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When i first started making bread, i didn’t use bread machine straight away. In fact, i started making bread with hands first. Not because i didn’t have a bread machine or dough hook but mostly because i wanted to learn the ropes of bread making before becoming dependent on the machine, which, isn’t a bad thing. :P

My sole reason for my bread making failures during the initial stage was due to my little understanding of yeast. After i jumped over that hurdle successfully, i’ve never  looked back again. Bread making is extremely rewarding and enjoyable. The aroma of freshly baked bread is simply intoxicating and almost addictive, if you will.

Most importantly, eating homemade bread is nothing like the ones sold outside, even though the softness of homemade ones are incomparable — psstt, but the thing is, i don’t really fancy super soft breads like the ones sold outside. a little too artificial if you were to ask me. plus, i think tangzhong bread’s softness is more than good enough :). However, i dig the thought that i know exactly what ingredient that goes in there and not ingredients that i couldn’t even pronounce!

Trust me, once you start making your own bread, you will never want to stop. ;)

Making bread by hand.

(using instant dry yeast)

1. Mise en place

Everything (the ingredients) in place.

2. Mixing

Mix your ingredients (according to your recipe) in your mixing bowl for about 3-5 minutes, making sure that all the dry bits are incorporated.

3. Kneading

This is essential to mix and activate the dried yeast and help to stretch the gluten in the flour so that the bread can rise fully. Begin by turning the dough out on to lightly floured surface. Stretch the dough by pushing the front half away with the hell of one hand. Fold the stretched part of the dough back on itself, give it a quarter turn and repeat for 5 more minutes, until the dough has been turned full circle several times and is a smooth and elastic ball.

4. First proofing

Dust the mixing bowl or baking sheet with a little flour, put the kneaded bread in place and leave it in a warm place to prove for about 1 hour or until the dough has doubled in size. (i don’t usually cover my bread but if you must, please do cover the top loosely with a cloth or oiled clingfirm)

  • Window pane test

I normally don’t do this as well because i realize different bread with different % of hydration gives you different result. So i guess i’m being really complacent here, trusting blindly that all the bread dough i make will be 100%  successful. Actually, if it doesn’t, i would know by judging  the texture of the dough.

Nevertheless, window pane test is the most reliable method to determine if gluten development is sufficient. This is performed by cutting off a small piece of dough and gently stretching, pulling and turning to see if it will hold a paper-thin, translucent membrane. If the dough falls apart, continue mixing for another minute or 2 and test again. It is very difficult to overmix bread dough, so, don’t worry.

I’ve recently read that there are 3 different results yield from window pane testing, according to how you make your bread. I forgot which term the book used but the most extreme result which you would usually see in books is the result from using commercial bread machine. For home bakers like myself, i get results between the least extreme and to not-so extreme.

For your better understanding…

Most extreme : kneaded dough from commercial bread machines

Not so extreme : kneaded dough using home bakers’ bread machine or from dough hook

Least extreme : kneaded dough using hand

Photo below is definitely in the least extreme category — hand kneaded dough + high % hydration level (was making tangzhong black sesame bread then). So, there’s nothing to worry about if the result from window pane test looks nothing like the books’.

  • Test for rising

To tell if the dough is fully risen, i usually use method no. 1 — visual test. Apart from visual test, you could also poke the dough to see if it has risen enough. For the first rise, you should be able to push your floured finger deep into the mass of dough and leave an indentation that does not spring back.

does not spring back

5. Knocking back

Knock back or punch the risen dough with your fist to deflate it.

6. Shaping

Then i’ll shape the dough into a ball shape and let it rest for 5-10 minutes.

After 5 minutes, i will press down the dough again using all fingers to deflate it.

Shaping bread dough for loaf pan (log shape)

1. flatten the dough into a rectangle

2. business letter fold begins. fold the top part down.

3. fold the bottom part up.

4. fold in both sides.

5. fold down the top part again. this time, seal with the heel of the hand or your could just seal with finger tips.

6. rock the loaf to even out. do not taper the ends. keep the top surface of the loaf even.

7. place the load in an oiled pan or slightly floured pan for second proofing

7. Second proofing

Leave the bread in a warm place for 45-60 minutes or until the dough rises just above the top of the tin. It is crucial not to over proof the dough at this stage or the bread may collapse in the oven. The dough is ready if when pressed lightly with a fingertip, the dent springs back slowly. If the dent stays as it is, the bread is overproofed.

8. Baking

Bake bread in preheated oven as per instruction. The bread should be well risen, golden brown and sound hollow when tapped with fingertips. If the base feels a little soft, return it to the oven and place directly on to the oven shelf. Check again after 5 minutes and if done, transfer to wire rack to cool

TIP : Always leave hot bread to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing, but err.. u know i don’t do this right? :P

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Please, please pardon the badly photographed pictures — one of the reasons why this post takes so long! It took me 3 attempts on different bread making session to come up with these barely-made-it-and-not-sure-if-you-can-understand-photos. Heh.

And nope, your vision is perfectly fine if you thought you saw 2 different set of hands. The helper doesn’t know how to shape the dough and i had to take over. And other times, it would be because the photos she took turned out so bad, that i needed to take over the camera and she the dough. It’s really quite a tough post this one! *phew*

To those of you trying, ALL THE BEST! The effort, in my humble opinion… is truly worth it. :)

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