Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Baking Bread with Water Kefir and Milk Kefir

I had a very fruitful day last Thursday. You may remember I started baking bread with water kefir grain starter in June after attending a workshop. I was never really happy with the taste and quality of the bread I baked using this method. Somehow something was off. When BakerzatWorkAcademy offered a one-day class in baking bread with water kefir and milk kefir, I signed up.

The one-day class is not cheap and there is no funding from any government agencies. On the other, although the puff pastry and Danish pastry and croissant class were 90% funded by a government agency, I still coughed up slightly more money than the Bakerzatwork class due to all the hidden costs. (registration fee, materials, exam fee, apron, hat) Potato, po-tah-toe.

Before I signed up for the class, I received a text msg that the government had credited some cash into my bank account(something, something GST voucher). It's almost as if I asked the Universe for some spare cash and it delivered!

The class was from 10am to 4pm. We learnt 3 recipes. The first bread we made was a sweet braided loaf using water kefir starter and milk kefir. Milk kefir is very new to me and I have zero knowledge. The class covered very briefly how to culture milk kefir and water kefir. After listening to the culture segment, I realised I had made a big mistake during my June experiments with water kefir starter. I had used the water kefir to make the starter after fermenting for 48hrs. I need to do it for 72hrs! That's a big difference.

 This is water kefir starter premade for us.

This is milk kefir with whey and buttermilk. I have to confess the fermenting of milk kefir is out of my depth at the very moment. Also premade for us.

There were 8 students and we paired up when it came to mixing the ingredients. We used this huge mixer. The teacher bakes using smell and touch. Well, he uses his eyes as well! We had to feel the dough at specific milestone. This is something I should put in practice instead of following a recipe blindly. I would like to become someone who bakes with her senses.

If I could achieve this kind of stretchy windowpane at home I would be in windowpane heaven!

My braids. These were not easy to make. As you know, my shaping has always been my major weakness. Luckily, the teacher, William Woo is not a bad teacher and able to point out what you're doing wrong right away. After much experience in the past with half-past six teachers, I'm very happy to find a teacher who doesn't run away when you're struggling, give bullshit answers and most importantly doesn't answer your question about why something isn't working with "there are so many factors...". I think I shaped my braid quite well! Yes, of course there's room for improvement one of which is I shouldn't put so much flour on the table.

From the same dough, we made "pretzels". You may not know it just looking at the "pretzels" but they were extremely hard to shape. I kept trying and trying and finally got it really long. There is a trick to it. ;)

I wished I had added more sesame seeds! They added a nice flavour.

My "pretzels" were a little wrinkled due to drying out of the dough. Yep, too much flour on the table!

From 10am to 2:30pm (when we broke for a 1/2 hour lunch), we were kept busy working on one dough or another. We had to stretch and fold our 3 dough according to the schedule. This is my partner whom I'm afraid did most of the dirty work!

The second bread we made was a lot easier mostly because it's a boule and my hands are pretty good at shaping rounds.

I did quite well scoring the first boule but for the second one, I hesitated a lot which is why there are so many jagged edges. Scoring - another weak area of mine. The trick is not to hesitate - easier said than done. Also, I find I dare not go deep enough.

First boule - Does this qualify as an ear?

2nd boule - hesitation is costly.

By the way, when these two dough were proofed, they were not this size. After going into the oven, on the baking stone, the oven spring happened - seeing is believing.

My crumb. This bread was delicious! It tasted even better the next day. However, on the third day, it became harder. Still edible but not as good. This bread seems to be a clear favourite in my home so I will try to replicate it in my home oven.

The last bread - a 2 toned bread was extremely tedious to make. It consists of a white dough and a charcoal dough. These are rolled out, put together, rolled again, sliced and braided. Whew! I think we took far too long to make this bread and there was insufficient time to proof it.

The bread looks interesting but in terms of taste, it wasn't sweet enough. Also, it was a bit underbaked or maybe it was due to insufficient proofing? Even hubs who eats almost anything didn't want to eat it. It would have been better if given an overnight proofing, methinks. (the teacher did suggest we bring the dough home to proof further but I declined! Regrets.)  Now ordinarily I would have ranted and raved (over this bad bake) but I learnt a lot during the class, way more than at BITC Artisan bread. So I'm very forgiving. Honestly, 3 different kinds of dough in one day is a bit too challenging. When I finally left it was close to 8pm. Totally and utterly exhausted. But extremely satisfied. I can't wait to bake the same bread in my kitchen. Poor hubs. Let's give him a break from my bread for a while?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Performance Series Run @Punggol East/Coney Island

I think I told you guys before that I've lost interest in running events. Also, I want to stop running 10km for the sake of my neck/spine issue. Okay, mostly it's due to laziness and tiredness. When I made the decision to quit 10km, I had already signed up for 3 10km Performances Series runs. And today's was the second one. One more to go and I'm free...

This morning's run was at Punggol East, a part of Singapore I have no reason to visit. We paid for a seat on a chartered bus because you know, Punggol East is extremely hard to get to. As such we had to wake up at 5am. This is the part I hate most about running events - waking up so early.
Last year I too ran the Punggol/Coney Island route but because I took part in the 5km run, it did not include Coney Island. I was so sad I didn't get to see Coney Island. I've lived in Singapore for so many decades and I've never visited this island. So I was pretty excited to see Coney Island this round.

Yep, this is Coney Island. Quite disappointing. It's just a park on an island. We accessed it via a bridge. Of course I didn't get to explore the whole island but it doesn't look promising to me. It might attract the nature lovers or bird watchers. I'm more of an indoor air-conditioned person.

I wore a new visor which had a strip of rubber to prevent sweat from pouring down the front of my face. It didn't work. Sweat poured down my face, here, there, everywhere.

According to my app, I ran more than 10km. The timing is not too bad. It was an exhausting run, more so as I haven't been training.

Hubs ran the 21km run and he was in a bad shape from the start. His heel has been hurting for the past week and hasn't healed. I tried to talk him into running 10km with me but he was too stubborn. I don't know how he managed to run 21km with a bad heel. After the run, he started to feel faint and I was very concerned. Fortunately, nothing happened. I think he was just very, very tired.

My medal. I got a finisher tee as well. Honestly I was just hoping to get a banana.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Bag Patterns Sale

Singapore turns 52 today, our 52nd year of independence! I was born in Singapore one year before independence. I love Singapore. I love living in Singapore. Life is good here. We have a great public transport system despite the hiccups in the MRT system. Our healthcare is not too bad. Food is not expensive, public housing is nice and affordable (payable over 25 to 30 years, haha) and our police force is super good at catching criminals. (except Mas Selamak and the Canadian bank robber who got away) Our government and the ruling party can be pretty scary with their laws and lawsuits. Cars are way too expensive. We often get the haze. School life for our kids is hard. So many exams and never ending homework. But overall the good outweighs the bad.

The one thing I really don't like about Singapore is the freaking heat. Gimme Hong Kong's March 18 deg Celcius weather anytime.

To mark our 52nd year of independence, I would like to offer you guys a 25% discount at my Etsy shop. (sorry, I can't offer you 52%!) Just use the coupon code SG25OFF (all caps). Valid till 13th August 2016.

Monday, August 7, 2017

How Do You Like Your Buns?

In my family, only my son and I eat breakfast. Hubs and my girl are weird. They usually skip breakfast. Occasionally hubs wakes up early and has breakfast. But guess what he eats for breakfast? A bowl of noodles. In other words, lunch. Me? If I wake up late and it's too close to lunch to bother with breakfast? I would still eat a light breakfast. Haha, actually I'm the weirder one. What I enjoy most about breakfast is the food - bread with butter, rye biscuits with nutella, cream crackers dipped in lipton tea, etc. If I eat breakfast, my day feels so much better already.

Lately my girl has told me sometimes she buys something at school if she's hungry before lunch. The problem with my girl is she doesn't like to eat bread. My son is easy going when it comes to breakfast. Bread, cakes, muffins, cupcakes as long as it's not cereal. I really wanted to bake something both my kids could eat for breakfast or brunch and I thought why not make savory buns.

It surprised me that I've never made savory buns. I have asked a friend before how to incorporate the filling and the step sounds easy enough.

On Sunday I gave savory buns a go and this is how they turned out.
Why do my buns always look like they have been assaulted? Maybe it's the lightning. Or maybe next time I skip the egg wash. My oven is rather temperamental and likes to burn.

I followed a recipe from this book - Natural Breads Made Easy. Don't be deceived by the title of the book. It uses commercial yeast. So not 100% natural after all. What attracted me to this book? It uses a 17-hour pre-ferment dough kept in the refrigerator. I wanted to know how the dough will turn out using this method.

The pre-ferment dough was mixed the day before. It uses a huge portion of the total flour and the result is a very dry dough.

This is what a 17 hour dough looks like.

 The 17 hour dough is chopped up to be mixed with the rest of the recipe.

After mixing the pre-ferment with the rest of the dough and a further rest period, the dough is super sticky. Extremely hard to handle.

For the filling, I went a bit overboard. I cooked some curry chicken fillet.

I mixed some tuna with onions.

I also grilled some luncheon meat. I used a less salty luncheon meat which costs a lot more than the saltier version. Grr...

I was a bit afraid the dough around the filling would be wet and under baked. When I examined the buns, I noticed there was a tiny layer that is a bit wet. This could have been due to the oil from the luncheon meat or the liquid from the tuna/chicken. I'm uncertain if this is unavoidable?

The verdict? A 17 hour per-ferment bun tastes okay. Yes, the buns are soft. But there's nothing special about the softness of the buns. Hubs said they are not fluffy. My girl did not object to the buns while my son said they were okay. While eating, he kept asking why he couldn't find any luncheon meat. I guess it was in the middle of the bun. That's another thing I should fix. I need to put a lot more filling and spread it out because once the buns are proofed, they grow bigger and there will be a number of bites without any filling and whoever's eating the bun will keep wondering when he will bite into something good. Personally,  I think Alex Goh's sweet buns are tastier.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Monkey See Monkey Do

So I went back to baking school to learn Danish pastry and croissants. It took 6 nights scattered over 3 weeks. When I was pregnant with my first child, my son 20 years ago (omg, that long!), I developed a craving for Danish pastry in the last trimester. It was unfortunate my office was close to a shopping centre that had a shop selling Danish pastry. I think I ate a huge pastry every working day. So it was no surprise I gained 15kg. Many years later, when my second child, my daughter was in kindy, we had a habit of going to a cafe for Danish pastry almost once a week. Okay, it was at least twice a week. Thank goodness the cafe closed and I have stopped eating Danish pastry since then.

Anyway, last year, I tried to sign up for bread baking classes at this baking school. Unfortunately, the classes were full. But the Danish pastry & croissant class wasn't. So I thought, "no fish prawn also good". Besides, I have been toying with the idea of attending pastry classes for a while. So with that I paid the registration fees. However, I had to take the puff pastry module as well because that's where you learn the basics.

As you may remember, I didn't have a fantastic experience at puff pastry class. It was so chaotic. I did understand the basics which is fortunate because Danish pastry and croissants is a continuation of the techniques learnt from puff pastry. The only difference? We add yeast and we proof our pastry before baking.

I was hoping we would get a better teacher. The puff pastry teacher wasn't very good. She spoke softly and couldn't manage big groups. She is a nice person though. Techniques wise, I wished she had been clearer about what we should and shouldn't do.

We did get a new (to me) teacher. On Night 1, we had theory followed by making of Danish pastry dough. Initially, my impression of the teacher was not too bad. He seemed more experienced and could handle the class. He enjoyed entertaining the class. It was a fun class. But I did make an observation about him. I told myself not to be too critical because I can be very critical. With that, I went for my next lesson with an open mind.

And you know what? After another night of pastry class with this teacher, my suspicion was confirmed. He is a "dem lazy" teacher. When he did the demo, he didn't talk very much about what he was doing. He did talk about other "entertaining stuff" though. He didn't go into details about the technique and he offered no insights or tips. His style of teaching is monkey see monkey do. One time, he did a small demo in COMPLETE SILENCE. After each demo, we had to replicate what he did and he didn't even bother to go around to see if we were doing it right. He went to the end of the room away from us to look at his phone. We must be pretty good students because all of us manage to produce the goods each time, certainly not always looking the best but definitely edible. Okay I'm being harsh. There were a few times when he saw a student (not me) murdering her dough and he haaad to step in.

Another thing I noticed about my teacher was he did not consistently practice mise en place. When he was in the middle of a demo, he would point to a student and ask her to fetch this and that. It happened a lot. When I was at BITC(yes, the school that closed down), if you didn't practice mise en place before you start doing your mixing, some of the teachers would yell at you.

Night 2 we baked Victoria's, Bear claws and apple squares. We had baked Victoria's in puff pastry class before but I much prefer Victoria's using Danish pastry dough.

These were the teacher's cinnamon rolls - an example to show how we could use scrap dough.

As for us students, the teacher suggested we ball up the scrap dough and cut out rounds to place over a aluminum foil cup. Later he said to remove the cup as he was afraid of under baking. The dough totally collapsed in the oven and to be honest, the pastry did not taste good. Firstly balling up the scrap dough will destroy the layers. Secondly, it's just a flat piece of dough. I ate the fruits and threw the pastry away.

Night 3 we had a different teacher, a master baker who had taught us before in Puff Pastry. He was standing in for our regular teacher who had the day off. This guy is a pretty good teacher but he is impatient and tends to raise his voice. But night 3 he was quite mellow. In fact, I enjoyed the lesson and learnt quite a bit. This teacher prowled the kitchen checking on everyone constantly. He never stood still. I knew he would come charging at me because my hand rolling of the dough is still quite bad. True enough. He grabbed the rolling pin from me and showed me how to do it right. (I'm still not very good, to be honest) For scrap dough, he showed us how to make cinnamon rolls. Yes, again. I wished the teachers had coordinated better and shown us more varieties of scrap dough usage. Well, thank goodness for youtube.

On Night 2, we had blind baked some pastry before putting the filling. On Night 3, we filled all our pastry before baking. Okay, let me explain something. Firstly, I had of course thought blind baking involved doing it blindly which is stupid because I can be so literal sometimes. It means to pre-bake in case you don't know. Anyway, I noticed that the Windmill and Danish purse baked on Night 3 had a heavy fruit on the dough. When I went home, hubs ate them and he showed me that below the fruit, there was a layer of dough which looked under baked. On the other hand, the pastry baked on Night 2 didn't have the issue because we had blind baked.

Night 4 was plain croissants. Back to Monkey see Monkey do teacher again.

The teacher showed us how to make chocolate croissants. We didn't get the chance to make any though. The chocolate/plain croissants look very interesting. But when I ate one, it didn't taste right. The problem was the chocolate dough was not laminated. So you have bread and flaky pastry. They don't go together.
Night 5 we baked croissants with chocolate filling. Honestly, making croissants with chocolate filling is not that much different from making plain croissants. The teacher baked another round of chocolate/plain croissant. I didn't get a chance to try any so I don't know if there was any improvement. The teacher did not articulate what he did differently so...

Night 6 was my assessment. Prior to that night, I had checked with both the master baker and my teacher the three Danish pastry we had to bake. We were given the practical assessment paper in advance. Victoria's and apple danish were pretty straight forward. The third item, Custard danish was ambiguous. Both the master baker and my teacher said the custard danish was the bear claws. No problem. That one's easy. On Night 6, I was surprised to learn that the custard danish was not the bear claws after all. We were making the exact same shape as the apple danish except instead of apple, the filling would be custard and fruits. Of course it didn't make sense to me why we were being assessed on 2 similar shapes but since I'm the student I just do as I'm told. Honestly, the squares are my least favourite shape because the four ends don't always behave and stay closed.

My Victoria's turned out quite well but I can't say the same for the squares. The Victoria's were blind baked but not the squares. When I reached home, hubs ate the squares and yep, a layer of under baked dough was below the fruits. In future, I will always blind bake my Danish dough.

We sat for the theory paper while our goods were being baked. It was pretty easy, actually a lot easier than puff pastry. Yes, everyone passed.

I won't be returning to the school for further baking classes. Are you surprised? But I'm not done with my baking education. I'll look around for other schools and most importantly, I'll go back to baking bread and learning and improving. And maybe go on a diet to lose 4 or 5 kg. Starting today next week.
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