Apple and mozzarella loaf
Taking advantage of my available weekends, I've been making bread every Saturday ever since I got hooked on kneading bread by hand. I've been trying my hands on different recipes to build up my experience in working with yeast and it's been somewhat of a roller coaster ride. After my sweet success at bread making baking the pumpkin marble bread, I think I got a little too proud of myself. Because right after that, my subsequent bread attempts yielded quite disappointing results.
I wanted to try my hands at making pizza again, since I had somewhat gotten the hang of baking bread, or so I thought. So I happily shopped for my pizza ingredients and intended to whip up a storm in the kitchen. Maybe a storm did pass through, judging from the mess I had in the kitchen, but my pizza was far from what I had expected.
The dough didn't quite rise as much as it needed to, even after giving it more than double the time recipes usually give. So there goes my hopes of a fluffy, puffy pizza. Actually, it was flat and chewy, more like roti prata.
Still, I had enough dough for 2 pizzas which I divided and used one week apart (I had half rolled out between baking paper and frozen). I topped each pizza with different toppings each time, the first Hawaiian style a la Pizza Hut, with sausages, mozzarella and pieces of juicy pineapple and the second, more sophisticated with homemade rosemary meatballs and homegrown basil.
Of course, I also made the pizza sauce myself. And although the pizza dough wasn't as desirable, I personally think the pizza sauce and meatballs are definitely keepers. So, just in case you're interested:
＊pizza sauce (makes 2-3 cups)
In a small saucepan, heat some oil and saute a smallish, minced onion. When the onion turns translucent, grate in 1 clove (or 2) of garlic. When the garlic has turned fragrant and the onions slightly caramelised, add in a can (170g) of tomato puree together with 400ml of water. Stir well and bring to a boil over low heat. Season with dried herbs, I used about 1/2 tsp each of mixed Italian herbs and dried basil, sea salt and black pepper. Add more water if necessary and continue to stir over low heat. Stir in 1tbsp of honey and grate in a wedge of pineapple. Continue stirring until it comes to a boil and turn off the heat. While still hot, stir in a handful of grated parmesan cheese, about 2 tbsp. If you like, you can also stir in a pinch of red chilli flakes for a bit of heat.
＊rosemary meatballs (makes about 40)
In a large mixing bowl, add 2-3 tbsp of milk to 1/4 cup panko (dried breadcrumbs). Alternatively, you can use 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs. To the breadcrumbs, add 500g ground beef, 1 large potato that has been boiled, peeled and mashed, 1 small, minced onion and 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, also finely minced. Season the mixture with sea salt and black pepper, 1 tbsp barbecue sauce and 1 tbsp maple syrup. Mix until well incorporated, adding some corn or potato starch if the meatball mixture doesn't come together. Shape tablespoonfuls of the meat mixture into balls and fry with vegetable oil in a frying pan until cooked through. The meatballs can be frozen in ziplock bags for further use. I've since used them in wraps, pasta or torn up to be topped on pizzas.
As I wondered to myself why my two consecutive attempts at working with yeast had such different results, I found myself working on another "yeasty" project again and made sweet potato wreath buns. It's just sooo like me to want to try something new (and complicated) right after suffering a defeat making the pizza dough. Following this recipe (in Japanese), I made a simple bread dough (read: no yu-tane), sandwiched mashed sweet potatoes, further sweetened with honey, between two halves of the bread dough rolled into rectangles, then cut them into strips to shape into wreaths.
Without any idea what actually went wrong in my pizza dough, of course my sweet potato wreaths turn out to be a flop. Again, the dough had refused to rise even though I've given it more time than required. The buns came out really dense, and really reminded me of siew bao. They weren't inedible, but...
Maybe the dough wasn't hydrated enough. Hrm... I turned to this recipe (in Japanese) for yogurt bread which seemed promising.
I had used berry-flavoured yogurt and made small buns with a cream cheese and blueberry filling. This time, it was much much better than my sweet potato wreaths but still far from the fluffy, soft bread I wanted to achieve. I even made the recipe twice just to make sure.
Maybe it was the yu-tane, I thought. It definitely has to be the yu-tane! After a large detour (doh), I decided to go back to making the basic yu-tane loaf (ahem, just a little of dried cranberries kneaded in).
Incidentally, I had my last bit of instant yeast left, enough for just one more loaf before I run out to buy another bottle. It had to go well this time... but it didn't. As far as I could remember, I tried to recreate the steps and procedures I did with my pumpkin marble bread. The dough still rose really slowly, and the resulting loaf was dry and reminded me more of stale bread. And it was surprisingly much sweeter than before, despite having not changed the amount of sugar added.
I was really getting frustrated, but wasn't about to give up. Since I had reached the bottom of my bottle of instant yeast, and my emotions also about to hit rock bottom, I got a new bottle of yeast and drew up a new plan to start all over.
I sat myself down, thinking, thinking and rethinking about what, where, when, whatever went wrong during my bread making. I decided to go through the recipes that I've tried, perhaps I had missed out something or did something wrongly. Then I realised that wasn't going to work if I don't actually remember what I had did correctly when my bread turn out well.
Alright, so I was going to practise and take down notes which I can refer back to every time anything went wrong, or right. I don't think I was ever so zealous in school. So off I went kneading up a new batch of yu-tane dough with my new bottle of yeast, weighing every single ingredient as accurately as I could, following every step of instructions as well as I knew. Since the dough wasn't rising well the previous times I made them, this time I tried something slightly different. Instead of warmed milk (which might have been too hot and killed the yeast) I used just lukewarm milk in the dough and had the dough rise over a water bath in the microwave (not in use of course).
And it worked! Just 30mins after letting the dough rise, it had almost tripled in size. Wow. I used the dough to bake up 2 separate loaves, one of apple and mozzarella and another a chocolate marble. The loaves rose beautifully (and quickly) and baked up soft and fluffy.
I've since resorted to taking down notes for almost every try I take at making bread and it's been coming out well. Besides what I do, I also note down the results of my "taste tests". Maybe I kinda miss being a student...
This definitely isn't the end of my bread baking frenzy, but it should relent a little since I've somehow gotten to know some tricks myself. Meanwhile, I'll be mixing it up with other baking and cooking that I've been wanting to try, so please look forward to it!