Monsoon: Perfect Bread-Making Weather

Well, things have certainly been a bit quiet around here – I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  

Not much blogging but a whole lot of kitchen and garden envy

It seems like every summer I head off to Scotland with the very best of blogging intentions and every summer Eat and Dust lapses into near-silence. We had a wonderful time at home catching up with family and friends though.  At my sister’s house I even contracted a severe case of garden and kitchen envy:  my brother-in-law has built an amazing outdoor kitchen in the woods behind their house, along with barbeque area and bunk house – how cool is that?

I want this kitchen


 I also want a garden that produces fruit like this

We also spent a week in Corfu where our friends Jane and Emilios have a house.  Jane and her daughter cooked up all sorts of Greek wonders ( I’ll blog about them soon) which I’ve been trying out since we got back. But first…

What’s a hot sticky  monsoon kitchen good for? 

Before I go off into an Ionian reverie, I need to give you a recipe to use right now, a recipe that is so utterly  perfect for our  humid, Monsoon Indian kitchens that you mustn’t waste another second before making it.  

It’s also something everyone is always telling me is impossible to make in India.

Good bread (loaf-style as opposed to flat), they say, can’t be done  here because we don’t get  strong bread flour. Well this recipe for ‘Whey Bread’ proves that you can make a loaf better than anything you can buy with the humble plain/all-purpose/maida  flour available in every corner shop.  

It must be true – Dan Lepard says so

I’ve been making bread, mostly variations on this recipe in fact, ever since I’ve been in Delhi – I use bread flour if I have it, plain if I don’t and I’ve not really noticed any difference.  

I was chatting to Dan Lepardbaker extraordinaire, one day on Twitter and he basically said – ‘you can make a respectable loaf out of pretty much any type of flour.’  He also said that Indian plain flour is perhaps less refined than western versions so innately better suited to bread making.  Well, how about that?

This recipe is as easy as can be and very adaptable.  Don’t have cream? Use milk.  No Whey?  Water will do just fine.  But the beauty of it right now is that the humid warmth of our kitchens is the perfect environment for yeast to do its work. You’ll have a full blown rise in no time.

Here’s what I wrote on the subject (followed by recipe) for Mint…..

Last month saw the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Chorleywood baking process.  I say celebrations, but you may well feel that commemorating the invention of pre-packaged, long-life, tasteless white sliced bread is not necessarily a reason to start popping champagne corks. Whatever your point of view, back in 1961 a revolution in bread making occurred and Britain led the way in replacing wholesome, nutritious, hand-baked bread with limp white sliced loaves tasting of cotton wool.

The Chorleywood baking process is named after the town in Hertfordshire where scientists at the British Baking Industries Research Association devised a means of turning cheap low-grade flour into mass-produced bread.  The means, of course, were a highly mechanised mixing process and a cocktail of additives.  Traditionally, a loaf of bread takes up to 20 minutes to knead – the Chorleywood chaps reduced this to three by radically speeding up the mixing process.  Proper bread, though, needs proper flour and the inferior variety used in sliced white has to be enhanced with salt, sugar, fats, flour improvers, emulsifiers and enzymes.

In India, the Chorleywood process is responsible for the ubiquitous Britannia loaf and a billion bread pakoras. In fact, it accounts for 80% of bread produced in India and the UK. But if a mouthful of cotton wool ‘enhanced’ with sugar, salt and chemicals isn’t to your taste, and you’re crying out for a pukka loaf, then you’re in tune with a new generation of  food revivalists urging a return to real bread making.

As there are very few artisan bread makers in India, making it at home is the only option. And turning out a loaf at home couldn’t be easier, especially at this Monsoon time of year when kitchens are hot and humid – ideal conditions for encouraging yeast to work. This recipe, as well as being a great way of using the whey left over in paneer making, uses a method introduced to me by British baker extraordinaire, Dan Lepard. Incidentally, if you’re at all interested in starting to bake bread at home, Dan’s book The Handmade Loaf is the only one you’ll ever need. Follow him on Twitter, too, for daily dough-y wisdom.

You will need to buy some imported Fast Action Yeast but it’s well worth the investment.  On the upside, there’s no need for expensive ‘Bread Flour’, the home grown maida makes a loaf far, far superior to anything you could buy in a packet.  Dan also introduced me to a new way of kneading: instead of the traditional long knead and long rest, the kneading and resting is broken up into short bursts over a few hours.  Having tried both methods, I can confirm that Dan’s produces a much better loaf. Try it – you’ll never look at Britannia again.

Whey Bread

Makes 1 large loaf

125ml cold cream (malai)

250ml whey

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 sachet (7g) fast action yeast

550g plain flour  (maida)

A few drops of sunflower oil

  1. Heat the whey until hand hot (not boiling) then pour into a large bowl with the malai.  Add the sugar, salt and yeast.  Whisk gently to mix then add the flour.
  2. With your hands mix quickly until you have a soft, ragged slightly sticky mass – no need to knead a this point – then cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes.
  3. After 10 minutes, smear a few drops of oil on a clean work surface.  Tip the dough out and knead for 10 seconds. Put the dough back in a clean bowl and leave for 10 minutes.  You will notice that the dough has already changed structure – the yeast has already started to work on the flour, making it springier and more elastic.
  4. Again, knead for 10 seconds and leave for 10 minutes.  Give the dough a final knead, it will now be quite soft and pillowy.  This time leave the dough, covered, to rise for 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.
  5. Lightly oil the inside of a loaf tin.  If you don’t have a loaf tin, you could make a freeform loaf on a baking tray.
  6. Tip the bread dough onto the work surface and pat it into a shape that fits in the tin or an oval shape if you’re going freeform.  Put the bread into the  tin and leave to rise again for about one hour
  7. Heat the oven to 200­ºC and bake the loaf for about 45 minutes.  If you like a crustier loaf, take the bread out of the tin and bake for a further 5-10 minutes.