowned Baker Dean Brettschneider himself. And they had a Basic Bread Making class focusing on learning the essentials of bread making, kneading techniques and finally bake a variety of your own breads to take home. I was interested to learn more for sure. The price tag of SGD 245 for a full day class with Baker Dean – I did feel was a bit pricey but after some research I was convinced that the class will be fun and worth it.
So I enrolled for the Basic Bread Making class and reached the venue on the scheduled day at the scheduled time. I was offered tea or coffee of my choice before the class commenced which was a pleasant surprise as I hadn’t eaten any breakfast that day. So I gladly accepted a flat white, loving the aroma of the Allpress Espresso coffee beans while nibbling away on a danish pastry freshly baked from their Baker & Cook store next door 🙂
The class was hugely successful. I learnt the basics. I learnt a lot. It was a hands on class with all of us having our own individual kneading stations, bowls, dough scrapers, ingredients & bread supplies and ovens. We had the attention from Baker Dean especially since the class size was small (Restricted to 6-8 members). Baker Dean taught us the kneading techniques while patiently answering our never ending questions. I took quick notes on my iPhone relating to
- What are the different types of flours available in various countries and what each grade of flour means?
- The basics in wheat comprise carbohydrates, gluten, sugar and protein in varying ratios
- Tap the dough technique – pull it towards you – Fold back : Following these 3 steps knead the dough for 15 min and then let it rest for 1-2 minutes. This allows the oxygen to enter the dough while folding.
- Use baby soft hands and be gentle with the dough
- Creating steam in home ovens using ice cubes
Our baking gang chatted with Dean and each other over lunch and a coffee break where we also indulged in freshly made quiches , whole grain and leafy salad bowls, fruit , sweet pies and jammy tarts. Yes the talented helpers of the baking school were busy preparing this food on premise while we were occupied in kneading our dough and learning all about bread making.
In the Basic Bread making class, we each baked a loaf of white bread perfect for all sandwiches, a French Fougasse and an Italian Focaccia. Armed with all this knowledge, I was still a bit unsure of whether I will be able to reproduce the same at home in a small little oven with my own flour and yeast. I decided to give the Focaccia a try because I found it relatively simple, the most fun among the 3 types of bread I had learnt and looking so vibrant with all the amazing toppings to choose from.
There was a feeling of contentment and happiness once the bread was baked.
These 3 pics below are when I baked the foccacia at home along with the olive oil dinner rolls. I wanted to recreate what I had learnt in the bread class and they turned out fabulous. So my oven was not faulty after all 🙂
Finally some more pictures from the actual Baking school itself. It is a beautiful open kitchen flooded with natural light with all the top notch equipment and ingredients to use. The dreamy , white counter tops and huge kitchen space is something I wish to have in my dream kitchen someday 🙂
Few Bread Making Links of interest: