A very happy new year to all the readers. Hope the new year has gotten off to a rocking start. Mine sure has. I got a new 42-litre oven on new year’s eve! Well, I haven’t unpacked it yet, but i hope to do so today. These last few days have been jam-packed, with me trying a lot of new recipes for the blog (yes!) and for Lotsa Lavender, my baking venture.
This post, in fact, is part of the Blogger Tuesdays series that runs every Tuesday at a facebook group called the Home Bakers’ Guild. It is a wonderful forum, where the members are ever-ready to help out with suggestions and solutions when someone asks for it.
I’m reproducing the post verbatim here except for adding a small bit on turning this into a savoury loaf as well as including step-by-step pictures. Here goes:
Happy Tuesday morning everyone! Not many of you know me. I’m Nandini and like most of you I stumbled into the world of baking quite by accident. A lot of people find it really funny that I moved from being a business journalist writing articles on gold price movement and the placement scenario on IIT campuses to playing with dough! I worked as a copy editor with The Economic Times for a couple of years in Bangalore and then in Chennai as a correspondent.
I was starting to feel bored writing business articles and was looking to move to features when I got an offer to co-write a cookbook. I was in a loooong steady relationship with food by then and I thought it only proper to commit to it full time. I quit my job and went on to planning and writing the cookbook. More than a year of crazy work on the book later (with loads of involvement in the designing and editing stages, thanks for my years in a newspaper) Why Onions Cry: A Peek into an Iyengar Kitchen went on to win second runners-up award at the World Gourmand Cookbook Awards held in Paris in the vegetarian cookbook category. That was March 2012.
A week later my son was born. For the next one year, I got totally caught up in changing soiled nappies and trying to figure out how best to make ragi kanji. This naughty little bundle had me at my wits’ end, leaving me with no time to do anything for myself! The crazy four-hour feed-sleep-play cycle meant movies and dinner dates with hubby were a thing of the past. The only thing that helped my keep my sanity was my fledgling food blog Foodiliciousnan – I’d started it while writing the cookbook as a means to ‘practice’ food writing!
I also baked whatever I could –mostly simple chocolate cakes and made-from scratch pizzas – for my nephews every week. About a fortnight before my son turned one, we were discussing where to order the birthday cake from, when I thought why not bale the cake myself! I eventually ended up baking vanilla chocolate chip cupcakes with chocolate frosting for all kids and a small cake for cutting. I also made chocolate lollipops and bite-sized pizzas for the birthday party as well as layered white and milk moulded chocolates for return gifts. There were 25 kids and 10 adults in all and that was the first time I baked on such a large scale. The positive response to all the goodies spurred me into baking more often for family and friends.
Slowly, I started experimenting with pav buns and bread loaves. On one particular pav bhaji day, I packed some pav buns and bhaji for our friends. One of my friends thought I was kidding when I said the pav was homemade. It was she who pushed me into thinking about baking for orders. A couple of months of thinking and planning later, Lotsa Lavender was born – started by yours truly along with Bhavna Rao, who was instrumental in convincing me that there is a market for fresh home-baked goods.
We started off making all sorts of things, mainly tea cakes, cupcakes for birthdays, shot glass desserts for kitty parties and lots of bread loaves. Slowly, with people largely asking for whole wheat breads and persistent clients, we slowly moved into baking only with whole grains, organic ingredients and healthy goodies and starting experimenting with vegan baking, mostly to do away with butter and milk in our products. We get most orders for our whole wheat breads and millet cookies.
By now, I’ve probably bored you thoroughly and equipped all of you with enough about me to write a thesis on my life! To get on with the recipe of the day, it is a 100% whole wheat loaf – a mini loaf actually – that has pureed pumpkin in it. No please don’t bother hunting around for canned pumpkin puree. This is uses the good old Indian yellow pumpkin – ‘peeli kaddu’ in Hindi or what we know as poosinikai in Tamil. I did a little experiment because I was actually craving a yeasted mango loaf – if you haven’t tasted one, please please plan to bake it this summer! Since mango is a good four months away, on a whim I thought I’d try pumpkin – I’d at least get the colour!
The vegetable puree really adds to the softness of the bread. It works wonderfully in this loaf since it is made from fresh-ground whole wheat. It is a mildly sweet bread with dried cranberries that I made around Christmas. You could use other dried fruit or even nuts if you like them. I don’t know if it is because of the pumpkin, but this loaf has a very tender crumb and doesn’t feel as dense as a regular whole wheat loaf. The recipe works very well as a savoury loaf too. I’ve got a herbed pumpkin loaf in the oven right now. I’ll update the blog with step-by-step pictures of the same later in the day. Do try it out and let me know how it turns out!
Braided Whole Wheat loaf with Cranberry and pumpkin puree
(makes 2 mini loaves, each 5”x2.5” OR one 8”x4” loaf)
100% Whole wheat flour – 2 ¼ cup
Cooked pumpkin puree – 1/3 cup
Water – 2/3 cup plus 1-2 tbsp
Salt – ¼ tsp
Brown sugar – 2 tbsp
Instant yeast – ¼ tsp
Oil – 1 tbsp
Dried cranberries or other dried fruit of choice – ¼ cup
*Option for making a savoury loaf is explained at the end of the post
To make pumpkin puree – I’ve only tried this with cooked, pureed pumpkin. You’ll need about 75-100 gm of pumpkin to get 1/3 cup of puree. Take a slice of pumpkin, discard the peel and chop up the flesh into chunks. Boil it in 1 cup of water till it is nice and tender. Drain any remaining water and keep it aside. Mash up the pumpkin with the back of a ladle or puree it.
To make the dough: Take the flour in a wide bowl. Measure out 1/3 cup of mashed pumpkin. Add the water reserved from cooking the pumpkin and additional water as required to make 2/3 cup and mix well. Add this liquid mix to the dry ingredients and mix with a large wooden spoon till all of the flour seems wet. If there are dry patches of flour, add more water 1 tsp at a time. Don’t add too much additional water and don’t knead the flour as yet. Cover it and keep it aside for 20-30 minutes. This step is known as autolyse. It helps develops the gluten in the flour better without salt or yeast inhibiting it.
About half an hour later, add the yeast, salt, sugar (powder it if your brown sugar is granular) and dried cranberries and start kneading. You can add another teaspoon or two of water if you’re finding it difficult to knead in the yeast and salt. Once the dough starts coming together, add the oil knead well. Form into a ball and place it in a greased vessel. For the purpose of this post, it put the ball of dough in a tall cylindrical vessel and placed a rubber band to mark the level of the dough. I put another rubber band to indicate how much I’d like the dough to rise. Cover it up and put it in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours. I normally prepare the dough at night and refrigerate it overnight.
The first rise: Take the vessel containing the dough out of the fridge and leave it on the counter to let it almost double, almost being the key word here. Let it more than double with over proof it and we don’t want it. Check on the dough every half an hour. Depending on the weather, it might take anywhere between an hour to four hours or longer for the dough to bulk up.
The shaping and the second rise: When the dough has nearly doubled in size, take the ball of dough and place it on your work surface. Divide it into two parts if making mini loaves. Eyeball about one-fourth portion from each of the halves and set aside.
We’ll make the decorative braid with this portion after the loaf has been shaped. Roll out the larger portion of the dough into a long rectangle, with its shorter side being an inch shorter than the length of your pan. (The picture you see below is another mini loaf i made with the same dough, but filled with brown sugar, orange zest and dried golden raisins)
Start rolling the dough from its shorter side, pinching it after every turn. This makes the roll taut and ensures enough tension for the loaf to rise well.
Place the roll into the loaf pan/pans. Please grease your pan with a few drops of oil ahead of placing the dough in it.
Divide the one-fourth potion set aside earlier into three equal bits.
Roll out each bit into a long rope about one and a half times the length of your pan. Pinch the ends and start braiding.
Dab the top of your loaf in the pan with a bit of water and place your braid on top right in the centre. Tuck the ends of the braid into the sides of the pan.
Cover the loaf with a light kitchen towel and set aside for it to prove. Keep an eye on the loaf. If you prove it too long, the braid will rise too much and lose its shape. ‘Nearly’ double is what we are looking for.
Baking the loaf: When the loaf seems almost risen, preheat your oven to 180 deg C. Place the loaf pan/pans in the middle rack and bake for 25-30 minutes. The loaf will be golden-brown on top and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the loaf pans from the oven and carefully remove the loaf from the pan immediately. Leaving the baked bread in the pan makes the loaf soggy at the bottom while it cools. You could brush the loaf with oil or melted butter if you wish while the loaf is still warm. This will give it a nice sheen to the crust and also soften it. Let the loaf/loaves cool completely before you slice it up!
FOR A SAVOURY LOAF
Decrease sugar to 2 tsp and increase salt to 1/2 tsp. Add any flavoring of choice – chopped fresh herbs or dried herbs, chili flakes, chopped garlic etc. I used chopped green chilies and za’atar. You could either add your flavourings into the dough or sprinkle on the rolled out dough before you shape it into a loaf (like in the picture where raisins are seen). If you add it on the rolled out dough you’ll get a lovely swirl of your flavouring in each slice like in this one