• Chefs & Recipes

    Bake like a pro

  • –  Chef Anees 

    “A chef is as good as his ingredients”, that has been my mantra since I became a chef 18 years ago.  A top quality ingredient helps you produce a beautiful product and this would be my number one tip for bread making.

    Making successful breads is a blend of the right knowledge and a little bit of practice. My first baking tryst was very intimidating but with the right tricks and someone to guide me, I picked it up right away.  There are a number of bread secrets you should use as you bake bread that will give you consistent results time and again. Many of these secrets will ensure that your bread is the envy of your circle of friends and family and they will ask for your bread every time.

    Having worked with many dough’s and breads over the year, I have come up with few tips and tricks to bake that perfect loaf.

    • For the best bread, use the freshest ingredients, flours, butter, eggs, seeds etc
    • Mise-en-place (French culinary phrase that means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.”) It’s important to have all your ingredients in front of you before starting down this gluten-loaded journey
    • Invest in a very good digital weighing scale, measuring spoons and cups
    • Know your yeast (More information on yeast under “Understanding yeast and its significance in bread making” below)
    • Pay attention to the environment. Too cold the environment and the bread will take a lot of time to rise. Place your dough in a warm place or on top of the oven with lowest temperature set on the thermostat. Too hot the area, yeast will grow at a fast pace and the dough would over proof
    • Use room temperature ingredients for best results.
    • Measure and weigh your ingredients correctly. Use a dry measuring cup to measure the dry ingredients and use a glass or plastic liquid measuring cup to measure the liquids.
    • Do not scoop your flour with the measuring cup. You will end up using too much flour and the loaf will be heavy. Instead, use a spoon to lift the flour out of the container and into the measuring cup or weighing scale. Do not tap or shake the cup to put more flour into it. Simply level the top with a flat edge.
    • Kneading & gluten formation- Kneading is all about teaching your hands what to expect from the dough. We will learn more about it in the column below
    • Proofing – Letting dough rise is also critical to your success. Room temperature, humidity, and the ingredients you use and how much you use, and the condition of the dough, all affect the time it takes your dough to rise. To check if dough is ready push two fingers into the dough about one inch. If the indents remain your dough is ready, if it’s disappear leave the dough for a while longer.
    • The right temperature & time – Generally, leaner breads (made with flour, water, and yeast) are baked at 200° to 218° Celsius. Richer breads (made with more fat and eggs) are baked at lower temperatures. Breads made with less than 1/2 cup sugar are generally baked at 190° Celsius and bread with more are baked at 175° Celsius. A loaf of bread can bake from 25 to 45 minutes.
    • Baking & relaxing – One of the most common mistakes in bread baking is throwing the dough in the oven and abandoning it. That loaf is like a four-year-old with two working parents. It needs a babysitter. If it’s browning more quickly on one side, rotate it. Get involved. I like ovens, but would not trust them completely unless it’s a state of the art baking oven. Don’t stress about your bread being perfect. There’s no point in baking at home if it doesn’t bring you joy. If a part of the loaf burns, don’t worry. People like the crispy parts. If one part isn’t as firm as the rest, that’s cool. People like the soft parts. The ultimate thing to keep in mind is that if the bread is fresh and warm, people will pick it apart the second it hits the table.
    • Don’t try to cut the loaf of bread right away, wait at least 15 minutes so that you don’t tear the crust.
    • Quick breads will do better if you wait until the next day to cut them.

    Understanding yeast and its significance in bread making

    What is yeast?

    • Yeast is a microorganism that belongs to the fungi kingdom. It is in the air and on every surface- it is all around us and its job in this world is to break down things down in a process of fermentation. It consumes sugar in the dough and emits gas in the form of carbon dioxide and alcohol as by products

    Types of yeast

    • Active Dry Yeast is the most commonly available form for home bakers. It’s available in ¼-oz packets or jars.  The yeast is dormant, needs to be proofed and rehydrated before using. Dry yeast should be stored in a cool dry place; but do not use it after the expiration date on the package. Store open containers in the refrigerator.
    • Instant Yeast is dry yeast developed in the past thirty years. It comes in smaller granules than active dry yeast, absorbs liquid rapidly, and doesn’t need to be hydrated or proofed before being mixed into flour. Bread machine yeast and rapid rise yeast is instant yeast that may include ascorbic acid, a dough conditioner. Again, store the yeast in a cool dry place, or in the refrigerator once the package has been opened. Do not use yeast after the expiration date.
    • Fresh Yeast also known as compressed or cake yeast, is active yeast. It’s sold in tiny cakes in the refrigerated section of many supermarkets. Fresh yeast does not keep well; it will last about two weeks if refrigerated. The yeast should be pale gray-brown, fragrant, soft and crumbly–not hard, dark brown, or crusty. Any mold growing on the surface is an indication that the yeast should be discarded. Fresh yeast should be proofed in tepid water (25-30 degrees C) without contact with salt or sugar. This yeast type is a good choice for breads requiring a long cool rise, or for breads made using the sponge method.

    Why is yeast so important and what does it do to the bread?

    Carbon Dioxide Helps Bread Rise

    • Carbon dioxide is one of the major gases responsible for leavening in baking. In cakes, it comes from the reaction of sodium bicarbonate under acidic conditions. In bread making the yeast organisms expel carbon dioxide as they feed off of sugars. As the dough rises and proofs, carbon dioxide is formed; this is why the dough volume increases. The carbon dioxide expands and moves as the bread dough warms and bakes in the oven. The bread rises and sets.       

    Alcohol Also Helps Bread Rise

    • Most bakers attribute carbon dioxide to bread rise, and alcohol to bread flavor exclusively, but that’s not entirely true. When yeast breaks down glucose, transforming it into carbon dioxide and ethanol, both byproducts are formed in equal parts. So for every glucose molecule, two molecules of carbon dioxide and two molecules of ethanol are formed. While at room temperature, the alcohol is liquid, but when the bread hits the oven, the alcohol begins to evaporate, transforming into gas bubbles that contribute to the rise of your bread. Given the amount of alcohol formed during fermentation, of course ethanol helps bread rise.

    Yeast Also Helps Develop the Gluten

    • Without gluten, gas bubbles in bread dough’s would be lost, resulting in denser bread. Gluten plays a crucial role in bread rise, trapping the bubbles of gas, and yeast has an impact on the development of gluten. This is especially important when you are following a no-knead bread recipe. As the bread dough sits in the fridge for hours and hours, enzymes in the flour slowly break down the gluten proteins into smaller pieces. Those smaller pieces can more easily assemble into network and form gluten from even tiny movements we can’t see.
    • The movements that help develop the gluten in no-knead bread are the gas bubbles that are released from the fermenting yeast. The gas bubbles move around slowly throughout the dough, and that movement pushes and rearranges the proteins in the bread dough so they can arrange into a network without you having to knead the dough.
    • Yeast is essential to the rise of bread, not only because it produces carbon dioxide, but also because it produces alcohol that evaporates as the bread bakes, and because it helps develop and strengthen the gluten network.

    Different flour options for bread other than refined flour and it’s impact on the final product

    • All-Purpose Flour

    If a recipe calls simply for “flour,” it’s calling for all-purpose flour. Milled from a mixture of soft and hard wheat, with a moderate protein content in the 10 to 12 percent range, all-purpose flour is a staple among staples. While not necessarily good for all purposes, it is the most versatile of flours, capable of producing flaky piecrusts, fluffy biscuits and chewy breads. All-purpose flour is sold bleached or unbleached; the two are largely interchangeable, but it’s always best to match your flour to your recipe.

    • Cake Flour

    The flour with the lowest protein content (5 to 8 percent). The relative lack of gluten-forming proteins makes cake flour ideal for tender baked goods, such as cakes but also biscuits, muffins and scones. Cake flour is generally chlorinated, a bleaching process that further weakens the gluten proteins and, just as important, alters the flour’s starch to increase its capacity to absorb more liquid and sugar, and thus ensure a moist cake.

    • Pastry Flour

    An unbleached flour made from soft wheat, with protein levels somewhere between cake flour and all-purpose flour (8 to 9 percent). Pastry flour strikes the ideal balance between flakiness and tenderness, making it perfect for pies, tarts and many cookies. To make your own pastry flour, mix together 1 1/3 cups All purpose flour and 2/3-cup cake flour.

    • Bread Flour

    With a protein content of 12 to 14 percent, bread flour is the strongest of all flours, providing the most structural support. This is especially important in yeasted breads, where a strong gluten network is required to contain the CO2 gases produced during fermentation. The extra protein doesn’t just make for better volume and a chewier crumb; it also results in more browning in the crust. Bread flour can be found in white or whole wheat, bleached or unbleached. Unbleached all-purpose flour can generally be substituted for bread flour with good results.

    • Self-Rising Flour

    Flour to which baking powder and salt have been added during milling. Self-rising flour is generally made from the low-protein wheat. It’s best for tender biscuits, muffins, pancakes and some cakes. Self-rising flour is best stored tightly wrapped in its original box and used within six months of purchase — longer than that and the baking powder in it begins to lose its oomph. To make your own self-rising flour, combine 1-cup pastry flour with 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4-teaspoon salt.

    • Whole-Wheat Flour

    During milling, the wheat kernel is separated into its three components: the endosperm, the germ (the embryo) and the bran (the outer coating). In whole-wheat flours, varying amounts of the germ and bran are added back into the flour. Whole-wheat flour tends to be high in protein, but its gluten-forming ability is compromised by the bran and germ — just one of the reasons whole-wheat flour tends to produce heavier, denser baked goods.

    In most recipes, whole-wheat flour can be substituted for up to half of the all-purpose flour. Because wheat germ is high in oils prone to rancidity, whole-wheat flour is far more perishable than white. Store it for up to three months at cool room temperature, and then transfer it to the freezer.

    • Gluten-Free Flours

     There are a wide variety of gluten-free flours available today, made from all sorts of grains, nuts and starches. Some of the most widely available are based on rice flour blended with tapioca and potato starch. A small proportion of xanthan gum is sometimes added to help simulate the chewiness normally associated with gluten. Consult the specific recipe or packaging for information on how to substitute gluten-free flour for wheat flour in your favorite baking recipes.

    • Other Flours

    Besides the above flours readily available in the market, there are specialty flours that one can find in gourmet stores or hotel suppliers dealing with imported goods and flours. To name a few: –

    1. Ciabatta flour
    2. Sourdough flour
    3. French Baguette
    4. Multigrain flour
    5. Rye flour
    6. Dark rye
    7. Pumpernickel bread flour
    8. Sunflower bread flower
    9. Pumpkin bread flower and more

    Kneading & resting tips 

    • Knowing when you can stop kneading the dough is among the more mysterious aspects of baking bread. Sure, it’s no longer a wobbly mess of bubble-gummy dough, but is it really done? Here are a few clues to look for.
    • The point of kneading dough is to strengthen the gluten, which are the stringy bands of proteins that give bread its structure and texture. As you work the dough, those strands of gluten are tightening up and getting into line.
    • Kneading for 10-12 minutes by hand or 8-10 minutes in a mixer are the general standards; if you’ve been massaging the dough for that length of time, you can be pretty confident that you’ve done your job. Here are a few other things to look for:
    1. Smooth Dough – The dough will start out looking like a shaggy, lumpy mass and will gradually smooth out as you knead. By the time you finish, it should be completely smooth and slightly tacky to the touch.
    2. Holds Its Shape – Lift the ball of dough in your hand and hold it in the air for a second. If it holds its ball shape, that means the gluten is tight and strong. If it sags down between your fingers, the gluten is still not formed and needs some more kneading.
    3. The Poke Test – Give that ball of dough a firm poke with your finger. If the indentation fills back quickly, you’re good to go. If it stays looking like a deep dimple, continue kneading.
    4. The Windowpane Test– Pull off a small piece of dough and stretch it into a thin sheet between your fingers, if the gluten is well developed, the dough will strech into a paper- thin film without breaking. If it quickly breaks…you guessed it, keep kneading.

    Resting the dough

    When handling dough in bread making, it is a distinct advantage to allow the dough to rest during the process. This allows the gluten to relax and easily reform itself into the long protein chains, which are the superstructure of the finished loaf. It is possible to achieve greater volume and lightness by resting the dough at the right times. Dough’s made from white flour require more resting than whole meal dough’s, as the whole meal is always fermenting faster and the presence of bran particles reduces the strength of the dough by slicing through the gluten superstructure.

    Covering the dough

    Dough’s should be covered by a damp cloth or a plastic sheet when proofing. This prevents the formation of a crust, which will then damage the dough and crust structure, as it is re-kneaded back into the loaf for a final rounding.

    Proofing the dough

    In bread baking terms, proofing means to allow the bread dough to rise. Often, in basic yeast bread recipes, the dough will be proofed two times. The first proofing will be in a covered bowl. The second and final proofing will be in a bread pan. Each time the bread is allowed to rise.

    How to check if bread is proofed?

    A good test for the final proof is to gently push your finger into the top of the loaf and see if it slowly rises back. If it does, you’re good to go.

    Things that can destroy a good dough:

    • Hot water
    • Inferior ingredients
    • Expired yeast
    • Over kneading
    • Under proofing
    • Over proofing
    • Low temperature
    • High temperature
    • Inappropriate baking time

    Baking Troubleshoot

    • Bread not rising
    1. A lot of people think dough won’t rise unless they leave it for several hours and leave it somewhere really warm. Yes some recipes call for overnight proofing, but for normal breads you don’t need anything special to make dough rise. I always use instant yeast as very reliable. You don’t need to place the dough really anywhere warm, just pop it on the side, cover it and it will definitely rise in one or two hours. If it doesn’t rise, it might be because of the yeast – fresh yeast can be unreliable sometimes.
    • My finished loaf is heavy and soggy
    1. There are a few things that can cause this, but it’s mainly because of the way the bread has been baked. I often recommend people go to their local local tiles shop or a supermarket and buy a cheap marble stone to use as a baking stone. Heat it in the oven by putting the temperature up as hot as it can go.
    2. Always shape your loaf on a piece of non-stick surface or a silicone paper, then when it’s proved, stick it straight onto the hot stone and reduce the temperature of the oven down to around 180-200°C. It is always recommended to transfer the baked breads on a wire mesh to avoid the sogginess in the base of the bread
    • When I’m kneading, the dough is sticking to my hands and the work surface
    1. The solution depends on what kind of bread you’re making. Breads like Ciabatta/Focaccia have runny dough to give the bread air bubbles. I make the dough, pour it into a well-oiled bowl, let it prove, then tip it out onto a well-floured surface (you could use flour or semolina), then, sprinkle some more flour on top so the dough is practically covered before quickly preparing it for the tray.
    2. For a normal loaf, the more you knead it the less sticky it becomes. Dough is always wet and sticky at first but, once you’ve kneaded it for five to six minutes, it becomes less sticky and more glossy as it develops a skin, which is the gluten forming. Eventually, you’ll get to a point where the dough isn’t sticky anymore and your hands have become clean just through the kneading motion. If it seems to be taking a long time just give it another sprinkle of flour.
    • I think my dough has over proved but can’t tell
    1. There are several things that can cause over proofing. Usually it’s because the yeast sat for too long and isn’t necessarily exhausted but the air bubbles have become too big, or it may have lost its structure. I think generally, once you’ve shaped your bread, if you leave it to prove beyond 40 minutes it goes into over proofed territory, which will give you a bad loaf. If you want to stop this happening, don’t let the dough double (despite what cookery books might say) – once the dough has grown by two thirds it’s good to go in the oven as it’ll continue growing in there and you get what you call the ‘oven spring’. A good way to tell whether your dough has proved sufficiently is by denting it with your finger. It should spring back to its shape gradually. If the indent doesn’t go away, usually it’s not proved enough but if it springs back really quickly it means it’s started to over prove and there’s too much air in it.
    • My free-form loaf rises unevenly during baking
    1. You want to develop a skin on your loaf to stop this happening. If you were doing a farmers loaf, you’d tip out your proved dough, put some flour on your hands then do a kind of spinning and tucking action, so you’re constantly tucking the dough under itself while rotating it. It’ll start to develop a really taut skin, so it becomes like a tight football almost. If you do that for a couple of minutes you get a really nice, tight ball of dough. Pop it onto your baking tray and let it prove for 40 minutes, then the fact you’ve created that surface tension will give you the perfect farmers loaf.
    • My baked bread is too crumbly and falls apart when I cut it. 
    1. This can be because of quite a few things. Firstly, if you use too much whole-wheat flour you can get a crumbly loaf, as you don’t have enough regular white flour to create gluten, which will give you the nice texture. Too much flour and not enough water can cause crumbly bread – people often do this if the dough is too sticky and they add more flour rather than kneading through it. Other culprits can be over proving or not kneading enough – the things you need to do to get a good structure.
    • My loaf cracked during baking
    1. When you put bread in the oven it expands, but you want to control that growth. Slashing the loaf horizontally or diagonally cuts through the surface and will encourage it to grow in a certain direction. If the bread cracks in the bottom then your bread has not been proofed well
    • Bread rose but collapsed in the oven
    1. . Flour used was too weak with low gluten
    2. . Dough was over proofed/over raised
    3. . Oven temperature was too low
    • Large holes in the bread
    1. . Dough was poorly moulded/shaped. Air needs to be completely pressed out of the dough during punching down step to avoid this
    2. . Dough was allowed to rise for too long

    Irish Soda Bread

    Yield – Makes 1 Loaf

    You will need

    • 350 gms Plain flour
    • 150 gms Whole wheat flour
    • 1 ½ tsp Bicarbonate of soda
    • 1 tsp Salt
    • 1 tsp Caster sugar
    • 450 ml  Buttermilk

    Instructions

    • Preheat the oven to 200°C
    • Sift the dry ingredients into a bowl and make a well in the middle.
    • Reserve 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk and add the rest to the bowl, mixing lightly with a fork as you add it. (Be careful not to overwork the dough but make sure all the dry ingredients are mixed in. Add the remaining buttermilk if necessary.)
    • Tip the dough on to a floured work surface and knead gently for 30 seconds to combine. Do not overwork. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and dust with flour. Form the bread into a round,
    • Place on the tray and flatten slightly. Use a serrated knife to cut a deep cross in the top of the loaf.
    • Place in the preheated oven and bake for 30–35 minutes until the soda bread is golden on the outside and cooked through. A good way to check is by tapping the base – it should sound hollow when baked.
    • Cool on a wire rack before enjoying warm or cold.

    French Baguette with Poolish

    Yield – Makes 2 French baguettes of 300 gms each

    You will need 

    For Poolish

    • 120 gms Plain flour
    • 170 ml  Water
    • 6 gms Fresh Yeast

    For Baguette

    • 240 gms Plain flour
    • 6 gms Fresh Yeast
    • 6 gms Salt
    • 2 gms Gluten
    • 2 gms Bread Improver (Bromate free)

    Instructions

    • Make the poolish using the first three ingredients and rest for at least 3-4 hours
    • For the baguette, add all the ingredients including the poolish and make smooth and firm dough.
    • Make 300 gms balls and rest covered with a wet cloth for 30 minutes
    • Shape into baguettes and rest for another 30 minutes or until proofed.
    • Spray water, dust flour using a tea strainer mesh and give long slits. Rest for a further 5 minutes
    • Bake in steam or place an ice bowl besides the French Baguette at 200 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce the temp to 190 and bake for another 15-20 minutes
    • The baguette should make a hollow sound when tapped and should make a cracking sound when pressed lightly
    • When at room temperature, use the bread for making Bruschetta, Crostini or a sandwich

    Pecan, Raisin & Fondant Scones

    Yield – Makes 20 Scones

    You will need

    • 450 gms Plain flour
    • 110 gms Unsalted butter
    • 30 gms Baking Powder
    • 170 ml Milk
    • 1 Piece Egg (Whole)
    • 110 gms Caster sugar
    • 5 ml Vanilla Essence
    • 50 gms Raisins
    • 50 gms Pecans (Toasted & chopped roughly)
    • 1 Piece Egg yolk (For egg wash)

    For Fondant

    • 100 gms Icing sugar
    • 25 ml Warm water

    Instructions

    • Make an egg wash by whisking the yolk lightly with a fork
    • Mix all the other ingredients except the fondant ingredients to a smooth dough (do not mix too long)
    • Add the raisin and the pecans and mix lightly
    • Roll out at 15 mm on the dough sheeter or using a rolling pin
    • Cut with 2” stainless steel round cutter and brush once with egg yolk wash, rest in fridge for 30 minutes and again give a second egg yolk wash.
    • Bake at 220C for about 10 minutes or until golden in colour
    • For the fondant, whisk the icing sugar and the warm water to form a thick running paste.
    • Immediately drizzle the fondant on the scones once they come out of the oven
    • Garnish with more chopped pecans and icing sugar if desired

    Whole Meal Ciabatta

    Yield – Makes 20 small rolls or 9 loafs of 180 gms each

    You will need       

    For Starter dough

    • 100 gms  Plain flour
    • 200 ml Water
    • 10 gms  Yeast fresh

    For the Dough

    • 500 gms  Plain flour
    • 200 gms  Whole wheat flour
    • 2 gms Neropan, a natural and organic bread darkening agent (Optional)
    • 20 gms  Salt
    • 30 gms  Yeast fresh
    • 20 gms Gluten
    • 10 gms Bread improver (Bromate free)
    • 500 ml Water

    Instructions

    • Make the starter dough a day in advance by mixing all the ingredients to a smooth dough
    • Preheat the oven to 230 degree Celsius
    • Mix all the ingredients into smooth elastic dough. Texture of the dough should be very soft.
    •  The dough will be very tough to handle by hands as its very soft. Place the dough in a well-greased (oil) deep tray. Proof for 30 mins.
    • Invert the dough onto the table dusted with lots of flour. Cut the dough into small diamond sized breads or into 6-1/2 cm X 11-cm size. Place on a tray dusted with flour, proof for 20 mins.
    • Start the baking at 230˚ C.  Throw in a few pieces of ice cubes in the oven for extra steam and reduce the temp to 220˚C
    • The bread should crackle when pressed between fingers when baked fully
    • Bread to be immediately transferred to cooling rack.

    Chef Anees was brought up in Orissa and in 1997, he graduated from JHM Chennai. He started off his culinary journey at The Leela Kempenski in Mumbai and just a year later, he found himself in the patisserie kitchen of the hotel. Anees had trained under the Swiss master Pastry Chef, Beat Loffel, who is credited to change the pattiserie kitchen in India. Soon after he became the Head of the Pastry kitchen of The Leela, Goa after which, there was no stopping him. Through his journey of working with some of the best hotels around the world, he got the opportunity to serve the US Presidents, International cricketers and many more high profile guests. In 2010, he returned to Mumbai to pursue his dream and set-up Star Anise Fine Foods & Leisure Pvt. Ltd, a premium catering company. 
    Follow them on @staranisecafe_