Sunday, June 26, 2011

Back to school!

Cooking school! That's how I spent my Saturday morning. My friend Elaine (that's her on the top right; she blogs at and I enrolled for a lesson on bread baking at the Taylor's University College cooking school a couple of weeks ago. I've been making bread for quite a while now but I what I know I learnt from online sites about bread baking as well as tips from Marty, my bread-obsessed colleague/fellow blogger/friend. So when the opportunity to go for an actual bread baking class presented itself, I pounced on it. As an amateur, self-taught baker, I was sure I'd learn heaps.

Our teacher was 29-year-old Chef Francois who is a chef lecturer at the university. He was very patient with the 12 or so of us (all women and just one gentleman): get a group of excited women in a room and you can't shut them up. Add to that two over-enthusiastic  bloggers (me and Elaine) who made sure we photographed each step of every bread we made (we made six types) ... bless his soul, Chef Francois sure was a saint.

Oh, except for the time when he said, "You are taking a picture of me cleaning my workstation too? Enough!" 

Well, he was joking. Honest. He eve asked later on if he could have some of the photos!

How cool it was to work in a professional kitchen even if just for one morning.

Even before the lesson started, I was a happy camper. Being in a professional kitchen, with its marble-top work surfaces, stainless steel counters and racks, industrial ovens, butcher sinks .... I was as excited as a kid in a candy shop. This is so where I want to be. So. Cool.

OK, back to the class.

This was a basic bread making lesson. We made only one type of bread dough: a soft white dough (high protein flour, sugar, milk powder, instant yeast, salt + milk, eggs and water + butter) but we made 5 types of bread variations from it: a lotus paste bun, a barbecue chicken bun, a sausage roll, a coffee bun and a braided loaf.

The first step: making the dough and kneading it all by hand. This was the biggest challenge. Without a mixer (I admit I usually knead the dough for about 3-4 minutes with the mixer +dough hook and then only finish it off with about 5 mins of hand-kneading. The dough hook was my security blanket: in case my hand-kneading was insufficient, at least I know the dough had about 4 minutes of a good knead via the machine.

Machine kneaded bread yields as good a bread as the hand-kneaded alternative but I must say (I never believed this fully) that the satisfaction of kneading the dough by hand, of handling the dough as it develops, watching as the structure of the dough changes as the gluten develops — well, it's pretty kick-ass.

Chef Francois showing us the ropes (left). Ultimate satisfaction: a perfect hand-kneaded loaf.
Chef Francois certainly wasn't joking when he asked us if we were ready to sweat. 10-15 minutes of kneading (you need some gusto as you press, pull and fold the dough and later slap it on the counter) was my morning's workout all taken care of. Even if my dough doesn't rise, I'm sure my biceps will. (The dough DID rise, btw).

What the class gave me was a greater confidence to handle my dough. I now know how to feel when my dough is strong enough. I think I will know how to recognise when my dough has been under kneaded (you can do a test: cut a portion of the dough and using your fingers, gently try and stretch the dough. If it breaks or tears, you need more kneading. If it stretches well and you get an almost transparent sheet, like a window pane, it's ready). or if it has been over kneaded (the gluten strains break and you're basically back to square one. Your dough starts to look a little too shiny too). It will take some more practice at home, for sure, but now I don't think I need to rely on my mixer to knead.  I will still use it when pressed for time but only as an option.

Braided loaf (left) and three types of buns: (from top to bottom) barbecue chicken buns, coffee buns and lotus paste buns.
Soft Bread Sough

280g high protein flour
55g sugar
4g salt
6g instant yeast
10g milk powder
1 large egg/2 regular
12g cold water
30g softened butter, cut into cubes

Measure your dry ingredients (flour, sugar, milk powder, salt and yeast) in a bowl. Here's a tip I learnt: if you are measuring them in advance, keep the salt and the yeast separate as the salt can "kill" the yeast. Mix them together with your hand or pastry scraper until they're well incorporated. Add the milk, eggs and water and bring them together (using the scraper). Once they more or less come together (Once the dry ingredients are moistened), use you hand to mix them properly into a rough dough ball.

Transfer onto your work counter. Using marble is best. If you don't have a slab of marble, lightly flour your work surface. Lightly only.

Now it's time for kneading. You gently form a ball with the dough and lightly press the dough onto the counter. Hold the bottom portion of the dough down gently with the fingers of your left hand. Use the heel of your right hand to stretch the top part out and then fold it back. Don't stretch too much until the dough "tears" as this well tear the gluten strands that are beginning to form. The dough gets more elastic as you work it so start easy.

mins). If not, stretch and turn more.

It's hard, I know, when you don't have a visual image. Watch these two links from How to knead dough (fr or this alternate one.

The next step: Now hold the dough at the bottom and just slap it down on the counter with one strike. 

The dough should stretch out as you slap it on the counter as it has becomes elastic. Do this a few times (about 5-10 mins) until it is almost opaque (like a window pane) when you stretch it.

Now, place the cut up butter on the dough and continue kneading: fold, stretch, fold. The butter will make the dough soft and a little wet and sticky (and the counter a little messy) but as you knead, it gets incorporated in the dough.

Now, transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film and leave to rise for about an hour. 

Once it has risen, transfer it onto the work surface and gently deflate it. Now, you can start shaping your buns, rolls or loafs. 


  1. How did u manage to knead and take pics? Didn't it mess the camera ?

  2. A little :) But camera can be cleaned :)


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