Thursday, March 4, 2010


This post is going to be slightly longer than my usual posts. This is because, about two days back my quest to enter college this summer or fall was rudely interrupted by the fact that many culinary arts colleges in America provide little to no financial assistance. I am not making a negative statement against any of the colleges that I was interested in but it was a sad revelation of sorts. Since they did not provide any financial aid,  I studied the other options most of which revolved around the idea of getting an educational loan. With the collapse of the economy it's easier to find the Holy Grail than get an educational loan if you are a non-citizen. Apparently, foreigners enter the country, take loans, have booze parties and leave the country, like any other self-respecting human being. OK! Now that that's out of the way here's today's post:

Due to the above stated dilemma, I, Sandhya Sethumadhavan, have decided to educate myself on the culinary arts in the comfort of my home and kitchen. Sandeep had  bought me a book on baking when we were dating and at that time due to college I had little to no time to actually pay attention to it. I have taken it upon myself to use this book diligently and gain all the culinary wisdom it has to offer. My Amma, Acha, Etta, Chechi & husband have been supportive enough to play along with my silly whims and fancies and actually pretend that I'm home-schooling myself to become SUPERBAKER! Which will be a promotion from my current status as personal chef. Everyday, except weekends (c'mon, even college students get a break) I will learn a new chapter in the art of baking. I will post my lessons on my blog so that you can be a part of my process and like every good designer knows, there is no product without a process (Thanks Meera & Swati!).

This is me taking notes:

So, join me in my journey to become SUPERBAKER! ACTION!

Breads (for those who care, I am referring to the book: "Art & Soul of Baking" by Cindy Mushet)

Bread is forgiving and resilient. Bread baking is not difficult. Those are the two statements that caught my attention as I began to read this chapter.

What are the building blocks of Bread?
  • Flour
  • Yeast
  • Liquid
  • Salt
  • Sugar
Wheat flour is the only grain that has ample supply of glutenin and gliaden, the two proteins that are needed to form gluten.

What makes bread rise?
The two proteins when combined with liquids and exercised by stirring and kneading form gluten strands. The strands link together and become longer and stronger as the kneading continues. The web of gluten that develops is like a fishing net, woven throughout the loaf of bread. This net traps all those little bubbles of carbon dioxide given off by the feeding yeast and expands as the bubbles proliferate, allowing the bread to rise.

Why do we use bread flour?
Bread flour has the optimum percentage of protein. The bread won't rise properly without the proteins mentioned above.

What if we don't have bread flour?
Look for unbleached flour.

Flours that shouldn't be used for breads:
  • Bleached all purpose flour
  • Cake flour
  • and other such low protein flours
Speciality flours:
  • Rye
  • Corn
  • Buckwheat
  • Spelt
  • Whole wheat - surprisingly whole wheat flour is among these speciality flours. Whole wheat contains the proteins necessary for gluten development but it also contains bran. Bran is the portion of the wheat kernel that actually makes flour healthy and provides the brown colour of the whole wheat. This bran is a drawback when it comes to bread baking as it has jagged edges and it cuts the strands of gluten during kneading.

Yeast are microscopic single-celled living organisms that make bread rise. The yeast multiply by feeding on the sugar in the starch of the flour. The by-products of their feeding are carbon dioxide and alcohol. In turn, these by-products create the springy soft breads that we love.

Kinds of yeast
  • Fresh yeast
  • Active dry yeast
  • Instant yeast

What are the kinds of liquids that we use to make bread?
  • Water
  • Milk or Buttermilk - softens the crumb, this is contributed by the fat in the milk while the sugars give the bread its warm brown colour.
  • Eggs - breads that use eggs are called enriched breads
  • Enhances flavour
  • Slows down the fermentation process
  • Hence gives a long and slow rise; this results in better flavour
  • It is hygroscopic, which means that it attracts and bonds with water; salt helps bread stay fresher for longer.
Is usually added to the warm water to activate the yeast. Yeast loves sugar as much as I do, so everyone's happy!

Types of bread
  • Enriched breads - breads that contain butter, milk and eggs. This would mean the tastier, fluffier breads.
  • Lean breads - such as baguette, hearth breads that are made with little or no fat. The kind that cut your lip.
The second classification of bread are of the dough they come from:
  • Straight dough
  • Pre-fermented dough
I will now move to the recipe as I do not want to irritate you with my lessons as they could go on forever.

Today I will teach y'all to make Old Fashioned White Loaf (I am trying to sound fancy and cool, but I'm bubbling with excitement because it's the first time I've made bread this good!)

  • 1/4th cup warm water (please make sure the water is not boiling hot or too warm as I have learned the hard way that it kills the yeast; and you don't want to kill your sugar-loving friends)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • 1 cup of warm whole milk (this means no slim milk!)
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 3 cups of bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  1. Mix, rest and knead the dough:
    • Mix the water, yeast and sugar in a small bowl and whisk to blend. The mixture should sit for 10 minutes till the yeast is active, foaming and bubbling.
    • In another bowl mix the butter and milk.
    • In a larger bowl mix the flour and the salt.
    • Now pour the yeast mixture and the milk mixture into the flour and the salt.
    • Mix for about 2-3 minutes till the dough comes together.
    • Cover the bowl with a damp cloth (use a lint-free cotton towel; if you do not have one use plastic wrap)
  2. Rise the dough - first rise:
    • Lightly oil another large bowl.
    • Scrape the dough into the bowl and lightly coat the surface of the dough with oil.
    • Cover the bowl with a damp lint-free cotton towel or plastic wrap for about 45-60 minutes or till the dough has doubled in size.

  3. Punch the dough and shape the loaf
    • Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.
    • Press the dough down firmly so as to expel some of the air bubbles but don't knead the dough again or it will be too springy.
    • Shaping the dough is complicated if I explain it through words so I will try my best. Place the dough in the shape of a rectangle. The size of the pan I used was 9 inches by 3 inches. So, I roughly spread out the dough in these dimensions.
    • I then folded this rectangle into half.
    • Press the part where it joins with the heel of your palm.
    • After this, I turned the dough that currently rested horizontally and I placed it in a 90 degree position or vertically.
    • I then rolled the top end towards the bottom end using my thumbs to tuck in the dough at the seams.
    • Once, the dough had formed a roll I pinched the ends.

  4. Proof the dough - second rise - glaze and bake
  • Lightly coat the loaf pan with oil or butter.
  • Place the dough, seam-side down into the pan.
  • Lightly oil the top of the dough, to keep it moist. Cover the pan loosely with a damp cloth or lint-free towel and allow the dough to rise once more until its top is half an inch to one inch above the rim of the pan. This might take about 45-60 minutes.
  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees Farhenheit / 204 degrees Celsius.
  • Brush the top of the loaf with a thin film of beaten egg.
  • I added sundried tomatoes and parmesan cheese on top of the bread.
  • Bake for 35-40 minutes until the bread is golden brown.
  • Pull out of the oven, let it cool completely and then slice with a serrated knife.
  • Done!
Suggested serving (with tandoori chicken in mango chutney sauce):


  1. man i miss those days when we pretended we were cooking with brick powder and some leaves and crazy ingredients.. miss u da..
    and the posts... i am going 2 learn and try my best to cook ..after reading ur posts i am sure i will cook maybe with some love for cooking but will cook to eat these for!! such a happy blog :D
    keep it going :*
    about the institutions well i dont think u need 2 go 2 one...u cook for the soul already.. and that is what they all teach there dont they? but for the finer learning well figure out more books and ideas :D

  2. As I walked in home after my usual round of golf this morning with hunger at it's peak, Amma told me to check your blog; she had left the pc on for it. I couldn't believe my eyes, the picture of the bread made my mouth water!!! You have explained the whole receipe and process so well, even I am tempted to bake!!! Ammu, you will do well... my best wishes...Love, Acha

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  4. I think you are awesome..and you're too good for any culinary go girl..home school your self..and you might not believe what I am going to say but I am going to buy an oven and become your first ever you went straight from student to teacher..awesome!

  5. Ammu................
    That's my girl!!!Never get disheartened!!!We fail to notice the opportunities that are spread around you.Hard work really pays!
    Sky is the limit!Keep focused, & you will reach heights!
    God bless,ur amma

  6. Ammu................
    Am truly touched!!Follow your dream...........never fail to notice the opportunities that lie around you!!!hard work really pays.may you inspire many!!!
    Your blog shows how focused you are!!!
    One day, you will make it big..............
    love u, amma

  7. To be honest.. I am speechless. Thats a LOT of effort Ammu. Keep your spirits high.. You're no less than Julia Child! ALrit!! All that said, now throw one piece of that this side..I'm waiting :)
    God Bless.. Keep Baking.. Will follow up regularly..

  8. Hi:)

    very glad to know your new venture... all the best, keep it going.. you seem to be a focussed person so stick to ur plan.. as you can see we are all your supporters.. we will be thrilled with each new recipe you try out...

    YOU DONT NEED NO SCHOOL to learn what u want 2..

    regular reader of ur blog:)

  9. Outstanding Sandhya! That's the way to go....with your attitude, commitment and hard is the limit! I am sure this blog will one day become a book and then an enterprise!! All the best and cheers to your wonderful cooking and painting!

  10. dont let anything deter you! if you love to cook. Simply cook.


  11. Go Ammunike GO! We're getting a nice big oven in our new home! Your blog will be my guide. So if it's really good, I did it, and if it's not I'll have you to blame! Seriously Ammunike, you're really tripping here. The pictures, the meticulous method, you're on to something here. My bestest wishes, hugs and litres of drool to yoU!