Though circumstances had led me to become a teacher, my childhood dream of being a chef was kept alive somewhere deep inside me. Last year an opportunity presented itself when we moved to Dubai and I decided to take a break from my teaching career to pursue my dream. I joined ICCA – a culinary institute in Dubai and registered myself for their six-month pastry course. As part of this intensive course I learned the crux of pastry & bread making and honed my baking skills.
My passion for baking and cooking started from my mother’s kitchen, where in my free time, I used to go and try new dishes. Bread (the regular type used for sandwiches, or Indian bread known as ‘roti’) has always been an integral part of our meals, whether be it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Whenever my mom used to knead the dough for making ‘rotis’, I used to sneak into the kitchen and taste a chunk of this raw dough. I used to wonder how just a few ingredients like flour, milk/yoghurt, water and salt could make such amazing soft rotis or bread.
Finally, I got a chance to learn everything about making Artisan Bread, which is a complex and methodical process. Although, the main ingredients for bread are simple – flour, water, salt and a raising or leavening agent; there are various steps involved in bread making for getting the right texture, softness and crumbliness. This process entails many hours of precise work, and as a home-baker you must follow these steps meticulously to create superb loaves.
- Step 1: Ingredient Selection & Scaling
The most important step to baking any product is scaling (or measuring) and using a good quality “bread flour” or “all purpose flour” to produce the best loaf of bread. I always measure all my ingredients in grams.
- Step 2: Mixing or Kneading
Combine all the ingredients and knead the mixture by hand or in a tabletop mixer and also shape the dough.
- Step 3 – 1st Proofing
In this process you let the dough relax – this allows the yeast to work and double the size of the dough.
- Step 4 – Knock Back
This process allows you to work back the proved yeast dough to the original size.
- Step 5 – Shaping and 2nd proofing
In this step, the dough is shaped and is rested again to double in size.
- Step 6 – Egg/water wash
An egg wash is beaten eggs that is brushed onto the surface of the bread in order to give a nice brownness, crispiness or sheen to the final baked product.
- Step 7 – Baking
Every loaf must be baked at a right temperature to get the right color and the lightness.
Through my course at ICCA, I learned to bake various kinds of artisan breads like
- Ciabatta – An Italian white bread made with wheat flour and yeast.
- Baguette – A French bread, which is slender, chewy, possesses an uneven and holey crumb structure and crispy crust.
- Dinner rolls – Also called as soft rolls, which is a simple dough enriched with milk, butter and eggs.
- Brioche – This is a classic French bread that is a rich yeast dough with a high content of eggs and butter.
- Pizza Dough – An Italian flat bread topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and other toppings.
- Doughnuts – Deep-fried with a hole in the centre, which may be filled and decorated before serving.
However, my favourite bread is Focaccia which a classic Italian bread and is topped with herbs and other ingredients. Although, there are different variations that are used as toppings, a typical Focaccia is simple baked dough topped with olives, herbs and tomatoes. Here is the recipe to the ultimate Focaccia.
4-5 hrs to a day
30 – 40 mins
Medium to Complex
Servings: 4 – 6
For the dough
- Bread flour – 250gms
- Instant dry yeast – 5gms (1tsp)
- Salt – 4gms (1/2 tsp)
- Water – 150gms
- Olive oil – 30 gms
For the topping
- Fresh Rosemary – As required
- Sea salt flakes – As required
- Cherry tomatoes – 6-7 nos (cut in halves)
- Basil – As required
- Olives – 7-8 nos (cut into halves)
- Combine flour, salt, yeast and water to form a soft dough (by hand or in a tabletop mixer)
- Add olive oil little by little and knead it.
- Grease a bowl with a little butter, place the dough mix in the bowl and cover it with a cling wrap to avoid any air entering the bowl.
- Rest the dough for about 4-5 hours at room temperature till it doubles in volume.
- Line a baking sheet onto a rectangular pan.
- Knock back the dough and spread it in the rectangular pan.
- Add the toppings – cherry tomatoes, olives, basil and rosemary
Option A – Rest/Prove the dough again for 45-60 mins & sprinkle some rock salt and bake it at 180 degrees centigrade for 30-40 mins. Remember to brush the dough with olive oil before you bake it
Option B – Rest/Prove the dough again overnight with a mixture of olive oil and water (1:1) drizzled on top of it. Cling-wrap the pan and keep it in the fridge. The next day, pull out the mixture 15 minutes before it needs to be baked. Sprinkle some rock salt and bake it 180 degrees centigrade for 30-40 mins.
Note: I reckon Option B that results in the best focaccia.
Serve warm, with a mix-dip of balsamic and olive oil.