I lived in the United States for a long-ish period of time. When I first went there to study, I did not know how to cook at all. I was given a cookbook, Chandra Padmanabhan’s Dakshin, as a gift when I left and my mother told me that that’s the only book I will need for Indian food.
As a student, I didn’t have much time to focus on food. I spent almost the entire two years heating and eating Progresso or Campbell’s Lentil soup and savory Garden Vegetable soup and sometimes Uncle Ben’s ready flavored rice. When I had time I would make the rice and the lentil soup together, and it reminded me of having dal and rice from home! I was even nicknamed the Soup Girl because I subsisted on soup for 2 years!
Then I got a job and got my own apartment. I started to cook, if you can call it that, for myself. My everyday meal was stir-fried frozen mixed vegetables, maybe some basmati rice also mixed in. I remember once calling my sister about being alone on my birthday and feeling home sick. She said I should take out my Dakshin book and make myself a special lunch of my favorite Indian food. That was a meal I’ll always remember! I made rice, rasam, spicy potatoes, spinach and corn, and peas. It was one of the best meals I’d ever had, because I’d made it myself. I didn’t waste a single spoon of it!
I then got married but we still ate very simple meals. My husband would cook occasionally, and I continued my stir-fried veggies and rice. Sometimes I made pasta with bottled Ragu pasta sauce. I used my oven to store pots and pans. When my mum or my mum-in-law came to visit, we ate like kings. Good times.
Then we moved back to India. And several years after moving back, I started to blog to keep track of all my mum’s recipes and things we made at home, so that I could pass it on to my kids. I know they won’t appreciate it now, but years from now, maybe when they have kids of their own, they’ll treasure these recipes.
It was when I was blogging that I read about someone starting to make bread at home. The concept was so fascinating to me. I always thought bread was super complicated and not something you could make at home. I decided I must give it a try. I went to my local bakery and signed up for a one day course. It was so unbelievably simple, that I came home and tried it right away and it was perfect. I started to experiment and made more complicated breads.
I loved the whole process of kneading. It was my yoga, my retreat from chaos and a way to snatch some quiet time with two toddlers at home. I loved it. And people started enjoying the bread, which was wonderful as well.
Anyways, now we make everything at home. No canned food. No packaged food. We have our own terrace garden. We make our own bread, our own pasta, even our own peanut butter. I continue to have soup everyday, (and so do my kids), but this is from fresh local veggies and not out of a can!! 🙂
My bread guru is Peter Reinhart. I started with his book, Bread Baker’s Apprentice. Many of the breads in this blog are from that book. I recently graduated to his next book, Artisan Breads Every Day. It’s just a fantastic book. Every single recipe is perfect. You have to buy both those books. We don’t get many types of flour here, including bread flour, so each time I use something that I’ve brought back from my travels I hate to waste it. So I’m very careful about following only trusted sources for my recipes. With Peter Reinhart, I know I cannot go wrong.
The Lean Dough
5 1/3 cups bread flour
2 tsp salt
2 tsp instant dry yeast
2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
Please refer to the above link to see the full instructions. But I’ve broken it down below into easy bullet points for myself, and my readers 🙂 (at last count, I had 4 readers!)
- Combine all the above ingredients in an electric mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes.
- Rest the dough for 5 minutes.
- Stretch and fold the dough on all sides
- Rest 10 minutes
- Stretch and fold again. Rest 10 minutes
- Stretch and fold 3rd time. Rest 10 minutes.
- Stretch and fold 4th time.
- Transfer to an oiled bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Next morning (day 2)
- Remove the dough from the refrigerator
- Divide into 2 halves.
- Pat each into a rectangle and shape into boules on a parchment paper.
- Mist the boules with oil and cover loosely.
- Rest for 60 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 290 deg C, with a baking stone in place and a baking tray on a lower shelf, under the stone.
- Remove cover from the dough and rest for a further 60 minutes.
- Score the loaves and transfer the loaves on the parchment paper to the stone.
- Pour hot water in the tray below the stone (to create steam in the oven).
- Lower oven temperature to 232 deg C.
- Bake for 25 minutes.
- Turn off the oven and leave the bread for 5 minutes inside the oven.
- Remove and cool completely on a wire rack.
This has become my go-to dough. I make this at least once a week now. The crumb is airy and light and the crust is chewy and crisp. I love it. And my friends and family love it.
How beautiful are those bubbles?!
This next photo is my favorite. The dough underneath the top skin looks almost alive! Full of bubbles and yeasty action. So gorgeous.
And I had a slice with some home made ricotta and a tamarind chilli spread that was also made at home. It was the best breakfast ever. And I can’t wait to have it again next time I make the loaf, because by the time I had that one slice, the rest of the loaf was already inhaled by my family!
How beautiful are those loaves!!! And check out that crumb. This is a perfect bread.