Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Milk Kefir Bread

To be honest, I have some doubts about milk kefir used as a leavening agent for bread. If you search the net, you will notice that many milk kefir bread recipes include the use of a tiny bit of yeast. At Bakerzwork class, the one recipe I made which used milk kefir did not turn out well. It was heavy and under baked.

Over the weekend, I made a Milk Kefir bread using this recipe I found online. I never got to the stage of baking because after mixing, the dough was very limp. I gave it a lot of time to develop but in the end, the dough had no strength at all and I was certain it would be a failure. So I dumped it.

Yesterday I decided to give Milk Kefir another shot. This time I did something differently. When making the milk kefir starter(or levain), I used very strong bread flour.

I used Waitrose white bread flour which had a 14.9% protein. I usually use Prima Unbleached Bread flour which had a 13.1% protein. I'm not entirely sure about this but I believe a higher protein flour generates more gluten. Based on my first milk kefir failure, there seems to be a lack of gluten in the dough. For my main dough, I still used Prima Unbleached Bread flour.

This is my milk kefir. I did not really pay attention to how long I fermented my milk kefir grains. I do know it was definitely less than 24 hours. When I remembered to harvest it, there was some separation of whey. I was given a tiny teaspoon worth of milk grains at Bakerzwork. At first the grains did not grow at all. I was a bit worried but at last count, I have 2 tablespoon's worth. Unlike water kefir grains, my milk kefir grains multiply rather slowly.

This is my milk kefir starter after sitting on a table overnight. The weird holes you see are the bubbles. This starter is quite active.

I was feeling rather adventurous and decided to put all my money on this recipe I found online.

The amount of dough was enough to make a sandwich loaf (680g) in my pullman tin and the leftover I made a boule. Which was a mistake. I'll explain later.

 My boule after shaping.
My boule before baking.

I baked the sandwich loaf first. I shaped the dough into a batard which surprisingly fit the size of the pullman tin. After a few hours, the dough only rose a bit but I was tired of waiting so I baked it.

The bread turned out quite well. The only mistake I made was after removing the bread from the tin, I returned it to the oven to brown the top, I placed it upside down. Unfortunately, the top was not stable enough and when I removed the bread later, the top had become lop sided.

This was the first slice I ate, still warm and it was delicious. The crust was very nice and I felt a bit guilty I didn't leave it for hubs.

Remember I have a boule. The mistake I made was this. I wanted to bake the boule on my baking stone and to get the baking stone hot enough takes time. Meanwhile my dough was ballooning up. I think it was over proofed.

In the oven, it didn't spring up much but it got wider. I thought it was gonna spill out of the oven because my oven is not very deep.

I didn't try the boule last night because it was late. This morning I had a slice and I have to say, it's not as good as it looks. There's a bit of under baking near the bottom. Demmit! After all that effort to get the baking stone hot enough...

Overall, the taste of my milk kefir bread, both sandwich and boule is not as good as the sourdough bread I made last Friday. At this point, I don't know if I will pursue milk kefir bread. I think I may have bread fatigue.

Friday, August 25, 2017

My First Successful Sourdough Wholemeal Loaf


I'm bursting to tell you the fabulous news. Yesterday afternoon, I baked my first successful sourdough loaf. I can't express how freaking happy I am. I'm blinking back tears as I write this. The feeling of success is so fantastic, it's better than winning the $758 million Powerball jackpot. I'm kidding, I'm kidding. The money is better.

I've been observing my sourdough starter and I started to notice a pattern. In Singapore weather, after a feed, within 5 hours (give or take) it could triple in volume. I read somewhere that it's less sour if you use the starter before it starts to collapse so I used the starter when it had expanded 2.75 times.

I tried this recipe by the Nasi Lemak Lover (Sonia). You can try it and see if it works for you.

Everything went so well for this bake.
Before bulk fermentation - look how silky the dough is. I managed to use the mixer to beat the dough until I achieved a very stretchy windowpane. What's the secret? Patience.

 This was after dividing prior to shaping.

When I bake in a pullman tin, I like to make two braids and twist both like a rope. FYI, the size of my pullman tin is 8" long, 4.5" wide and 4" deep.

By the time I finished shaping, it was 11:30pm at night and I didn't fancy staying up to wait for the dough to proof so I put it in the fridge. The next morning I noticed the dough had not expanded as much as required so I left it on the table and went for my weekly swim.

I guess I was away around 3 hours and by the time I reached home, the dough had proofed so much it nearly reached the top. I quickly put it back in the fridge while I got the oven to reach the right temperature. Honestly, I was thinking I may have screwed up the dough! But it was my lucky day.

The bread smelled so good when it was baking. Can you see the lines made by the braids?

This bread does not use any water except what's in the sourdough starter. Instead it uses fresh milk. I used Hokkaido Fresh Milk which is a luxury. It's not necessary to use expensive milk but I was feeling rich...

The inside of the bread was so soft and perfect. NOTHING was under baked. The taste was good. I could detect a hint of a tangy flavour, most likely caused by putting in the fridge overnight? But it's ok, I rather like it. Next time I will make this loaf again on the same day and see what's the difference.


My family finished the whole loaf by noon the next day. Yes, of course we had luncheon meat sandwich. I will definitely make this loaf again and before I forget, a big thanks to Mom of Momshoo for her sourdough starter. If I had continued with my own concoction, I think I would still be struggling. Now all I need is to make a successful rustic sourdough and I'll die happy. No, no, I'm kidding. Not yet. I still have the water kefir and milk kefir shit going on as well.

I have another story to tell you. Last night I baked my second attempt at Pain Au Levain. I had lost track of all the starter and dough I had prepared and realised I had a Pain au levain dough sitting in the fridge for over 2 days. I was afraid it would collapse so I brought it out with the intention to bake. Indeed, it didn't look very stable. Anyway, I made a boule and decided to bake it anyway just to see even though looking at the dough I could tell it would be a failure.

I had run out of parchment paper and used CleanWrap instead. Usually I wouldn't use this to bake because I noticed the paper turned brown at high heat. But I didn't have any other paper.

The bake didn't go well as expected. I noticed there wasn't much oven spring. Towards the end of the bake, I tried to turn the bread because the left side of my oven is very hot. To my horror, the bread burst into flames. Yes, flames, fire. It was so frightening. I quickly switched off the oven. Then I screamed for hubs to come. Unfortunately, in his hurry he hurt his foot. Poor bugger. Meanwhile I was still screaming because the fire was getting bigger. Then I realised it was the paper that was burning and my oven wasn't on fire. By then hubs had reached the kitchen and at first he wanted to put out the fire with water but soon the fire went out by itself after all the paper had turned to ash. The experience really shook me up. I think the Universe wants me to take a break from baking so feverishly.

I'm going to look for parchment paper soon. I used to be able to get them at Cold Storage but one day they disappeared. Very strange. I wonder what other bakers in Singapore use? I may have to get them online but don't you think it's ridiculous that it's so hard to find parchment paper in Singapore?

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Failure is not an option

After I had attended the one-day class on water and milk kefir bread, I was itching to make the water kefir boule at home. Many times, making the same thing at home resulted in very different results. I know that from experience.

I fermented my water kefir for 3 whole days. See how powerful it was on the third day?

My water kefir starter looked fine, maybe not as stretchy as in school.

My dough was manageable, nothing went wrong.

My water kefir boule even had the oven spring. Certainly it didn't rise as much as in school but it rose.

Once the bread had cooled down, I cut a slice and my heart immediately sank. It was dense. None of the open crumb was present. And the worst part - the bottom looked under baked. I ate some and I want to say the taste has improved tremendously from my last home made water kefir bread. There is no more weird taste so I'm thankful for that.

I didn't have the heart to ask hubs to eat the bread. Instead I dug out the soft bread and gave him the crust to eat. The crust did turn out very well! I think secretly hubs just wants to eat bread crust. I have already begun another water kefir starter to take another stab at making the tasty bread I made at the school. The one thing I know which wasn't so right was this: after mixing the dough via a machine a fair amount of time, I could not achieve the same stretchy windowpane which I could at the school. This time around, I want to be more patient.

In late June, Mom of Momshoo gifted me with some sourdough starter. I didn't have much time due to my pastry classes but I managed to bake one sourdough boule. I forgot which recipe I used, probably a very basic one.
The result was shall I say not too bad compared to my previous disasters. At least there was oven spring! I didn't know when's the right time to use the starter so I kinda did it randomly. The bread tasted a bit tangy but it was edible. Overall still not a success as I could see the texture of the crumb was not exactly right.

This week, in between my sewing and photographing of bag pattern steps, I made a few sourdough. A few! Ha ha. I'm always working on one thing or another so I set my timer to keep track. Sometimes a timer goes off and I have no idea what I'm supposed to do!

I got this book from the library and I wanted to try loaf bread using sourdough. The first recipe Soft White Bread almost made me cry. The dough was soupy. After hours and hours, it was still soupy. I left it in the fridge overnight and it was still soupy. So I threw it away. It's so much easier to bake soft white bread using commercial yeast but I so want to conquer the sourdough mountain. I tried again, this time using the Muscovado Sugar and Light Wheat Bread recipe. I've never used muscovado sugar before. It looks like fine brown sugar. Again after hours and hours, very soupy. I don't know why! I didn't even bother putting it in the fridge and simply junked it.

Third time's the charm? I tried Pain Au Levain. This time success. Sort of. But nothing to shout about.

This was my sourdough starter. It smelled nice and was frothy. It looked right to me but honestly I don't have a clue.
I tried to compensate for the usual under baking but the crust got a bit charred.

Crumb shot - not too dense and yep, some under baked parts. Taste wise - a huge improvement. No weird taste and I couldn't even detect any tangy. And amazingly the bread tasted better over time. Having said all that, the texture is still not great. I couldn't follow the book's method of using a covered pot to bake the bread because my oven is very small and I tried putting in my clay pot but the fit is tight. So I used my baking stone instead. I do believe baking stone works just as well.

The last sourdough recipe I made was from this book Modern Baker. I tried the basic sourdough recipe and it turned out very different.

The dough was very, very soft and sticky and extremely hard to handle. I couldn't even shape it. I just rolled it around with a scraper. After putting it in the fridge over night, it grew to this size.

I wanted to compensate for the under baking and put it in the oven a bit longer but I forgot to cover the top and didn't set the timer so it got pretty charred. The crumb? I still see some under baking and the taste is just okay. I don't think I have the skills to handle such soft dough yet. Maybe in 2 year's time?

Overall, I liked the taste of Pain Au Levain best. I'm preparing another sourdough starter to give it another try. I do get quite tired of so many bread baking failure. But I haven't gotten discouraged yet. Failure is not an option. I'm going to die trying.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Crochet Up A Storm

Has this happened to you? You want to sew but your mind keeps wandering and you do anything but sew.

The last time I worked on my bag pattern was before I attended the Puff Pastry classes and that was in June - almost a lifetime ago in my current state of mind. After puff pastry, I had Danish pastry and croissants classes and that ended in early August. So I had a good 2 months break from sewing. After my classes ended, I thought I could dive right back into my bag pattern. So wrong. I read my notes, looked through what I had already written in Indesign and nothing. I couldn't motivate myself to get the groove back. So I did the only sensible thing I could think of.

I dove into another craft - crochet. You may think it's crazy to engage in another craft when it's sewing I should be doing. Let me explain. This is a strategy I have employed before. When I can't get into the mood to do sewing, doing another craft helps. I don't exactly know the science of it but getting the creative mojo back via another craft will somehow kickstart my sewing mojo. I chose crochet because it's a craft I am comfortable with. I'm not very good in it but I can make stuff and understand instructions. I mean I wouldn't choose a craft that I would struggle with like knitting because that would not work.

Here's what my crochet mojo produced! Grannies and hats.

I started with a simple hairband for my Journey Girl doll - Dana. What did I use? I think it's treble crochet(US).

I felt kinda guilty that I was always making stuff for my dolls that I made a similar hairband for my human daughter. She was very happy with it.

I had these small amount of yarn that was not enough for any big project and I just wanted to get rid of them so I made grannies.

I did not give this granny enough thought. It looks weird and messy.

This one was just to use up the itty bitty bits of yarn. These grannies are good for my dolls to sit on.

Then I decided to make the granny larger so my dolls could lie on it.

I gifted the large granny to my TangKou doll. I forgot to keep her in the box and she's a bit grimy. Also, I didn't even make a decent dress for her, just something slapped on. Poor girl. Does she look creepy or does she look like she's saying: SAVE ME?

I don't know if you know this but Lammily is my favourite doll. (shhhh) The reason is she's a very hardy doll and extremely low maintenance. I don't keep her in a box. I made her a hat. It took like 5 minutes to make it because she has a small head unlike the TangKou doll.

Lammily's hat is mostly double crochets(US). On her, the yarn looks bulky but they aren't.

Dana got a hat too. Gosh, I'm spoiling her.

Anyway, I took a break from sewing to write this post. Yes, I did it. I dove back into working on my bag pattern. Mission accomplished. Thank you crochet.
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