Finally, I have cracked the bread baking demon! After at least 6-7 trials over the course of last one year, I was able to bake perfect soft on the inside and crisp on the outside bread buns. I have been intimidated by it for the longest time. And the last few times that I tried it, it turned out sloppy. Looked good on the outside, but was sticky in the center, and then I baked it some more, and it got burnt on the top. Once, it baked well, but smelled yeasty, like beer does. Ah, well, I can say that it was in the past. Now I have entered the bread-baker zone. That is exciting. Not only because I have been striving to get it right for a long time, but also because it opens up a whole different sector of baking. Fresh loaves, dinner rolls, whole wheat bread, multi-grain breads, donuts, Irish soda bread, beer bread, and oh my god, the list goes on.
In Paris, initially I resisted liking the thick crusted baguette and the bassinet. Yes, in my mind it was firmly set that breads should be soft and pillowy. So for the first few days, I actively avoided appreciating the flavor of the crusty bread. And then my French hostess Danielle introduced me to the freshly baked, eaten on the same day baguettes. And they tasted so amazing. But the ground rule is to eat it only on the day it is baked, and never eat the leftover bread on the second day. Because it just doesn’t taste good.
The French frown on factory made loaves of bread sold in supermarkets. A bread has to be fresh, baked daily and it is artisanal. Depends on the mood of the baker. There is also a famous fable and a Broadway show by the name “A Baker’s wife” which is set in the French town of Concorde. A village without bread for many weeks welcomes a new baker and his young and beautiful wife. Wife runs away with younger man; baker takes to drink; and the bread, just like the spring, dries up. The baker, according to his mood, made flat unflavored bread, and eventually, the townsfolk, decide to search for the baker’s wife and persuade her to come back to the baker. And they eventually succeed. All that for the love of bread!
Last year, in USA, we had the corn chowder in edible soup bowls, and since then I wished to make them. Incidentally, it is believed that chowder is derived from the French word chaudière, which is a type of cooking stove on which the first chowders were cooked.
The chowder/ soup can have any combination of vegetables, fish, bacon, chicken etc. This time, I made the vegetable chowder, but feel free to add roasted chicken, crispy bacon pieces and whatever you wish. Literally.
Just make the soup thicker by adding some whole wheat flour and cooking it for a while. Even good ol’ tomato soup works well.
Home Made bread bowls:
Makes 4-5 bread bowls.
What you will need :
- 2 teaspoons instant dry yeast
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/2 cup warm (not hot) water
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten,
- 4 cups bread flour, divided
- 1 egg white and 2 tbsp water for the egg wash
What to do :
- Dissolve sugar in water and add the yeast. Let it sit for 5-7 minutes till it becomes frothy.
- To this mixture, add 1/2 cup milk, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and 2 lightly beaten eggs. Mix well with a whisk.
- Spoon bread flour into a measuring cup and level with knife, and add 3 and 1/2 cups of bread flour to the mixture. Mix with a fork and then turn dough into a lightly floured surface.
- Use the remaining 1/2 cup flour to knead the dough and slowly incorporate it into the dough, kneading for 7-8 minutes The dough will feel sticky initially, which is okay. After incorporating the 1/2 cup remaining flour it will be easy to work with.
- Place dough in a large bowl sprayed with oil and roll the dough to coat it in oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm place for one hour or till double in size.
- Punch dough down.
- Roll in into a log and divide it into 4-5 balls of suitably equal size.
- Take each piece and pull down the sides toward the bottom to create a smooth top. Place the dough, seam side down, on a clean work surface. Place the palm of your hand over top and roll in a circular motion, keeping the seam side down to seal. Be gentle, and do not overwork.
- Transfer the rolls to a parchment lined baking sheet and let rise for another 45 minutes, until doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 220°C/ 425° F.
- Brush the dough rolls with the egg-wash and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and cooked through.
- Cool completely on a wire rack before cutting off the top.
For the soup, I steamed cut vegetables like carrots, onions, potatoes, sweetcorn and mushrooms. Then I added some whole-wheat flour, milk, water, salt , crushed garlic and fresh oregano leaves and boiled it for a couple of minutes till the coup became relatively thick.
Enjoy this chowder steaming hot, with some cheese and chilli flakes on top. That melted cheese on top is like the cherry on the cake. Grab spoonfuls of bread with the chowder and munch on the flavorful bread once you are done.
- If you are using the bread for any other purpose, add 1/2 teaspoon more salt. But with the chowder, the amount of salt specified above works well.
- The yeast smells quite odd, but don’t be intimidated by it. Once baked, it gives a beautiful texture and flavor to the bread.