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bakingbadly

Oh dear... How long have I been away from TFL? 

HA! Trick question. I was always here, browsing and skimming through posts. It's just, I've been mighty busy with my bakery (Siem Reap Bäckerei) and other matters in Cambodia. In fact, my eyes are often bloodshot because I rarely sleep more than a few hours at a time. Really, yesterday I only had a total of 5 hours of shut-eye. The day before that, 6 hours. And so on, and so on.

That's the nature of opening a relatively new business. Thankfully it's getting better and better after each passing day.




Just about every day now I produce and supply German bread rolls to one of the top resorts or boutique hotels in Cambodia. I'd like to mention their name, but I can't. Not without permission. The last time I did that I received a stern warning.

But still... WOOHOO for having such a reputable client!!




In collaboration with Siem Reap BBQ, a catering service and sister company to my bakery, every Sunday we deliver whole beer-in-the-butt chicken roasts, roasted potatoes with homemade chicken gravy, mixed salads, bread rolls. plus weekly specials such as pork ribs and Greek platters.

Now let me tell you one thing that's significant about this.

Most streets in Cambodia are un-named. Most houses in Cambodia are also un-numbered. Consequently, most restaurants and food-related establishments in town do not offer delivery.

So how do we find and deliver to our customers? Descriptive descriptions, of course. We often call our customers---repeatedly---and conversations go something like this:

"I'm at the gas station now. Where do I go next?"

"Keep going straight until you see a blue shed. Then turn right and keep going straight again until you see a tall, white house with a barbed wire fence. My house is near it."

"Uhhh... okay."




I'm also the baker at the Cambodia Catering Company (CCC). The CCC is actually the parent company of Siem Reap BBQ and Bäckerei. We specialize in canteen management for hotels, schools, factories, and other organizations, but we also provide catering services. (That's a no brainer, right?)

With a team of 16 staff members to date, which includes myself, my business partner and his wife, we currently produce 300 staff meals on a daily basis for a major hotel and factory in Siem Reap. Try imagining that amount of food. It's incredible! And the crazy thing is that we're aiming for the production of 1,000 staff meals per day by the end of this year.

Can we do it? Don't know, but we'll work off our butts and try.




One of the things I'm proud about the CCC is that we actively hire disadvantaged women from rural districts in Cambodia. Some of them lack formal education, not having gone to secondary school due to family- and/or financial-related constraints. Even when those constraints are lifted, it's difficult for them to find well paid jobs to support themselves.

They deserve much better. Don't know about you, but I think it's really, really cool that our company is helping to empower these wonderful, hard working women. 




Over the past week or so I've been experimenting with recipes for Greek-style pocketless pita breads. I don't remember how many pitas I went through and discarded, but I kept encountering the same problems. Too much or too little charring and browning. Or too hard and stiff crust. Or too much air in the pita.

I was under pressure. I only had a few days until I had to bake pitas for a Greek themed birthday party for a friend... 

Who knew pitas could be so complicated?




SUCCESS!! I finally created the pita I was aiming for: a bubbly, off-white flatbread, with a soft, tender crumb, and blotches of browning on a delicate crust. 

Anyway, last Sunday for my friend's birthday party, we made fresh Greek-style pitas by yours truly, roasted lamb chops, tzatziki (seasoned yoghurt with chopped vegetables), Greek salad, guvec (tomato sauce rice), and pork souvlaki (grilled marinated meat skewers). 

On that day I passed out from eating so much food... Hey, could you blame me?

--- 

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. Much appreciated. To all my friends on TFL, keep on baking, keep it up. I have not forgotten you!

Take care all and, as always, jolly bakings!! :)

Zita
Head Baker
Siem Reap Backerei

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bakingbadly

Since late April (last month), I have been baking regularly for my first client. (Hooray!) Customized to their needs, I created the "Bratwurst Roll", perfect for... Well, you guessed it, hot dogs and sausages.

The Bratwurst Roll is about 7 inches (18 cm) in length and consists of the same ingredients for our German bread rolls (Brötchen). In fact, they're both the same bread, just in different sizes.

Nice and efficient!

Also, I recently learnt that customers were requesting for the Bratwurst Rolls from our client's establishment. Now keep in mind, the Bratwurst Rolls are not sold separately on their menu. Now imagine a restaurant bar selling just bread to their customers... Of course, I was ecstatic to hear that my breads were being recognized and appreciated for its quality.



Last weekend our client celebrated their restaurant's 3 year anniversary. They hired my business partner Michael, a professional caterer, to cook several rows of chicken roasts, including roasted potatoes, sweetcorn, pasta salad, and, of course, my bread. 


Yes, your eyes are not fooling you. My bread were placed and nestled into a fan guard. But don't be alarmed, this is consistent with the restaurant's theme. The venue literally has pieces of junk as fixtures and furniture. It's rather nifty, I have to say!

 

For me, the most memorable moment of the restaurant's anniversary party was when a man returned to the serving area (above) for a second round of food. This time, however, he filled nearly half his plate with bread. I tell ya', a smile was fixed onto my face for hours.




For about a month now I've been developing a new rye bread, which I call the "Black Forest". The formula is a combination of Jeffrey Hamelman's Light Rye Bread (from his renown book Bread) and a bread called "Schwarzwälder Kruste" (Black Forest Crust) by a professional German baker. The flavour is scrumptious, but unfortunately I'm unable to achieve consistency in the crumb. There were a few occasions when the "baker's bedroom" would appear, a large gaping hole beneath the upper crust, and at other times the cavern did not appear at all. I've tried docking the dough with a wooden skewer to prevent such issues from occurring, but it's not working as well as I want.

The only solution I can think of now is to reduce enzymatic activity. Perhaps I need to use less water for the starter, shorten the dough's bulk fermentation, or use a cooler which I currently don't.

I know I haven't provided much details about my formula or procedures, but any tips is appreciated. 

Thank you and jolly bakings, my friends,

Zita

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bakingbadly

About a month ago I began my quest of making Brötchen (German bread rolls). There was a demand in town for such rolls and I had to fulfill it. I mean, I had to. I'm opening a German-ish bakery albeit in Cambodia. And a German bakery without Brötchen is like a poem without words.


Thanks to Karin's (Hanseata) blog post and detailed descriptions from German expats, I knew what I was aiming for. I adapted Karin's recipe and baked the first few test batches of Brötchen.

Too hard, too heavy, too dense, too yeasty, too light, too... too many problems.

 

Three weeks later my freezer, my business partner's freezer, and my parents' freezer were full of experimental bread rolls. But behold, I was finally satisfied with my results: 

Thin, delicate, crispy crust; soft yet substantial crumb; and a pleasant yeasty, nutty aroma. 

One of my Swiss-German friends sampled my Brötchen, with a boiled Depriziner (spiced sausage). To my surprise he said, "It was the best meal I had in months," with much enthusiasm for the Brötchen. Of course, thinking it was an anomaly, I had others taste-test my bread rolls---friends and acquaintances. One after another, they all gave positive reviews, some of them rather lofty.

 



Some tips and suggestions:

The crust contributes a lot of flavour to Brötchen. Thus, to improve its flavour profile, I shaped the rolls into "ovals" instead of "balls". This way, the ratio of crust to crumb is increased.

Also, for my rolls, I reduced the oil / fat amount and did not fully develop the dough's gluten. Personally, I like my rolls with larger holes and a shreddy texture for one sole reason: it holds heavy sauces and condiments better.

Another tip: If you want seeds to stick to your bread, without an egg wash, I recommend brushing your dough with a mixture of flour (or anything starchy) and water, then adding the seeds atop. The majority of the seeds will stick, even when the bread is frozen, re-heated, and / or dropped onto the floor from chest-height!




From April 13th to April 16th is the Cambodian New Years. During this time, major festivals occur across the nation. One of these events is a three-day concert in the Angkor Wat complex (i.e., the largest religious monument in the world).

My business partner Michael requested that I produce something special for this event. My idea: Curry Rolls.




This idea was inspired by the Japanese "Yaki Kare Pan" (Baked Curry Bread). It's not uncommon for Cambodians to eat curry with bread as separate entities, so I thought it would be nifty to combine the two.

The bread roll wasn't a big deal. I used the same recipe for my Brötchen. The curry, on the other hand, was out of my expertise. Collaborating with Michael (a seasoned, professional chef) and his wife's family, we adapted a traditional Cambodian curry and transformed it into a bread filling.

Today marks the end of the Cambodian New Years. Truth be told, the Curry Rolls didn't sell as well as we wanted. Why? Perhaps a variety of reasons: poor location, too many competitors, lack of details...

But I have good news. Two bars in town have expressed keen interest in our Curry Rolls. We're confident that we'll attract other clients and will eventually produce the Curry Rolls by the hundreds, including other fillings, on a daily basis. 




One final comment. Last Friday our upcoming bakery was featured in a local news article, which you can view here: 

http://www.phnompenhpost.com/siem-reap-insider/new-sourdough-bakery-promises-home-delivery

This publication has garnered much attention from hoteliers, restaurateurs, and bar owners in Siem Reap. That's right, my dream of running a sourdough bakery is coming into fruition, and I have to say, it's surreal. How did I get to this point, I know. Without encouragement and assistance from my family and friends, including this community (a tremendous source of my inspiration), I wouldn't be where I am today.

With my utmost gratitude, I thank you all!

Zita
Head Baker
Siem Reap Bäckerei

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bakingbadly

Four nights in Bangkok, Thailand. 

Accompanied by my business partner, our quest was to find a bulk flour supplier for my sourdough bakery in Siem Reap, Cambodia, called "Bäckerei". Other high priority items included paper bread bags, food-grade lye (sodium hydroxide) for pretzels, and brotformen (dough proofing baskets). 

Of course, I was also on the lookout for bread. Good bread, I mean.




Traffic was hectic in Bangkok, like most metropolitan cities. But what caught me off guard was the motorbikes zipping across and along the sidewalk. Many of them. Combine this common occurrence with the fact that drivers keep on the left-hand side in Thailand and you got yourself a paranoid person---me. 

Okay, never mind that.

My first major stop was at Bei Otto, a German restaurant, bakery, butchery, delicatessen, and catering company. The whole sha-bang!



Maybe I'm easily amused but I was in awe.

The bakery at Bei Otto had Vollkornbrot (whole grain bread), Mehrkornbrot (multi-grain bread), Roggenbrot (rye bread), Brötchen (German bread rolls), and Brezeln (pretzels). Let's not forget German sausages and miscellaneous goodies like Weisswurst-Senf (sweet mustard) and Quark (curd cheese)!

Bei Otto is what I envisioned my bakery to be. Well, not exactly. I prefer to run a much smaller company and would love to work with a local German butcher, cheesemonger, and beer brewer. A microbrewer in Cambodia is really stretching it but, hey, we're free to dream.

 

Next stops were a few supermarkets: Emporium, Tops Market, Central Market, Tesco Lotus, and Villa Market. Of the 5 supermarkets listed, Villa Market was the most interesting. By a stroke of luck, the "spokesperson" of Maison Jean Phillippe, a purveyor of artisanal foods, was present.

Maison Jean Phillipe offers French breads. All sourdough, even their pastries. At the Villa Market, I sampled their brioche---somewhat rich and buttery---and a charcoal-black batard. It tasted similar to... what you expect from a good, light, soft French bread.

Next up: Schmidt, a wholesale supplier of baking goods.





Now this was paradise.

I think I gasped out of excitement when I found brotforms, which I promptly bought. Very costly, but I'll have them replicated in Cambodia by wood craftsmen. I also purchased a kilogram (2.2 lbs) of lye pellets, which called for a second gasp upon notice.

Oh, and the flour... At first glance I could hardly keep the soles of my feet on the floor. Then I had a closer look.

Unfortunately for me, the majority of their flours were pre-mixes and not a spec of it shall enter my bakery. They did, however, have the rye and wheat flour I was searching for.




My business partner and I had a long discussion with the managing director of Schmidt. Getting the flours in bulk is not a problem. The problem is: getting the flours into Cambodia at a reasonable cost. This brings us to our final destination.

Near the border of Cambodia and Thailand is a cassava processing plant. If you don't know, cassava is a plant that's harvested for its starchy root, kind of like a potato. In various forms, it has multiple uses: food products, biofuel, animal feed, and so on. 

We contacted the owner of this processing plant to give us tips on how to export flours into Cambodia from Thailand. He was kind enough to meet us and we're very, very thankful for that.

As we departed, they gave us a bag of fresh cassava flour (also known as tapioca) as a farewell gift. They suggested that I experiment and try it in my breads---hey, why not? Maybe I'll invent a new product and popularize cassava breads in Southeast Asia.




While crossing the border from Thailand to Cambodia, my business partner (and dear friend) said to me, "I hope customs doesn't check your bags."

I shot back, "Why?"

Then it dawned on me. In my hand-luggage I had a bag of tapioca flour and lye pellets. These two items resemble something in particular. Suffice it to say, I was highly relieved to pass the borders without trouble.

All in all, my trip in Bangkok was fruitful. Not a complete success but a leap in the right direction. 

Thank you for the read and jolly bakings!

Zita

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bakingbadly

Hello guys, hello gals,

It's been a long while, hasn't it? Well, I can tell you now that I've been busy. Very busy. Soon I'll be opening my own sourdough (micro) bakery in Cambodia, a country situated in Southeast Asia.

Spectacular, isn't it? Or perhaps crazy considering that I've no prior working experience in a bakery.




Last Sunday I hosted a bread taste-testing event at my house. I invited a few of my friends and a handful of strangers, keen on getting feedback on my sourdough zopf, mixed nut sourdough, and cashew nut sourdough.

Funny thing, the sourdough zopf was slightly controversial. Zopf is a popular braided sweet bread in Switzerland and highly relished by the Swiss. Zopf is rarely baked in the form of sourdough... and my attempts seemed to have offended my Swiss friends. 




In total, we had 10 taste-testers excluding myself and my business partner. Prior to their arrival, I was anxious. Nearly trembling with fear, actually. Reason being, one participant was a Swiss native (the only person who's familiar with the Swiss zopf), two were retired chefs, and another was a former professional baker (he owned and managed 4 bakeries, and helped opened one of the largest sourdough bakeries in the Netherlands).

Man, oh man... The pressure! 




Here she is, our baby... Suzy. She's a single deck oven, convection, no steam injector, and heats up to 400C / 750F in approx. 30 minutes. She's a beauty, despite some of her faults when it comes to bread baking.

Moreover, Suzy arrived only a week ago. I also had never operated such an oven before her arrival. Think about it: can you imagine how stressed I was before the taste-testing?




Their critiques and feedback. 

The sourdough zopf was, in my eyes, a failure. Despite that the majority expressed a liking to it, our Swiss guest was disappointed. According to her, it wasn't "fluffy" enough and too bland.

Back to the drawing board.

The cashew nut and mixed nut sourdough, on the other hand, were a hit! Especially the mixed nut, which contained cashews, walnuts, and hazelnuts. With enthusiasm, the ex-pro baker informed me that the mixed nut sourdough had a "very good flavour". Immediately after, he pointed out visual defects on the bread which only a fanatic / professional could detect... Rather than feeling down or upset, I was ecstatic to finally meet somebody who knew a thing or two about bread. In this case, lots of things!



Deviating from the above topic, I'll tell you a bit about my bakery and how I'm evolving as a baker.

The name of my bakery is Bäckerei, German for "bakery". Ironically, we're not a German bakery. We offer "fusion" breads, with major influences from central Europe, combined with ingredients grown in or native to Southeast Asia. As some of you know, I like to experiment and produce non-conventional breads. But something happened... In the past few months I began to appreciate the complexity of "simplicity". Flour, water, salt. Limiting yourself to those ingredients is, in my opinion, challenging... and utterly delicious and rewarding if used correctly. 

As I continue to bake more often for others, I noticed a certain neglect. Gradually, I ignored my preferences and listened to what my friends and the community wanted. They wanted nuts in their bread, so I gave it to them. They wanted a less tangy sourdough---absolutely no problem. Now they're demanding whole rye or wheat breads... Unfortunately, as much as I want to, this I cannot provide. It's practically non-existent in Cambodia, but you can bet your baker's butt that I'll do my best to get it into town.

What does it mean to be a baker? What responsibilities must I fulfill with such a profession? These are questions that I'm beginning to ask myself more and more often... And the more I understand, the more fulfillment I feel. I can tell you now with open honesty, at the taste-testing event, when I saw my friends and guests enjoying my breads, I nearly broke into tears. That's what I worked so hard for. For the dedicated baker, I think, bread is an expression of love, and to have others reciprocate with a full belly and smile is all we ever want.

Thank you for the read, TFLoafers. Until next time... 

Wish you all the best and jolly bakings,

Zita

P.S. I'll be very busy during the upcoming few months. If you'd like to keep updated with my doings, please feel free to visit my bakery's Facebook page and "like" it. There, you will see my progress, including hardships and hopefully many successes.

https://www.facebook.com/SiemReapBackerei

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bakingbadly

Long time no read. :)

For the last month I've been busy testing new sourdough formulas, adapting them, testing them---repeatedly. So much so that I was confident enough to launch a taste-testing party. Why? Because I intend to open my own bakery, here in Cambodia, Southeast Asia.



Two days ago was the BIG day. And prior to the BIG day was three weeks of planning and preparation by my German friend / business partner (Michael) and I. This entailed inviting strangers who were raised or lived in central Europe for several years, primarily Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Reason being, I'm attempting to specialize in central European breads or breads reminiscent of them.

 

The taste-testing party was held at our house. Yes, Michael and I share a two-story house. We often joke and say this is a perfect arrangement. Formerly a chef and F&B manager at restaurants and hotels, he can cook for me, while I can bake for him (and his wife).

We also borrowed tables, wine and beer glasses, plates, cutlery, and other equipment from restaurant owners. Further, by my request, Michael prepared pork roast (cooked for 7 hours in a drum barrel), beer can chicken, and ratatouille (vegetable stew). My duty was to bake a "European-style sourdough" and "German-style pretzels". 





I opted to bake a coconut cashew sourdough. Yes, I know, that's nowhere near to "European-style". However, I have been working on this formula for nearly a month, conducting many, many failed trials.

Ingredients: Sourdough culture, Unbleached white wheat flour, Whole durum wheat flour, Natural mineral water, Toasted cashews, Sea salt, Toasted coconut.

Note: I accidentally discovered that toasted coconut, in small amounts (i.e., 1% in baker's percentage) keeps the bread moist for days, without compromising the flavours of the bread. It's truly amazing.



Sadly, this is not a laugenbrezel (lye pretzel). Food-grade lye does not exist in Cambodia and I cannot in good conscience use drain cleaners as part of food preparation. Are food-grade lyes and drain cleaners one and the same? I don't know, maybe. But for now I'm going to play it safe.

The best alternative was baked soda, a.k.a. sodium carbonate. It gets the pretzels nice and dark, but the taste isn't exactly on the dot. Remember, my goal is to prepare German-style pretzels.

But I should mention: Despite my goal I've added my own twist to the pretzels (did you catch my joke?... Twist, get it?) My pretzels are made with sourdough and contains freshly ground spices: caraway, fennel, coriander, and Kampot black pepper. 

Kampot black pepper is grown only in Cambodia. It is highly revered by many chefs around the world because of its unique flavour properties. Not only does it have heat, but it has a floral aroma, a hint of sweetness, and pairs well with many foods.





Locally produced Italian cold cuts, assorted cheeses and crackers. *Drools.* If you look closely, you can see my sourdough in the right hand corner.

Surprisingly, Cambodia has a superb variety of cheeses and wines, considering it's a "third world country". Our guests (friends, acquaintances, and strangers) brought their own cheeses, which included the following: Danish blue cheese, Camembert, Brie, Cream cheese, Roquefort, Gouda, Parmigianno-Regianno, Feta, and Irish cheddar.





Only a few hours into the "bake". (The drum barrel behaves similarly to an oven.) You cannot smell it through your screen but believe me when I say it's divine.

In the end, the beer can chicken was tender, juicy, and succulent. I still think about it now, in fact. However, the pork roast was good but not at its optimal quality. This was due to a number of factors that we couldn't control.




Here we are performing critical analysis of the pork roast. Michael is on the left, I'm in the middle, and our Swiss-German friend to the right. You can see it on our faces. We know our pork roast and we weren't totally satisfied.

I also want to point out that my (custom) chef coat was a gift from Michael. The taste-testing party occurred on the day after my actual birthday. Thus, the taste-testing party was also treated as a belated birthday party. Now that's called being efficient. :)




So what's the verdict on the pretzels? And the coconut cashew sourdough? Was it reminiscent to central European breads?

Well, according to a handful of German and Swiss natives (couldn't find any willing Austrians) and ex-residents of Germany, YES! The visuals, aroma, texture, and taste of my breads reminded them of breads of their (former) homeland. And they enjoyed it---a few of them, ecstatically. 




So what's next? First, I need to eat all these delicious leftovers. Second, I will continue to improve my existing formulas and recipes. 

Hopefully sometime this month I'll cross the borders into Thailand and find the right contacts. We need higher quality flour and food-grade lye. And yes, a suitable oven and mixer. 

I'll keep you updated with my progress. In the meanwhile, I won't be as active on TFL but I'll lurk around. :)

Have a wonderful day / night, fellow bakers. 

Zita

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bakingbadly

Three weeks ago I attempted Marcus's Polenta Pepita Sourdough formula, with a few adaptations. I substituted the pumpkin seeds with sunflower seeds, replaced the whole wheat flour with medium rye flour, and adjusted a few procedures to suit tropical conditions.

 

Pumpkin Seed Atta Sourdough Batard, Trial 1

Pumpkin Seed Atta Sourdough Batard, Trial 1

The following week I wanted to try a more authentic version of Marcus's formula. Pumpkin seeds were finally in stock (and very costly), and I found "chakki atta" (stone-ground whole durum wheat flour), generally used for Indian flatbreads. That's as close to whole wheat flour I was going to get.

Unfortunately, on bake day I realized I had forgotten to pre-soak the cornmeal (polenta) the night before. 

 

Pumpkin Seed Atta Sourdough Batard (Crumb), Trial 1

Pumpkin Seed Atta Sourdough Batard (Crumb), Trial 1

Keeping my composure, I substituted the cornmeal with atta and increased the water amount of the final dough. The result? A triple whammy: My loaf was under-hydrated, under-developed, and under-proofed. 

"You need to get back to the fundamentals," said Zita to himself, in a brash tone.

 

Pumpkin Seed Atta Sourdough Batard, Trial 2

Pumpkin Seed Atta Sourdough Batard, Trial 2

Last Sunday I re-attempted my last formula. I omitted the soaked cornmeal (replacing it with an atta soaker), increased the hydration of the dough, added more stretch and folds, and extended the proofing period of my dough. 

My efforts were rewarded with the above.

 

Pumpkin Seed Atta Batard (Crumb), Trial 2

Pumpkin Seed Atta Sourdough Batard (Crumb), Trial 2

Flavour profile: Due to negligence I over-cooked the crust, thus a bit bitter and smells more "roasted", coffee- and charcoal-like. Not necessarily a bad thing. The flesh was subtly sweeter than my last loaf, faintly sour (almost non-existent), and not as dry. Overall, a better, more acceptable loaf but still not good enough.


Rainfall at a rice field in Cambodia

Rainfall at a rice field in Cambodia

What's the purpose of baking bread if you can't share it? I don't know about you, but it's disconcerting to bake something that stems from your heart and bar others from experiencing it.

Good bread is hard to come by here in Cambodia, and I'm keen on propagating my love and joy in the form of sourdough. Perhaps I'll have that opportunity soon.

Best wishes and jolly baking, fellow bakers,

Zita


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bakingbadly

Three weeks ago I volunteered to bake bagels for a party. Though, not just ordinary bagels. Sourdough based bagels, with a spicy twist, featuring characteristics of a pretzel---or what I call "pregels".

Visualize this: A doughnut---but not a doughnut---that's as chewy as a bagel, but has a crispy, lustrous, dark brown crust, sparsely topped with coarse sea salt. (I can almost hear bagel purists hollering abomination.)

 

The first trial (above) was unpleasant. Prior to its consumption, none of my breads had induced retching. (Yes, it was that bad.)

My major mistakes: Too much water was incorporated into the the dough, the parchment paper wasn't coated with enough cornmeal, the dough was overproofed, the (baked) baking soda solution was at the incorrect ratio, and I somehow neglected the fact that I did not own a slotted spoon or strainer. Consequently, I pulled a MacGyver and used a dismantled food steamer filter as a strainer. Clever, isn't it?

 

 

The recipe for the first trial pregels was heavily adapted from the Wild Yeast Blog.

Why the heavy adaptation, you ask?

Well, most bagel recipes I've happened upon requires a sturdy mixer---and I don't have a mixer. Second, one of my objectives was to eliminate the tang in my sourdough bagels. Third, it's approaching rainy season where I'm located and the humidity, as well as the temperature, has soared. (For the past several weeks, the average room temperature of my apartment has hovered around 33C  / 91F.)

For these stated reasons, I had to adjust the original recipe. 

 



 

Two weeks ago I conducted the second trial. Much, much better, but worst in other respects. In summary, the pregels, amongst other bagels, were underproofed, slightly underspiced, and too chewy.

If you're curious, I taste-tested the following variations: salted and unsalted pregels, (emmental) cheese pregel, plain honey bagel, and seeded honey bagels (topped with poppy and/or sesame seeds).

 

In terms of baker's percentages, the hydration of the second trial dough was approx. 55 to 56%, whereas the hydration of the first trial dough was 57 to 58%. Such a seemingly minor change in hydration transformed the bagels from moist and tender to very stiff and chewy.

 

Last Sunday I executed the third trial of the pregels, to be served to the party. Expectedly, I encountered a handful of problems.

Never had I handled and baked over 4kg / 8.8lbs of dough in a single day, and never had I operated a gas oven (based in the hostess' house). Moreover, because the gas oven could only accomodate 4 bagels at a time, due to its small size, I brought along my countertop oven to hasten the process. 

One compact kitchen, two operating ovens, a pot of boiling water, high humidity, and room temperature at above 30C / 86F. Metaphorically speaking, I was a frantic salamander encased in my own sweat.


Sharing the cost of several cheeses as bagel toppings, we purchased and taste-tested the following cheeses: mild cheddar, emmental, gruyere, young gouda, edam, port salut, and cantal jeune. In addition to that, we had Philadelphia cream cheese on hand, homemade honey-peanut butter, Austrian libtauer (spicy cheese spread), French butter, and salami.

Funny thing, as I was tending to the last batch of bagels in the ovens, I instructed members of the party to help themselves and commence eating. What was initially a room filled with chattering became dead silence... for a solid thirty seconds. Enticed by this peculiarity, I peeked out of the kitchen door.

"Zita... This is the best bagel I've ever had."

 

RECIPE

Makes approx. 32 bagels

Starter:

  • White sourdough starter, 55% hydration [33 g]
  • Water [241 g]
  • All-purpose flour [438 g]

Spice Mix:

  • Caraway seeds
  • Fennel seeds
  • Coriander
  • Black peppercorns

Soaker:

  • All-purpose flour [1,849 g]
  • Medium rye flour [205 g]
  • Vital wheat gluten [82 g]
  • Sea salt [41 g]
  • Spice mix, Lightly ground [12 g]
  • Water, Iced, Strained [1,150 g]
  • 100% pure honey [103 g]

Final Dough:

  • Starter [657 g]
  • Soaker [3,442 g]

Baking Soda Solution:

  • Water [1,500 g]
  • Baking soda, Baked [75 g]

Honey Water Solution:

  • Water [1,500 g]
  • 100% pure honey [20 g]

Topping:

  • Coarse sea salt
  • Poppy seeds
  • White sesame seeds
  • Various cheeses

Instructions:

Caution: Variations in branded products, ingredient amount, room temperature, humidity, altitude, tools and equipment, techniques and methods will affect the outcome of your bagels. Extending the de-chilling or bulk fermentation period is highly advised.

  1. Bake baking soda at 150C / 302F for one hour; store in airtight container
  2. Prepare starter; mix ingredients until combined; rest at above room temperature for 12 hours
  3. Prepare soaker; mix ingredients until combined; chill 10 hours
  4. De-chill soaker; rest at above room temperature for 2 hours
  5. Mix starter and soaker until combined; bulk ferment (rest) 2 hours at above room temperature
  6. Knead dough by hand for 5 minutes; bulk ferment (rest) 2 hours at above room temperature 
  7. Knead dough by hand for 5 minutes; bulk ferment (rest) 2 hours at above room temperature 
  8. Divide dough into 32 equal portions (approx. 125 g each)
  9. Rest 5 minutes to relax gluten, if necessary
  10. Shape dough into bagels; transfer onto cornmeal-dusted parchment paper
  11. Preheat oven at 200C / 392F for 1 hour or more
  12. Proof (rest) 1 hour at above room temperature
  13. Prepare baking soda or honey solution; pour baked soda or honey into boiling water
  14. Boil dough 10 seconds each side; drain 30 seconds on wire rack
  15. Transfer dough to parchment paper
  16. Add topping (excluding cheese)
  17. Bake at 200C / 392F for 30 minutes, rotating at 15 minutes (steaming not necessary)
  18. Add cheese 10 minutes prior to baking completion
  19. Cool for at least 30 minutes on wire rack

If you have any suggestions or feedback on how to improve my recipe, please feel free to post. Thank you in advance and have a jolly baking. :)

Zita 

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

For weeks I ventured into the herbal and spicy world of Southeast Asia. Cambodian mint, Thai basil, black and white peppercorns, cassia, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, star anise, and so on...

For days I spent fine-tuning an Indian beverage called masala chai---a brew consisting of black tea, milk, sugar, and an assortment of spices and herbs.

 

Over the course of a month, I visited four separate Indian restaurants to order one thing: masala chai. Yes, I had other Indian dishes but my only concern was to imprint the flavours of the said beverage into my memory.

(Off tangent story: As a Canadian who's fond of Italian cuisine, I'm not too familiar with Indian food, and during my first visit to an Indian restaurant in Cambodia I requested "spicy" rather than "non-spicy"---BIG mistake!)

After taste-testing four different variations, I noticed that each masala chai possessed a few common traits: they were faintly to mildly sweet, fragrant of spices (namely cinnamon), and induced the sensation of burning warmth (not chili hotness) in the back of the throat and around the mouth. 

 

My version of masala chai was an adaptation of this photo-based recipe.

Through trial and error I learnt that 1) prolonged boiling and simmering of tea leaves results in sharp bitterness and astringency; 2) excessive amounts of ginger irritates the throat, which may incite bouts of coughing; 3) too much water dilutes the flavour; 4) milk alone cannot counterbalance the bitterness of black tea.

 

While kneading by hand, I found myself questioning the consistency of the dough.

"Why isn't it coming together!" I exclaimed

Then, my intuition alerted me to my mistake. Somehow, I ommitted the salt from my written recipe, as well as the dough. This negligent error was amended by adding a spoonful of salt---and just like that, the dough pulled itself inwards, tightening into a sticky, wet blob.

 

Enriched or sweetened dough aren't typically baked in a steamed oven, but I wanted to observe its effects. So what happened? Well, the crust was paler and thicker than expected, and it didn't set until much later into the bake.

 

For those of you who can instantly "read" the flesh of a loaf, you may notice that the pores are oddly arranged---blotches of open and closed crumb. During final shaping, I accidentally disfigured my batard and then hastily shaped the dough into a boule.

The above was the result. 

Flavour-wise, the bread was rather bland (due to a lack of salt), harboring a hint of sweetness and butteriness, accompanied by a faint tang. Interestingly, a very subtle cooling / numbing sensation was felt in the back of my throat while eating the loaf. Additionally, the crust and crumb wafted a distinct and pleasant smell of cloves and cinnamon.

If you're interested, you may find my recipe below:

White Sourdough Starter:

  • White sourdough starter, 60% hydration [13 g]
  • Mineral water [149 g]
  • Type 55 French flour [259 g]

Soaker:

  • Unbleached all-purpose flour [526 g]
  • Masala chai, Iced, Strained (variation of this recipe) [361 g]

Final Dough:

  • White sourdough starter [372 g]
  • Soaker [801 g]
  • Unsalted butter [60 g]
  • Sea salt [7 g] (increasing salt amount is highly recommended)
-----
  1. Mix starter ingredients; rest starter at above room temperature for approx. 12 hours
  2. Prepare and chill masala chai; when cool, add ice cubes, wait 10 to 20 minutes, and strain masala chai
  3. Mix soaker ingredients; chill soaker for approx. 12 hours
  4. After 12 hours, briefly mix starter and soaker until dough forms
  5. French knead dough for 10 minutes; add salt
  6. French knead dough for 20 minutes; add unsalted butter
  7. French knead dough for 15 minutes or until medium gluten development
  8. Shape (wet, sticky) dough into rough ball and place into oiled bowl
  9. Bulk ferment (rest) dough at above room temperature for 2 hours or until double
  10. Shape deflated dough into ball (add flour as needed) and place back into oiled bowl
  11. Bench rest at above room temperature for 20 minutes to relax gluten
  12. Shape dough into ball (add flour as needed), place onto parchment paper, wrap with flour-dusted cloth
  13. Proof (rest) dough at above room temperature for 2 hours or until double (perform "poke test" every 30 minutes to prevent overproofing)
  14. Preheat oven to 220C / 428F (convection mode off) for 1 hour, with steam (optional)
  15. Lightly dust dough with flour and score / slash dough
  16. Bake dough at 220C / 392F (convection mode off) for 10 minutes, with steam (optional)
  17. Bake dough at 200C / 392F (convection mode on) for 75 minutes, without steam
  18. Rotate dough every 15 minutes to ensure even heat distribution
  19. Cool loaf for at least 24 hours to develop flavour

 Thanks for reading. Best wishes to all and have a happy baking. :)

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

Several days ago I paid a visit to my friend, a German chef / food and beverage manager of a local restaurant. I sought constructive criticsm and wanted his honest opinion regarding my loaf; I'm referring to the Cumin Walnut Cheese Rye Sourdough Bread.

Upon meeting him, I unexpectedly met a group of his friends---a food and beverage (F&B) consultant, an Austrian chef / baker, and an Indian chef.

Offering them a sample of my bread loaf, the following were the essence of their critiques:

  • The F&B consultant: "It's a failure."
  • The German chef: "It's not that bad."
  • The Austrian chef / baker: "It's shit."
  • The Indian chef: "Not bad."

Amongst them, the feedback given by the F&B consultant was the most detrimental. He meticulously picked apart my loaf, criticizing every little detail, and... It felt as if a hot rod was plunged into my heart, jerking violently with each word spoken. As I sat rock-still on my chair, I did my best to maintain eye contact, fixating a superficial smile across my face.

Amongst them, the most insightful and helpful feedback was given by the F&B consultant.

 

After the aforementioned incident, I thought long and hard about my progress as a baker, pacing back and forth in my bedroom in the midst of the night. However, in the end, I was left with one conclusion: "I'll do better."

Without further digression, I proudly present to you my yeast water boule (above), inspired by the Japanese rice ball (i.e., onigiri). With exception to a few references, the recipe was devised on my own---a first in my undertaking as an amateur homebaker.

 

Days prior to baking the yeast water boule, I booked a reservation at a reputable and popularized Japanese restaurant in town (highly recommended by the F&B consultant, I discovered). Possessing little to no familiarity with Japanese cuisine, I felt it was necessary to test a few of their dishes before rendering their food into a crusty bread loaf.

Having done research beforehand, at the restaurant I ordered the tamagoyaki for the appetizer, a platter of nigirizushi (pictured above) for the first course, mazizushi for the second course, and red bean soup (i.e., zenzai) for the dessert.

Overall, I was given the impression that Japanese food was about the balance of delicate to mild flavours, using simpler, fresher ingredients, with their main dishes leaning towards saltiness.

 

Now grasping a vague sense of "Japanese flavours", I selected the following ingredients for the yeast water boule:

Unbleached all-purpose flour, Type 55 French flour, Partially steamed brown rice, Yeast water starter, Mineral water, Japanese soy sauce (Shoyu), Honey, Toasted sesame seeds, Roasted seaweed (Nori), Bonito flakes (Katsuobushi), Sea salt, and Extra virgin olive oil.

Note: Nearly on a whim, I purchased two different brands of nori for comparison. And what did I learn? One nori was much more flavoursome than the other. Thus, not all similar products are created equally.

 

Originally, I intended to shape the dough into a triangle but found it too awkward. The dough kept molding itself into a ball and I took that as a strong indication that the dough was unhappy.

Boule it is, then!

 

Truth be told, the boule tasted awful---too many unbalanced flavours, with bitterness being the most dominent. (Burnt rice grains were to blame.)

Should I be upset? Nahh, first attempts are rarely successful attempts. It was an experiment after all. On the positive side, the boule resembled a Japanese rice ball, which was one of my primary goals for the loaf.

Before I end this post, I'd like to mention something rather personal, baking-wise:

In the past I had followed the baker's creed of "extracting flavours from the grain to the best of my capability". But as time progressed, I noticed my baking style was becoming more distinctive: 1) I prefer using "natural" or non-artifical ingredients; 2) I concentrate on the aesthetics of the bread, just as much as the flavour; 3) I enjoy incorporating unusual ingredients into the dough.

My dear TFLers, I now abide to new bread baking creed, perhaps one that you may disagree with.

My responsibility as a bread baker is to use flour as the medium. All other ingredients are flavouring components (some with critical functional properties) and must be combined in such a way that is balanced and pleasurable to the palate.

Thanks for reading, all. Farewell and have a happy baking. :)

Zita 

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