Driven to Make My Own Bread.

I was driven to make bread for the first time out of necessity not a love for baking or to impress an attractive date or dinner guests. Korean cuisine is full of wonderful dishes and ingredients but unfortunately very few Korean bakeries, of which there are a multitude, have yet to get bread right. Like many of the cultural imports here bread is more an interpretation on what Koreans think bread should taste like than how it actually does in most Western countries. Where other countries might import a cultural food, idea or practice and have it naturally evolve into their own version over time this isn’t the case in Korea. There is very little concept of the original and most bakers have probably never eaten proper bread, they are copying the copy of an idea.  On a daily basis I’m reminded of the scene from the movie Coneheads where Dan Aykroyd mistakes condoms for bubble gum and proudly blows bubbles with the condom as he has seen earthlings do with gum. Anyone who’s been to a “Western” style Korean wedding at a one of the fabulously cheesy Korean wedding halls can relate.

Bread isn’t a staple food here as it is in in the West. It’s more of a novelty eaten for dessert or as a quick snack. Rice is for Koreans what bread is for many Westerners. A meal isn’t usually considered a meal unless accompanied by rice and most Koreans will start to panic if they don’t have rice for a few days. I was experiencing just such bread deficiency panic the first time I was driven to make bread. I had several lusty dreams about eating deliciously seasoned, perfectly crisp bread and woke up in the middle of the night head reeling, covered in sweat, and shaking, a hole in my heart and stomach that could only be filled by some properly made bread. It had been several weeks since I had any real bread and the overly sweet, milky Korean bread wasn’t doing the trick it just increased my bread lust.  I didn’t have an oven at the time so I decided I would use a pan and make a dry fried Naan, and from there I fell in love with the simplicity and almost limitless possibilities of the bread baking process.

I love the simplicity and ease of making bread. With just a few simple ingredients and limited kitchen knowledge one can make something delicious. From that same simple recipe there are a myriad of paths you can take your bread down, each one something very different than the other. Once you make bread your own bread may never buy bread from a store again. Below is Jamie Oliver’s recipe for dough. I only alter it in that I use a large metallic bowl instead of making a flour well directly on the counter.

Stage 1: making a well

Pile the flour on to a clean surface and make a large well in the center. Pour half your water into the well, then add your yeast, sugar and salt and stir with a fork.

Stage 2: getting it together

Slowly, but confidently, bring in the flour from the inside of the well. (You don’t want to break the walls of the well, or the water will go everywhere.) Continue to bring the flour in to the center until you get a stodgy, porridge-y consistency – then add the remaining water.
Continue to mix until it’s stodgy again, then you can be more aggressive, bringing in all the flour, making the mix less sticky. Flour your hands and pat and push the dough together with all the remaining flour. (Certain flours need a little more or less water, so feel free to adjust.)

Stage 3: kneading!

This is where you get stuck in. With a bit of elbow grease, simply push, fold, slap and roll the dough around, over and over, for 4 or 5 minutes until you have a silky and elastic dough.

Stage 4: first prove

Flour the top of your dough. Put it in a bowl, cover with cling film, and allow it to prove for about half an hour until doubled in size – ideally in a warm, moist, draught-free place. This will improve the flavor and texture of your dough and it’s always exciting to know that the old yeast has kicked into action.

Stage 5: second prove, flavoring and shaping

Once the dough has doubled in size, knock the air out for 30 seconds by bashing it and squashing it. You can now shape it or flavor it as required – folded, filled, tray-baked, whatever – and leave it to prove for a second time for 30 minutes to an hour until it has doubled in size once more. This is the most important part, as the second prove will give it the air that finally ends up being cooked into your bread, giving you the really light, soft texture that we all love in fresh bread. So remember – don’t fiddle with it, just let it do its thing.

Stage 6: cooking your bread

Very gently place your bread dough on to a flour-dusted baking tray and into a preheated oven. Don’t slam the door or you’ll lose the air that you need. Bake according to the time and temperature given with your chosen recipe. You can tell if it’s cooked by tapping its bottom – if it sounds hollow it’s done, if it doesn’t then pop it back in for a little longer. Once cooked, place on a rack and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes – fandabidozi.

From here you can decide what kind of bread you want to turn your raw dough into. Recently I’ve been making
onion baguettes a lot. You can find a great recipe here

Another one of my recent favorites is an olive and rosemary focaccia.

  • 2 cups warm water (105°F; to 115°F;)
  • 2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups (about) all
    purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 24 black or green
    brine-cured olives (such as Kalamata or Greek),pitted, halved
  • 1 tablespoon chopped
    fresh rosemary

Place 2 cups warm water in large bowl. Sprinkle dry yeast over; stir with fork. Let stand until yeast dissolves, about 10 minutes.

Add 4 1/4 cups flour and salt to yeast mixture and stir to blend well (dough will be sticky). Knead dough on floured surface until smooth and elastic, adding more flour by tablespoon-fulls if dough is sticky, about 10 minutes. Form dough into ball. Oil large bowl; add dough, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down dough; knead into ball and return to same bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm area until doubled, about 45 minutes or less

Coat 15×10-inch baking sheet with 1 tablespoon oil. Punch down dough. Transfer to prepared sheet. Using fingertips, press out dough to 13×10-inch rectangle. Let dough rest 10 minutes. Drizzle 2 tablespoons oil over dough. Sprinkle olives and chopped rosemary evenly over. Let dough rise uncovered in warm area until puffy, about 25 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475°F. Press fingertips all over dough, forming indentations. Bake bread until brown and crusty, about 20 minutes. Serve bread warm or at room temperature.

If you really want to challenge yourself you can forgo using store purchased yeast and make your bread from your own starter. Air has naturally occurring yeast and what you’re doing with your starter is capturing that yeast and making it multiply. It’s a neat process and by the time you use your starter you’ll feel like you’ve really brought something to life as making a good starter takes at least several weeks of daily feedings and stirrings.

If you’ve never made your own bread I recommend you try it as soon as you can. It is a rewarding and delicious undertaking.

Columnist Joshua Lorenzo Newett is a novelist, entrepreneur, and English professor at The Korean Naval Academy in Jinhae, South Korea. Saving Bill Murray, his second novel, will be published in June 2013.

Bread image courtesy of Shutterstock

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