When I started baking, the idea of making my own bread had never crossed my mind. After all, bread is easily available from supermarkets and neighbourhood bakeries, and making bread seems labour intensive. Furthermore I am not a big “bread eater”.
Everything changed when I got seriously sick not too long ago. I was only having plain rice porridge and water, and my tastebuds became super sensitive. My dad got me a loaf of bread from the supermarket to fill my stomach. It was the one of the most awful things I’d ever had. The bread was bitter and floury. Despite being sickly and hungry, I immediately spat the bread out. It was then I decided, I would avoid store bought bread and make my own.
For a beginner (like myself), I started with Peter Reinhart’s soft cheese bread as I felt it was not an intimidating recipe. The recipe does not call for long hours of proofing and there is not a lot of kneading involved. You can use this recipe to make the bread into a loaf, bread rolls or even a free-form bâtard. For those experienced bakers (or people who are more courageous), you can play around with the ingredients. Instead of cheddar cheese, you can choose to use Gruyère, Comté or a mixture of everything. In my case, I even mixed in cumin powder with the cheese. Cayenne pepper, smoked paprika or black pepper are alternatives as well.
To start your bread making journey, you will also need to equip yourself with one tool that I think is essential and even critical – the thermometer. You will need two types of thermometers – the oven thermometer and the meat or cooking thermometer. Though you may preheat the oven before you bake, there are times when you may not realise that the temperature has dropped. With an oven thermometer, you will know precisely the right time to put in the loaf. This is crucial as any drop in temperature may cause your loaf to sink. To help you gauge when the bread is ready, you’ll need a meat or cooking thermometer. Check whether your bread is done by sticking the thermometer in the middle of the loaf and see if it hits the right temperature (as stated in the recipe). This is especially useful if you are a beginner to bread making. These two types of thermometers are inexpensive and you can use them for your daily cooking or baking, so it’s worthwhile investing in them.
Making your own bread may seem like a gargantuan task and it can look quite intimidating and time consuming (well, this is sort of true). However, there are many types of bread you can bake depending on your schedule – from the basic soda bread (which literally takes 30 minutes to make and bake) to this simple soft cheese bread. And once you have a taste of your own homemade bread, you will not be able to stomach the ones from the supermarket.
Peter Reinhart’s soft cheese bread
(Adapted from Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day)
In his book, Reinhart provides a few alternatives to the ingredients and proofing methods. The ingredients and techniques that I featured here are the ones that I am most comfortable with. In addition, the way I roll my dough is not listed in the book – I’ve done it in this specific way due to my small workspace (which is around the size of a chopping board). If you are fond of making bread or a beginner, I would recommend that you grab a copy of Reinhart’s book. It is not too pricey and contains a lot of fabulous recipes and tips from Reinhart.
Recipe type: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Prep time: 3½ hours
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
Total time: 4 hours
Serve: Makes about 6 bread rolls
397g bread flour
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
32g brown sugar
½ cup of lukewarm water (around 35oC)
½ cup + 1 tablespoon lukewarm milk (around 35oC)
7g instant yeast (1 sachet of instant yeast)
28g unsalted butter
170g grated cheese (I like to use cheddar)*
3 tablespoon dried chives (optional; if you can find fresh chives, you will need around 15g and minced)
– In a stand mixer bowl, whisk the flour, salt and sugar together. If you are doing this by hand, use the biggest mixing bowl you have.
– In a small saucepan, warm the milk (take it off the heat when small bubbles form at the side of the saucepan – do not boil the milk) and throw in the butter to let it melt.
– Using a small bowl or a measuring cup, whisk the lukewarm water and the yeast until dissolved.
– Pour all the liquid mixtures (milk with butter and water with yeast) into the dry ingredients (flour mixture) and stir with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. At this stage, don’t worry if your dough feels a bit sticky or dry. This can be corrected later.
– If you are using a stand mixer, use a dough hook and mix the dough on a medium-low speed for about 3 minutes. If you are mixing by hand, knead the dough in the mixing bowl. At this point, make adjustments to your dough as needed. If it is too dry, add in a bit more water. If it is too sticky, throw in some flour. At the end, the desired dough should be soft, supple and tacky (not sticky).
– If using chives, mix it in the dough either using the stand mixer or by hand for 1 minute or until the chives are evenly distributed.
– Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 1-2 minutes to make any final adjustments, then form the dough into a ball. I don’t really like to roll my dough into a ball. What I would usually do is what I call the pull and tuck method. Pull the side of the dough and tuck it underneath. Repeat till the dough becomes the shape of a ball.
– Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap (or use a shower cap), and let it rest at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, until it doubles in size. In Singapore’s humid climate, the dough should double in size in an hour.
– Once the first proofing is done, transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and divide it into 6 equal pieces (don’t discard the plastic wrap/shower cap, you will need it for the second proofing). I like to use the scale for this job. I would weigh the dough, do a bit of Mathematics, ensuring each divided dough is of the same weight.
– Dust each piece of dough with flour, and with a rolling pin, roll them into rectangles around 8” wide by 2” height. You do not need to be precise in getting the rectangle shape or the measurement right (but it does help to have the measuring tape nearby) – as long the rolled out dough resembles a rectangle, you will be alright.
– Sprinkle the grated cheese on the surface of the dough, and roll the dough up like a rug, from the bottom to the top, to form a log (which should be 8” long). Tuck in one end of the log, and curl the dough to form a spiral bun. Lastly, tuck the other end underneath the bun.
– Place the spiral buns about 1” apart in a greased pan (I use a 9.5” pie pan as pictured) or on a parchment lined sheet pan. Gently brush the spiral roll with oil (I use olive oil) and cover loosely with plastic wrap or shower cap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for about 90 minutes, until 1.5 times its original size.
– About 15 minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 180oC. Because of the cheese, there may be air pockets in the risen dough that could cause it to separate in the spirals. To minimise this, poke through the top crust in a few spots with a toothpick. The dough may fall a bit but it will recover in the oven.
– Bake the rolls for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan in between. You know the bread is done when the crust is golden brown and the internal temperature is 85oC in the centre.
– Remove the rolls from the pans and cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving or slicing.
– It is best to consume the bread rolls on the day itself. You can put the remainder in a airtight container for maximum 2 days. Alternatively, store them in the freezer**.
*If you like, you can “flavour” your cheese once grated. Toss in 1-2 teaspoons of your preferred spices (cumin, smoked paprika, black pepper and so on).
**To warm the bread, preheat the oven to 160oC and thaw the bread completely. Bake the bread for 10-15 minutes.