Sunday, July 11, 2021

Basic Bread

Since 2017, I've been trying to attend a Basic Bread class. I would sign up for it and somehow things would happen and I would not be able to attend. Finally one day I managed to get a confirmed class and was ready to go for the class. Then a phone call came to inform me the school was closing down and therefore the class was cancelled. I decided to give up on the class because I've been baking bread for a few years using knowledge gained from friends, youtube, instagram and blogs so I probably already have basic bread baking skills. Instead I tried signing up for intermediate/advanced bread classes. Unfortunately, I was always told to take the Basic Bread class before attempting the more difficult bread classes. Which brings me back to square one - the damned Basic Bread class.

To me, the Basic Bread class is a jinxed class. It's like the Universe is conspiring to prevent me from taking the class. Last year, yup, during the pandemic when vaccines weren't available yet, I signed up for the Basic Bread class. Remember the baking school which closed down? It had reopened under a new management (before the pandemic) and I had been thinking about giving it another go. Except it was hard to get a place. So I waited and waited and finally I was given a confirmed class starting end March. 

Great right? Except I had my frozen shoulder and March was the period when it hurt the most and my left arm was super stiff. I kept thinking I should withdraw from the class but in the end I decided to go for it. The Universe was on my side for once. One day before the first class, I had my first appointment with my physiotherapist and he managed to reduce my pain and made my arm a little less stiff!

So all the stars aligned and I went for my first class. The first thing that happened when I was entering the classroom, I banged my left shoulder onto the door and almost died. Yup, the damned jinxed class. Fortunately, the pain went away after a while and I need not pull out of the class.

There were a total of 4 days for this class from 9am to 6pm on Saturdays. The last day is purely assessment. Every day, there is some theory and we bake twice - once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The pace is leisurely. 

On day 1, we baked a pullman loaf and an open top sandwich loaf, both with bread improver. We worked in groups of 3 and we shared one mixer. So the weighing of ingredients, mixing of dough was done together in our group of 3. Once the dough was divided, we were on our own. We didn't have to handle the oven as the teacher did it for us. Our teacher was pretty patient and doesn't hesitate to help whenever required. I've had very lazy teachers before! I was a bit worried that I would have problems doing lifting, carrying of trays. The Universe gave me a young couple in my group. They did all the heavy lifting and washing up. I was very, very thankful.

On day 2, we baked an open top sandwich loaf, this time without bread improver so we needed to do a 1 hour bulk fermentation. The 2nd loaf was also an open top loaf but we did a sponge and dough method and for shaping we braided the dough.

On Day 3, it was French bread and soft bread roll, using bread improver. In terms of shaping, I learnt the most because we made 4 different shapes.

On day 4, for assessment, we baked an open top sandwich loaf and French bread. For the French bread, the teacher wanted to make it more interesting so we did a sponge and dough method. We used a different kitchen and oven and our bread turned out a bit lighter than usual. Our bread mould was also different. At the end of the day, there was an oral assessment for each of us. Everyone passed. It wasn't difficult at all and I didn't even study for it. All you need to do is pay attention during the class and of course be able to bake the bread. On assessment day, we worked in twos and I was paired up with a total stranger. She was omg so fussy. She disagreed with me frequently and wouldn't stop mixing the dough and I wanted to cry. Finally I put my foot down and stopped the mixing. Thankfully my bread turned out fine. She wouldn't stop handling her own dough and her bread ended up really ugly. But since it didn't affect me, I couldn't care less.

I'm so glad I finally attended the Basic Bread class. Despite having baked bread for a few years, I did pick up some knowledge and skills, particularly in shaping which is my weakness. Of course the best part is I paid $0 for the class as it is a WSQ funded class (90%) and the remaining 10% I used my Skillsfuture credits. 

I thought I'll share some stuff I picked up from the class:

Bread improver: It's used only when you are short on time. You can skip bulk fermentation if you use bread improver but it doesn't improve the taste of bread. I would never use bread improver because I bake at home and I should make the time. Plus I'm always chasing the taste of bread so I tend to take the longer route to bake bread just to improve the taste.

Bread tin - The teacher doesn't use any formula to calculate how much dough goes into a bread tin. Instead he relies on the info given by the manufacturer. The loaf tin we used were 450g to 550g so that's the amount of dough we could use per tin. In class we used 500g and to be honest, I did notice the bread sank a bit after it was demoulded. I was hoping the teacher could show us a scientific way to calculate dough per tin.

Yeast - I've always thought low sugar (10%) and high sugar (>10%) yeast could be used on any kind of bread recipe. It turns out low sugar yeast can be used in any bread recipe but high sugar yeast can only be used in high sugar bread recipe. Glad I got this sorted out.

Internal bread temperature - Checking for doneness of bread is done using a thermometer. 95 deg C to 98 deg C is considered baked. Of course colour is another factor. I now obsessively check my bread using a thermometer. 

Bulk fermentation - How to tell bulk fermentation is done? Poke a finger through the dough and the hole should stay and not close up immediately. Previously I've always used 1 hour as a gauge.

Final proof - How to tell dough is ready for baking. Press the dough and it should spring back slowly. If it springs back quickly, it needs to proof longer. If it collapses, it's over proofed.

There are two more bread classes I want to attend. Hopefully all the stars will align for me once again. If you live in Singapore and you're either a citizen or PR, you can sign up for wsq classes. Just google. There are lots of options. Don't be afraid of the assessment. Like I said, pay attention during class and you'll pass.
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