It’s all about the yeast
In spite of not exactly following the recipe and expecting to fail again, my yet another attempt in making a bread loaf finally turned out just as it should be. Years before, I had given up any further pursuits in baking bread after disappointing results. However, when I stayed abroad at a French-speaking country for several months, I was dealt with long and thinner bread loaves which was unlike the wider sandwich-variety that I had been accustomed to. I would have to (gulp) make bread again! I then perused the internet for the simplest bread recipe I could find. One turned up in www.Food.com called “Quick Yeast Bread,” which is included at the end of this post. The one major thing I had to re-learn is to get the instant dry yeast to work properly. It had been my nemesis in my bread-making flops in the past. This time, I hadn’t changed the ingredients from the original one; rather, it’s the technique that I had to tweak.
I had learned the hard way that the instant dry yeast is a tricky thing to reckon with. The crux of the matter is the water temperature. To awaken the one-cell fungus, collectively called yeast, the water temperature has to be just right for them to release the carbon dioxide gas. This gas is what creates the tiny air pockets in the dough, thus making the dough rise. In my previous baking, my water temperature had been either too hot or not warm enough which destroyed these cells. This time, though, a friend explained the “fingertip dip” test for gauging the water temperature rather than a thermometer (which I didn’t have anyway) before mixing with the yeast. “Just dip your finger, and if it does not jerk away, then it’s ready. If you can comfortably leave your finger in the water, it’s not warm enough,” she advised.
Technically, the water temperature should be between 105 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit for instant dry yeast, depending on the brand. If you are doing the fingertip dip test, I suppose hitting the mark depends on your skin’s tolerance (or lack of!) for heat.
What, no mixing bowl?
I was not brought up to cook. My wonderful mother did not hide the fact that she hates to cook. For the most part, growing up among New York City’s international mosaic of take-outs and restaurants often provided the alternative to home cooking. Now though, as a newcomer in another country, I brought a meager supply of kitchen apparatus. Optimistically, I had the pleasure to improvise space-saving and cost-saving baking process!
First off, I had no mixing bowl. Instead, I had a 12-inch Teflon frying pan. (Mind you, the pan remained on the counter, never on the stove.) Moreover, I had no measuring spoons either. Rather, as taught by Mom, the big dinner spoon served as a tablespoon and the smaller spoon for a teaspoon (thanks, Mom!). Be sure your measuring spoons are clean after each use – you wouldn’t want the transfer of one ingredient into a container of another. Adequately equipped at the moment, I heaped and gently stirred all of the dry ingredients in the pan: 4 cups of flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 2 tablespoons instant dry yeast. (I emphasize, do “gently stir” the mix – or else the flour would splatter in all directions!)
Now it’s time for the “wet” ingredients. Again, I am lacking a kitchen instrument: a measuring cup. I happened to bring a small tupperware with molded markings of ¼-cup incremental measurements on the side. After boiling water in an electric tea kettle, I poured water of undeterminable amounts in two large separate mugs with handles to cool it down first. (Having a handle on the mug helps avoid burning your fingers.) After a few minutes of cooling down, I do the “fingertip dip” test. When my finger did not jerk away and yet uncomfortably hot, that was the cue to pour it in the yeast! I poured it up to the one-cup mark in the tupperware. But before I measured the second cup of water, I poured ¼ cup oil in the same measuring-tupperware. That way, I “rinse” out the oil from the tupperware with the second cup of heated water. This saves me a step plus additional water for cleaning oil out of it!
[LifeChez Tip: To hasten the cooling-down of water, add ice cubes. Take care not to let it cool down too much!] There’s the one-cup mark on the tupperware in the picture.
At this stage, stir the mixture with a stick, be it a spoon, spatula or even a ruler. As you stir, the sticky mixture should gradually wean off the stick and becomes dough-like. As you start using your hands, have an open bag of flour close by as you add flour bit by bit from the bag until it becomes less sticky. The closer the bag is to the mixture, the less spillage and waste. In the past, my fingers had to constantly scrape off the sticky dough from the counter surface, and I had to keep adding flour to the surface. However, this time, with the happy accident of using a Teflon pan, I no longer have the trouble of sticky dough on the surface! It was easier to knead the dough right in the pan. Even better, no messy-clean up afterwards on the counter. Alternatively, you can use a large non-stick baking sheet for kneading. Imagine the savings in time, water, elbow grease, flour, paper towels and washing the kitchen towel!
This is what my kneaded dough looked like with flour added bit by bit from the sack until it became less sticky.
Now, the next step. The recipe says to let the dough rise in a bowl.
But, once again, I do not have a bowl!
To be continued, in Part 2 at LifeChez.com. Coming up soon! Come back to LifeChez.com!
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“Quick Yeast Bread” recipe. Source: www.Food.com.
• 5 cups white all-purpose flour
• 2 tablespoons yeast (or 2 x 7g pkts)
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 2 cups warm-hot water
• 1⁄4 cup cooking oil
Yield: 2 loaves
• Put 4 cups of the flour, yeast, sugar and salt into large bowl.
• Pour in hot water and oil and mix until combined- it will be sticky. • Add the remaining flour in increments until dough is no longer sticky.
• Knead for about 5 minutes until dough is elastic and smooth.
• Place dough back into bowl and cover with a damp tea towel and let it rise until double its size- about 1/2 hour.
• Punch it down and divide dough into two pieces.
• Roll pieces long enough to fill two well-oiled loaf pans and leave to rise until dough has reached the rim of the pan.
• Bake at 400F for 40 minutes.
• Rub hot breads with water and wrap in a tea towel to ‘sweat’ to soften the crust.