The Sourdough Starter Challenge


The interwebs are full of advice on how to create sourdough starter at home. The air is teeming with wild yeast (so we hear) and it’s just an issue of coaxing it to come eat your flour-water mixture.

But one can’t see the wild yeast. So that process requires a bit of blind faith and blind ritual; to keep feeding the unseen guests daily, without knowing if they are there, is a bit more…shall we say…devotion than most people can muster.

This is why, I think, a Twitter thread from yeast geneticist (or “local frumpy yeast geneticist” as he calls himself) Shoe Laces 3 (Sudeep) went viral. It is because he taught us how to see the wild yeast. The white powder on the skins of grapes? That’s yeast. The whitish dusting on the skin of raisins, or dried apricots? That’s yeast. So it is a matter of introducing that yeast to some flour+water, and they will eat it. As they eat it, they will breathe out carbon dioxide. That will make your flour+water full of bubbles and it will rise. It’s as simple as that.

And yes, the local frumpy yeast geneticist made it sound simple. The yeast are just like anyone else—they want to eat, dammit. I mean, they aren’t quite monks. Just bring them to food, they will eat.

So here we go—let’s try this out. Each day, I will post the progress of my wild yeast starter. That will include bubbleage, rise, smell, and so forth. If you want to follow along, go grocery shopping, get ready. Each day I will update this post.

Day 0: Grocery shopping

  1. Flour (bread flour or all purpose)
  2. Grapes (the skin will look a bit powdery)
  3. A clean glass jar that can be closed
  4. A wooden chopstick for stirring (a fork will do)
  5. A small spatula

Day 1: Create the mixture

8 pm

  1. Put 1/4 cup of water in a clean glass jar
  2. Add 2-3 grapes without washing them
  3. Stir it around
  4. Add 1/4 cup of flour
  5. Stir it around till you make a paste
  6. Scrape down the sides of the jar with a spatula
  7. Cover and keep it at room temperature (around 70-72 F)

Day 2: Look for bubbles, first feed

7 am

No bubbles to be found. Place inside oven with the oven light turned on for warmth. Do not turn the oven on.

5 pm


We have….bubbles! The mixture has risen to double. There is condensation on the sides of the jar. The surface looks frothy. It smells mildly alcoholic, mildly fruity, and a bit yeasty. There is some separated liquid at the bottom.

7 pm: Discard and feed


  1. Discard most of the mixture, including the grapes. Leave about a tablespoon or so.
  2. Add 1/3 cup flour
  3. Add 1/4 cup water
  4. Stir with a wooden chopstick
  5. Scrape down sides with a spatula
  6. Cover and leave on the countertop overnight (not in warm oven this time)
  7. My starter now has a name: it shall be called Bertie.

Day 3: Feed twice a day

8 am:


Bertie was left on the countertop overnight. Not quite doubled but there is bubbleage. Some liquid separated at bottom. Smells deeper than yesterday, more cheesy/yeasty, but also fruity.

  1. Stir the liquid in.
  2. Discard most of it, leaving a tablespoon or two.
  3. Add 1/3 cup flour
  4. Add 1/4 cup water
  5. Stir with a chopstick or fork
  6. Scrape down sides with a spatula
  7. Cover and leave on counterop.

5 pm:


Similar yeasty, fruity, alcohol smells. Bubbly and frothy, but not really risen. There is some liquid separating out once again.

Apparently the liquid is called “hooch” and is a sign that the starter is “hungry”. The yeast has eaten the flour and the alcohol it releases is collecting up top. If it is hungry, I should feed it! But this is also when the sour bacteria start their activity, so in my book that is a plus. Same routine:

  1. Discard all except about a tablespoon or two
  2. Feed fresh flour, 1/3 cup
  3. Add 1/4 cup water
  4. Stir & scrape down sides with a spatula and leave on the counter.

Day 4: All hooched up

Well I have sad news to report about Bertie. After I let it go a bit too long without feeding, it got some hooch floating on top, and…died. No more bubbles.

No matter I will start a new one tomorrow.



Follow this post for daily updates!!

(Follow me on Twitter at @TheOddPantry and on Facebook at The Odd Pantry)


Bagels in the time of Corona

We are now living through a pandemic. Going to the bakery involves masks, gloves, strict social distancing ballets, and disinfectant. It feels apocalyptic. Creating bagels at home requires being covered in flour, messiness, kneading, the smell of baking in the morning. It feels…homey.

How to decide?

Bagels are pretty unique in the bread family in two ways: one is their torus (donut) shape, with a hole in the middle. This shape gives the bagel as much surface area as possible for their size, so that the dense insides can cook all the way through. The other is the curious step of picking up the risen torus entire, tender and fluffy from the bubbles trapped inside, and slipping it into boiling water for a minute before baking.

It’s odd, I tell you. I’ve made a wide variety of breads, from multigrain loafs baked in 9 by 4s to free-standing sourdough loafs to chapatis roasted on a griddle to pooris fried in oil. The step of boiling is completely unique. Generally, when you boil dough, you get dumplings, not bread.

And yet, here we are. Is a matter of fact, the boiling gives the bagel a sheen—and more importantly, a smooth soft shell, that preserves the shape and density during baking. That’s how you achieve the chewiness that for some reason is a match made in heaven (or “match made in leaven” perhaps) with cream cheese.

The method

Bagel dough is pretty standard, if perhaps drier and denser than a standard loaf bread destined to turn into slices and sandwiches. You have the option to add as much whole wheat flour as you like up to about 50%—I generally go with a third whole wheat, two-thirds not.

The list of toppings and flavorings that can be added, either to the dough, or on the surface of the boiled torus before baking, are endless: from cinnamon, to onions or garlic, to seeds like poppy, sesame, caraway. But I’m going to focus on the bagel recipe as a basic template, for you to experiment with on on your own dime.

Just like standard bread, there is a first rise. Depending on the amount of yeast added, and the temperature around your countertop, this can go from an hour to overnight in the fridge.

Just like standard bread, there is a shaping and a second rise. But rather than shape into a loaf, one breaks the bagel dough into pieces, rolls each piece into a snake about a foot long, and joins the snake head to mouth into a torus shape.

Then, of course, there is the boiling and the baking.

Sugar: this recipe is ideal for people who get tired of the amount of added sugar in commercially available food; it has no sugar at all. If you want to add some, you can add a teaspoon to a tablespoon or sugar or honey dissolved in the water.


Flour + water


Mixing the dough




After first rise


Break into six pieces


Start shaping each


Rolled out to snake shape


Join at ends


Start second rise











  • 3 cups flour (up to a third whole wheat, the rest bread flour or all-purpose)
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1.25 cups water
  • 0.5 onion, sliced, for onion bagels (optional)
  • 2 tbsp mix of sesame and poppy seeds, for seeded bagel (optional)
  • other topping ideas:
    • garlic
    • shredded cheese
    • jalapenos
    • caraway seeds


Collect your flours in a wide bowl. Sprinkle the instant yeast over and stir it into the flour with a fork. Then sprinkle the salt over and stir that in as well.

Make a well in the center of the flour with a chopstick. Pour the water in. Start mixing the flour into the water with your chopstick (a wooden one works best because it won’t stick to the mixture). Once most of it is mixed in, turn the dough onto a counter to knead.

Continue to knead for a few minutes, until you have a smooth ball of dough. Cover with oil and plastic wrap, and leave it to rise for about an hour or two, or until puffy and almost doubled.

Divide the dough into six approximately equal pieces, using a pastry scraper to make neat cuts, rather than pulling it apart. Cover all the pieces with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap while you work on shaping each piece.

To shape a piece into a torus shape: gently roll into a foot long shape with some stretching, some rolling, some flattening, resting it for minutes at a time. Moisten the two ends with some water and connect end-to-end in a bagel shape.

Place them side by side on a well-floured cookie sheet, with at least a couple inches between them. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap to avoid drying out. Leave to rise for another hour or two.

Pre-heat oven to 425° F.

Set a large pot of water to boil. When it comes to a rolling boil, lower the heat to just above a simmer. One by one, gently scoop up each bagel by teasing it onto a slotted spoon and lower into the boiling water. Boil each side for 30 seconds and leave to drain. This is the time to put toppings on, such as fried onions or sesame seeds.

Place the tray with the boiled bagels into the oven for 20-25 minutes. Wait at least half hour before slicing them.

They go very well with butter, or cream cheese, or my idiosyncratic favorite: cream cheese and jam.

I’d love to hear in comments or on Twitter/Facebook if this worked for you. I would love to see pictures of your bagels!

(Follow me on Twitter at @TheOddPantry and on Facebook at The Odd Pantry.)

When it comes to no-knead breads, I am a believer

20 Vanity

For the longest time, all those recipes that promised you could make bread without kneading seemed to me simultaneously a cop-out and an oxymoron—like nut milks with no dairy, or vegan hamburgers or, for that matter, working holidays.

Why leave out the most kinetic, fun part of the entire process, that allows you to playact blue-collar labor, work out your aggression, and show the gluten who’s boss, all at once?

But I realized recently that I had missed the point. I had missed the import of one word: autolysis.

Bread starts with gluten. Flour has the potential of turning some of its proteins into gluten, that stretchy, strandy thing that binds the air into webs as it rises. Gluten is the cause of the elasticity of dough and for the spongy, soft interior of bread. Gluten is the reason bread doesn’t turn into either a pancake or a brick.

Flour, while it is dry and powdery, contains the ingredients to make gluten, but no gluten itself. But as soon as flour particles come in contact with water, a couple things happen. One, in the presence of water, two of the flour’s proteins start to come together to form gluten. And two, some of the starches break down into sugar. If the flour-water mixture is ‘infected’ with yeast, the little yeasties can feed on the sugar and multiply. This process is known as ‘autolysis’.

Now most of the wise bread teachers, like Rose Levy Berenbaum and the bakers at King Arthur Flour, have always recommended a period of ‘walking away‘ once you have mixed water and flour before the kneading begins. This walking away, whether it is for ten minutes or an hour, gives the gluten formation a head start, and makes the subsequent kneading a much easier task.

Call it walking away or call it autolysis, it is the time for the flour to spontaneously do the gluten-formation that kneading is usually called upon to do. But what if you took this principle to its logical conclusion, and allowed the flour-water to do all the work? What if you never had to knead at all?

What you have then is no-knead bread. It takes longer than kneaded bread, because the folding and squeezing that the dough is subjected to while kneading speeds up the process. But as a home cook, I plead—no, I demand—that you develop patience. It will take you a day, or more. But you will be proud of your loaf.


Now here’s another advantage that no-knead breads can give you that kneaded breads simply cannot. The dough can be very, very wet. So wet in fact that they are impossible to handle, because touching it with your whole hand as you would have to in order to knead would make a sticky mess. No-knead bread is never handled (with one exception, as I’ll go into next). So it can have a lot more water by proportion than regular breads; and a wetter dough makes for a softer, more risen, more holey crumb.

Now the dough is so wet that one even foregoes the usual ‘freeform’ baking of the crusty loafs, where they sit in the oven all by themselves. The dough is simply too wet! This is why the standard way to bake this kind of bread is in a covered dutch oven or a loaf pan. (I’ll show you both by-and-by). The added advantage of this method is that in the closed, wet, hot environment of a dutch oven, you essentially create a steam sauna for the bread, and get a simply remarkable final rise—while baking.


Now while kneading is not called for, here’s a step that can lengthen and stretch the gluten strands and thus improve the final crumb. This is a step that Rose Levy Berenbaum specifies in all her crusty loaves. It involves laying out the flaccid dough in a gently stretched rectangle, folding both sides in to overlap in the middle, turning 90° and repeating it. So,

Step One: Fold in the left third of the rectangle in order to cover the middle third, then fold in the right third of the rectangle in order to cover the previous flap.

Step Two: Rotate the dough 90° and repeat the two folds above.


Mixing flour, water, yeast, salt


Shaping for final rise

Misting and scoring


No-knead bread

A note on ingredients:

You have considerable flexibility regarding ingredients. Where the flour is concerned, you can go up to one third whole wheat. I’ve used high protein bread flour, but all-purpose will work too, though the result will not be as chewy, but rather, softer. A single teaspoon of salt will be just enough for the bread to taste ‘normal’ but you can go up to even two teaspoons for a saltier crumb. Using less yeast then a quarter teaspoon will make it rise slower, more will make it rise faster. Though I would not recommend more than a half teaspoon because remember, you want this process to be slow.

  • 3 cups flour (I used 2.5 cups King Arthur bread flour and 0.5 cups King Arthur whole wheat flour)
  • 1-1.5 tsp salt
  • 0.25 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1.5 cups + 2 tbsp water
  • Dry flour for sprinkling
  • 5 minutes to mix.
  • 8-18 hours first rise.
  • 10 minutes folding and shaping.
  • 1 hour final rise.
  • Bake at 450°F for 45 minutes

Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl and combine thoroughly with a fork. Make a sort of well in the center and pour a cup and a half of water into it, reserving the two extra tablespoons to add if needed. Roughly combine using a chopstick till ALL the flour is moistened. Add in the extra water if needed to make sure there is no more dry powdery flour in the bowl. A wet, sticky mess is what one is aiming for.

The resulting mixture will be very, very rough and sticky. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and leave aside.

In about an hour or two, you are ready to fold the dough as described above. Sprinkle the counter with plenty of flour and scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the counter. Sprinkle dry flour on the dough as well as on your fingers, as this will help you handle it without it sticking. Perform the two folds as described above. Now the dough will be a much smoother, tighter roll than the mass you started with. Place it back in the bowl, covered with wrap, to rise.

This rise can take anywhere from 8 to 18 hours. If it is rising too quickly and you are not ready to proceed with the next steps yet, put the bowl in the fridge to retard it. Take it out the next morning and let it come to room temperature, about an hour or two.

At the end of this period, the dough should have more than doubled, and the surface should show some large bubbles. If you tap the bowl, it will shiver like jelly.

Sprinkle the counter with more dry flour and place the dough on it and proceed to shape it into a round. This is done by pretending you are making a cloth bundle with the dough: so gather the edges into the middle, tighten, and do it some more.  Not only is the dough turning into a tight ball, the outer skin is also getting stretched.

Place it seam side down on some floured parchment paper. Cover with plastic wrap once again and leave to rise. You can leave it to rise free form, but it is better to place it in a bowl or basket or, as I did, an empty tortilla container. This is so that the vertical sides of the container constrain the dough from spreading outwards, and it is pushed to rise upwards instead. The dough will take about an hour or hour and a half for this second rise.

About half hour before you are ready to bake, turn the oven up to 450°F and place the dutch oven, uncovered, and its lid, in the oven to get it hot.

At the end of the hour, remove the plastic wrap off the dough. Mist the top of the dough with a fine spray of water. Use a sharp serrated knife to score it: gently, with a slicing motion and barely any pressure at all, make a half inch cut in the top of the dough. A lip will open up, showing all the glorious webbing that has developed under the skin. Scoring in this way helps the crust, as it bakes, to open up along that line instead of haphazardly.

Lift up the dough ball, parchment and all, and place in the dutch oven and cover with the lid. Bake for 30 minutes covered and 15 minutes uncovered.

At the end of baking, the crust should be golden brown and the bread dramatically risen. When thumped on the bottom it will sound hollow. Let it cool for an hour before slicing.

(Find me on Twitter at @TheOddPantry)

Star-studded raisin-pecan bread

Star-studded bread

Star-studded bread

A lot of what I know about bread-baking I learnt at the home of Rose Levy Berenbaum. No, she is not my favorite aunt or neighbor (though how I wish she were) — she was in her home, on TV, and I was in my home, watching TV and earnestly taking notes.

I have made several of the breads in her book The Bread Bible, and this one is one of my favorites. Of course breads with raisins and nuts are quite common. But the standard configuration they come in is the sliced bread with a square shape, sprinkled with cinnamon and a swirl in the middle. Now that is wonderful, but there’s more to raisin-nut breads than the cinnamon swirl.

The Bread Bible

The Bread Bible

This particular bread (called the Raisin Pecan bread in the book) is a free-form loaf that is baked ‘naked’ in the oven, outside of any pans. Those are my favorite kinds of breads because of their crustiness. There is no cinnamon — that is the other difference. There is no swirl, instead the raisins and pecans are nicely spread throughout the loaf, hence the name that I gave it — star-studded. There is no added sweetness, making it less of a confection and more of an adult dinner bread. Spread with something creamy like clotted cream or a nice white cheddar it is one of the most popular snacks in our home.

She uses some ingenious tricks to enhance the flavor. A sponge is mixed hours ahead or the previous day. Raisins are soaked for 30 minutes, no more; and the soaking water is used in the bread. Some of the pecans are ground fine to be mixed in with the dough, some are just broken bits and add a delightful crunchiness to many bites. The nut and raisins are mixed in in a very delicate procedure, after all the heavy kneading is done,  to avoid a mess of runny raisin juice. Simple, small tricks, but they make a big difference.

I made one more modification — I substituted quite a bit of the flour with whole wheat, because we like that in our household.

Star-studded Raisin-Nut Bread

Mixing the sponge

Mixing the sponge

Soaked raisins

Soaked raisins


Pecans with some pistachio thrown in

Straining ground pecans

Straining ground pecans

Ground pecans and bits

Ground pecans and bits

Sponge risen

Sponge risen

Mixing the dough

Mixing the dough

Spreading pecans

Spreading pecans

Adding raisins

Adding raisins

Rolling it up

Rolling it up

Ready for first rise

Ready for first rise

Shaped ready for second rise

Shaped ready for second rise







Star-studded bread (adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum's raisin-pecan bread)

  • Servings: 2 pound loaf
  • Print

Ingredients for soaking raisins:
  • 1 cup raisins or currants
  • 1/3 cup water
Method for soaking raisins:

Soak the raisins in hot water for half an hour. At this point, drain the raisins and you will be left with 1/4 cup water, that you can use to make the sponge below.

Ingredients for sponge:
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1 cup water (including raisin soaking water)
  • 1 tablespoon demerara sugar
Method for sponge:

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl, then pour in the water (remember to use 1/4 cup of the raisin water for added flavor), and stir stir stir with a wooden spoon or chopstick, almost like you are whisking it. The sponge will look like batter with some air incorporated into it. Cover with a plastic wrap and keep aside at room temperature for at least 1.5 hours, at most a whole day.

Ingredients for dough:
  • 1.5 cups plus couple teaspoons more of whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1.25 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely ground pecans
  • 1.5 cups coarsely broken pecans (I substituted some with pistachios)
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • All the sponge from above
  • All the raisins from above
Method for dough:

Stir together the flour, the yeast, the salt. Add in the sponge and the oil and the ground pecans, stir with a chopstick or the dough hook to moisten fully.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside for 10 minutes. Come back to it and knead it properly into a dough. Let it rest for 10 more minutes.

Now flatten the dough and spread it out into a rough rectangle about 10 inches by 15 inches. Spread the broken pecans bits all over the rectangle leaving an inch border on all sides. Then spread the raisins over the same area evenly. Start rolling up the dough from a short end, also taking care to tuck in the edges. All the nuts and raisins will be hidden inside.

You do need to knead it lightly after, just to get it all to combine. At this point nuts and raisins might start falling out of your dough ball, just do your best to tuck them back in.

Cover with oil and allow the first rise until it is doubled, which will take about 2 hours. Shape it into a loaf and allow the second rise till doubled, covered with plastic wrap or a damp towel. This will take about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 400ºF. Score the bread with a sharp, serrated knife. Each cut should go about half an inch deep. Mist the bread and put into the oven on a middle rack. In the first 5 minutes, mist inside the oven with a water spray bottle and quickly close the oven, about 3 or 4 times. After the first 5 minutes bring the temperature down to 375ºF. Continue baking for 40 to 50 minutes until it is golden brown.

A slab of bread rolls — laadi pav




Most people are only dimly aware of this but the Portuguese colonized India long before the British, and hung on till long after. Because of their influence, a particular yeasted bread called pav spread all around Bombay and became very much part of the culture of the city. (A word on that shortly.) Now pão in Portuguese simply means ‘bread’. In India, we have a pretty fraught relationship with yeast breads, as in, we didn’t get around to rising breads much. Most of the use of wheat flour is for flat breads. It’s not that risen breads are not popular in India — they are, very much so. But they come from the European influence, and have always remained a bit foreign. By that I mean that hardly anyone makes risen breads at home. When I was a kid, if one wanted pav, one had to resort to bakeries.

Irani restaurants

By iranichaimumbai (, via Wikimedia Commons

In the old days, most of the bakeries in Bombay were run by the Iranis, as part of tea-houses called Irani restaurants. They were pretty unique establishments, run by Zoroastrians who escaped Iran around the 1920’s. For me, it is impossible to think back to any neighborhood in South Bombay without thinking of the corner Irani restaurant that served it. The Iranis were foreigners and the rigid customs of Hinduism meant nothing to them. The food they served was mostly Irani cuisine but also had a touch of Europe.

Their clientele looked like the city itself. There were Christians and Parsees, taxi drivers and street workers, middle-class office workers and retirees. For a few rupees you could hang out for hours under the high ceilings, the drone of the fan overhead, read the morning newspaper that was still warm from the press, sit on the wooden colonial-style netted chairs at glass-topped tables in peace while you ate your breakfast.

They were not fancy. Customer service was a bit…brusque. This post has an entertaining story about that. Tea inevitably got poured into the saucer to be drunk. Breakfast was variations on pav. Maska pav is bread and butter. Brun maska pav is hard brown bread with butter. Akuri pav is pav bread with scrambled eggs. And so on.

If you want to further explore the old world of Irani restaurants, here are some websites with pictures and wonderful stories. The Heritage Institute page on it, and one from a website called Irani Chai.

Street food

The Irani restaurants are sadly on their way out. Many have turned into beer bars, one into a McDonalds. If they are around, they have survived by expanding their menus to include dosas and Chinese. But pav bread remains as popular in the city as ever. It fuels much of the manual labor that goes on in the city from the early hours to way past midnight.

I guess this is the appropriate time in this post for me to start referring to the city as Mumbai. People say that no one starves in Mumbai. To eat a decent, wholesome meal, you don’t need to own a kitchen or a stove or even own a pair of shoes. Every street corner has some food stall or the other. Many serve meals centered on pav. Plates and cutlery are completely unnecessary. Food is simply handed to you or may be wrapped in a newspaper.

One is vada pav, which is mashed potato deep-fried in a besan batter, served inside a pav, with garlic chutney. Another is pav bhaji, which is a mashed mixture served with pav with tons of butter. For 50 rupees you can fill your belly with an excellent, pure vegetarian, wonderfully-spiced meal. People, please realize how wonderful this is. The Odd Pantry will showcase all of those recipes eventually.

But one has to start with pav.

Laadi pav

The particular version of Portuguese pão that we in India latched onto looks like a grid of bread buns stuck together at the edges into a slab (‘laadi’). To me the word ‘laadi’ sounds a bit mechanical or construction-related, so it is quite endearing when it is used for bread. Looks a lot like a dinner roll that is available all over America.

But look, this is different. I’ve tried to recreate my favorite street food snacks at home using a standard dinner roll, but the results are terribly disappointing. This is because store-bought dinner rolls have more than a hint of sweetness and that simply does not go with the savory flavors of street food. It totally ruins it, in fact. They often don’t use real butter and one absolutely needs real butter.

This recipe of pav has no sugar whatsoever. None. You don’t need any. And real butter. Just try it.

Flour and yeast

Flour and yeast

Pour water in and stir

Pour water in and stir

Shaggy mass

Shaggy mass

Shaggy mass with butter poured on

Shaggy mass with butter poured on

Pav dough

Pav dough

Divided dough

Divided dough

Further divided dough

Further divided dough

Pav rising

Pav rising

Pav risen

Pav risen

Laadi pav

  • 3 cups bread flour (I used King Arthur, substitute with all purpose or maida in India)
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast. This is also available in most stores as bread machine yeast.
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Have the flour in a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir it in. Then sprinkle in the salt and stir that in. Add 1.25 cups room temperature water and gently stir to moisten all the flour and make a shaggy mass. Cover and go do something else for 15-20 minutes.

Melt the butter — I use the microwave for this. But make sure it is not sizzling, it needs to be just melted. Pour the butter over the flour mixture. Now give it a good kneading, for about 5-7 minutes. The dough will be smooth and shiny.

Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside at room temperature to rise for 1.5-2 hours. My room temperature is around 70°F. In India, room temperature will be a lot higher, so I would leave it under a fan or airy window.

In 1.5-2 hours, it will have doubled. Gently take the dough out, and using a pastry cutter, divide it into 12 rolls. The way I do this is to first divide in half, then each of those into halves to make 4 quarters, and each of those into 3 to make 12.

Each roll must be shaped like this: take the dough in hand and start by rolling it into a pouch, press down the center point with your thumbs and keep rolling more and more of the bun into the pouch. You are sort of trying to make a stretched balloon with the outer surface. Pinch the seam of the pouch shut. Cover with oil and lay seam-side down on a cookie sheet. Each roll is to be place half inch away from its neighbors in a grid.

Let it rise for another hour. The rolls will have risen into each other and gotten connected. Bake in a 425°F oven for 15 minutes. If you like, brush with butter right away when they come out.

FB-f-Logo__blue_29 pinterest_badge_red Google+ twitter-button-small

Feeding the husband’s habit

Husband's habit bread

Husband’s habit bread

Several years ago, poking around google looking for an oat bread recipe, I found that an unknown denizen of the Internet had put up a good-sounding recipe under the name of ‘Habit Bread‘. I made it that very day. My husband, who is a big fan of oat breads (he has his toasted with almond butter), said that I had aced it on the first try.

Since then, this loaf has become a standard in our family. Like with every other recipe I have made modifications — I call my version the Husband’s Habit Bread. It is so much part of my husband’s weekly routine that I try to have a loaf sliced and frozen at all times.

Here is a trick to storing loafs of bread, specially of this dense variety. One thing I have found is that the freezer works great, but unless one wants to thaw the entire loaf at once, it is better to pre-slice it. Then you can pull out one slice at a time.

Go ahead, pull one out. What? You can’t?! You can’t because all the slices stuck together when they froze?

Exactly. That’s why I put sheets of parchment or waxed paper in between each pair of slices before I freeze them. Put all the slices thus separated in a freezer bag, squeeze out as much air as you can from it, bind it tightly and put it in the freezer.

Husband’s Habit Bread

This recipe makes one 9″x5″ loaf.

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dry rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 cup corn polenta
  • 1/2 cup dry milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups water

Dry Ingredients:

2 cups whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur’s premium whole wheat)

1 cup bread flour

2 teaspoons instant yeast


Combine all the wet ingredients together into a pot and bring to a gently boil. Stir nicely to get it all to combine, paying special attention to breaking up the dry milk lumps. Once it comes to a boil, turn off the heat and wait for it to cool.

IMG_0186 IMG_0188 IMG_0189

The unknown denizen of the Internet who is the originator of the Habit Bread recipe mentions that a bowl of cooked oatmeal is notorious for holding onto heat and that is true. It takes a while for this mixture to cool to lukewarm. At the same time, you don’t want to wait too long, because then the mixture will turn into a giant lump and the bread will not mix very well. I have found through trial and error that this time period is about half an hour; but test before using.

Meanwhile combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a mixer; if you choose to knead by hand, just combine in a large bowl. Stir the flours with a fork. Put the (lukewarm) wet ingredients in and stir with the dough hook for about 3 – 4 minutes until the dry ingredients are moistened. You may find you need to add up to 1/4 cup extra water while kneading. Leave it covered with a plastic wrap for about 10 to 20 minutes.

Come back to it; by this point due to the autolyse process the dough will be much easier to knead into a smooth ball.

Turn on the mixer with the dough hook for another few minutes or so; first the dough will come together into a shaggy mass. I like to finish kneading by hand until maximal smoothness.

Cover with oil and let it rise at room temperature in an oiled bowl for about 2 hours. It should double in volume.

IMG_0190 IMG_0192 IMG_0193

Take it out of the bowl, flatten it gently into a rectangle and roll into a loaf, while taking care to tuck the ends in. Squeeze the seam shut all the way across to seal it. Oil the shaped dough and put into a 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pan, also oiled. Cover with a plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for an hour to an hour and a half more.

This is a pretty dense bread, and it is quite a job for the wheat flour gluten to lift up the great heft of the oats and the corn polenta. Plus we are using a large percentage of whole wheat flour, the bran in which tends to counteract the lift of gluten. So this bread is not going to win any light-and-airy contests. By the time it has peeked over the rim of the loaf pan, it is probably done rising.

IMG_0194 IMG_0195

Bake in a 350 F oven for 55 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the meat of the loaf should read 200 F. Take it out of the oven and let it cool on a rack for an hour before slicing into it. Thank you, unknown denizen of the Internet.


Wondrous bread

Dear Reader, I am aware that not all visitors to my blog are foodies. Some of you want your daily bread and water and to not be bothered to put all manner of unfamiliar pastes and blocks in your mouth (“just try one bite!”) I have non-foodies in my family, and I get you. I really do.

And when it comes to bread, the non-foodie likes the square sliced white bread. I do too! Sliced white bread is a neutral substrate for any kind of sandwich. Cube it and turn it into croutons. Toast it and butter it. Batter-fry it. Dip it in soup. The shape is predictable, even, easy to cut into little squares or triangles. This kind of bread is a workhorse.

In India we grew up with white bread of this variety:


But as with many things, the primary innovation of making a square loaf, preslicing it and packaging it in waxed paper was American. It was a Wonder! And in case you need prodding to feel sufficiently celebratory, here, I will help:

It was a Wonder_Bread_logo.svg!

Sliced bread was invented in the 1920’s by a man named Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Not only did he come up with a bread slicer but also the idea of wrapping them in waxed paper to keep the slices fresh. After an initially doubtful populace, sliced bread began to fly off the shelves.

Pretty soon households were addicted to sliced white bread; that created its own problems. They became malnourished; the government had to insist that vitamins and minerals be added to the bread. Also, people began to forget what bread was supposed to taste like. Over the decades, the ‘bakeries’ where the bread was made turned into ‘factories’: the taste suffered, but nobody noticed. The product still flew off the shelves; ever more convenient, ever cheaper to make, sell, buy; it lasted longer and longer in our pantries. Until we ended up with this:

Wonder bread ingredients from

Wonder bread ingredients from

But never forget that the original soft white sandwich loaf really is wondrous. Easy to slice — not so crusty that the knife sends bread shards shooting into your eye. Not so soft that the knife mangles it with one gash. Easy to use for any kind of sandwich. And delicious.

Wondrous Bread

This recipe is from King Arthur Flour: Classic White Sandwich Bread. You should click the link for instructions and background but I’m repeating the entire recipe here.

Dry Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup dry milk powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon salt
  •  2 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1 1/2 cup water



Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix the wet ingredients separately (no need to get it super combined). Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet stuff in.

IMG_0641 IMG_0643

Stir with a dough hook until it sort of comes together in a shaggy mass. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside for about 10 minutes. Come back, run the mixer at this point for about 5 minutes until it comes together into a rough dough, like this:


At this point, I like to finish kneading by hand, until it becomes a smooth dough like this:


How do you know when you have kneaded enough? This is a trick I learnt from the book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Take a little marble-sized ball of dough. Spread it as thin as you can into a little sheet, gently. If you are able to tease the dough into a translucent sheet (light should be able to shine through) without breaking it, you are there. If it breaks off into chunks rather than become a translucent sheet, you are not there and need to knead further. This is called the windowpane test.

Windowpane test

Windowpane test

OK. Oil the dough to keep it from drying out and put it in a large container to rise. I usually mark the level at which it is with a sticky tape. Leave it at room temperature until it doubles. This will take about 2 hours.

IMG_0656 IMG_0660

Now comes the shaping. The loaf needs to go into a 9″ by 5″ loaf pan. Form the dough into a rough rectangle, and start rolling it into a log from the long side, gently pressing the seam closed as you go. Take care to tuck in the ends as you roll. The shaped loaf should have its seam closed everywhere, almost like a zipped up sleeping bag.

IMG_0662 IMG_0664

Place it into a greased loaf pan and cover with a plastic wrap. In an hour or 90 minutes the loaf will have risen to an inch above the rim. Now it is ready to go into an oven.

IMG_0669 IMG_0667

Preheat the oven to 350 F. When it comes to temperature the loaf pan goes in (without the plastic wrap, please!)  Bake the bread for 35 – 40 minutes. Around the middle of the cooking time, turn the pan 180 to allow it to cook evenly on all sides, and, tent it with aluminium foil to prevent it from browning too much.

IMG_0671 IMG_0674

When it is done, allow it to cool in the pan with some airflow under it, then take it out and slice it. There! sliced white bread.

IMG_0678 IMG_0675

How bread can teach you patience

Yeast makes bread rise, but lesser yeast makes better bread. Bread made with a quarter teaspoon yeast develops more flavor than a good heaping helping of two teaspoons. So why would anyone ever add more yeast? Well, you pay for it with time.

If you mix your dough, forget about it for a few hours; or leave it out overnight or stick it in the fridge for a day — if that process doesn’t drive you crazy — you draw more flavor out of the wheat. Take a deep breath, forget about it, and wait.

So when I saw a recipe from King Arthur that emphasized the minimal amount of yeast, I figured I would try it. It had a couple more qualities that I look for in bread.

  1. Half the flour is whole wheat. You get all the fiber from the bran and all the nutrients from the germ. I’m sold.
  2. This is an artisan bread, which I prefer, not an enriched loaf. What’s the difference, you ask? Both are yeasted breads, but quite different animals. Here are the differences.
  • artisan breads are free-form, while enriched breads are usually made in loaf pans to get that characteristic (some might say cartoonish?) square bread shape with wings at top
  • artisan breads have a strong crust and holes inside, while enriched breads are softer with an even texture throughout
  • artisan breads tend to emphasize just the taste of the wheat and often have just flour, water, yeast and salt as the ingredients. While enriched breads are — you know, enriched — with sugar, dairy, fat, raisins, cinnamon, cheddar, what have you
  • artisan breads are cooked faster and hotter, while enriched breads are cooked for longer at a more gentle oven temperature
  • artisan breads are good for tearing off bits to have with butter or olive oil, while the raison d’etre of enriched breads is toast and sandwiches.

Artisan loaves are somewhat fetishized (one could argue I’m fetishizing them right now); so it is rare to find a whole wheat artisan bread because the bran detracts from the holey chewiness somewhat. This recipe is a find.

The recipe makes two loaves.

Whole wheat artisanal loaves based on King Arthur’s recipe

Step 1: Make the sponge

whole wheat artisanal loaf 001

Whole wheat loaf: mixing the sponge

One cup whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur’s premium whole wheat), 1/16 teaspoon instant yeast (basically, a pinch), half cup water. Stir with a whisking motion, my favorite implement for this is a chopstick. You might have to use your fingers at the end. The point is not to knead it, just combine it into a very sticky mixture. Leave this on the countertop overnight or all day, covered with plastic wrap.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 002

Whole wheat loaf: sponge

whole wheat artisanal loaf 003

Whole wheat loaf: sponge ready to rise

whole wheat artisanal loaf 005

Whole wheat loaf: sponge after it has risen

Step 2: Make the dough

By next morning the sponge will have expanded; if you touch it lightly with your fingertip it will press in easily just like a — like a baby’s cheek. Now mix the dough.

Mix the dry stuff first:

2 1/4 cup bread flour (substitute with all purpose; this is not the whole grain)

1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon yeast

1 1/2 salt

Put the dry flours into the bowl of a mixer if you are using one, otherwise a large bowl. Stir the dry stuff together with a fork. Try not to let the salt come in contact with the yeast, because it kills it. The way to do that is stir the yeast in with the flour first, then sprinkle the salt on, and stir that in next.

Now break the sponge from Step 1 into walnut-sized bits and throw into the dry stuff. Once in a while stir to cover the wet sponge with the dry flour.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 010

Whole wheat loaf: breaking the sponge into bits

Now put in 1 cup + 3 tbsp filtered water (not tap water since it is chlorinated). Start the mixer on the slowest speed for just a minute until all the water is combined with the flour and forms a shaggy mass. If it looks like there is dry flour at the bottom that simply will not get combined, you can help it along with a spatula; or if they still can’t find enough water, give them a spoon or two, the poor babies.

whole wheat loaf: a shaggy mass

whole wheat loaf: a shaggy mass

Now cover with plastic wrap and leave it be for 10 minutes. This process is called autolysis, which gets the dough to start the process of building gluten on its own, in the presence off water, without you doing a thing.  Except waiting. I told you this was all about waiting.

This recipe for chapati/roti, even though it is about a flat bread, has some explanation of the process of building gluten.

Now, the kneading will proceed a lot faster. Turn on the mixer on slow speed for about 5 minutes.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 016

Whole wheat loaf: done with mixer

Pull out the dough, and finish the process by hand on a counter top. You now have a smooth dough. Put it into an oiled container, cover the dough with oil inside and out, and mark the level to which the dough comes up to.

Whole wheat loaf: a smooth dough

Whole wheat loaf: a smooth dough

At this point you will be waiting for 3 – 4 hours; if this doesn’t fit your schedule and you want to wait longer, use the fridge.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 019

Step 3: Folding once in a while

While the bread is rising, give it some folds while handling it gently (don’t pound at it). The first time after an hour of rising, the second time another hour later, or skipping it is fine too. This is how you fold the bread — that I learnt from Rose Levy Berenbaum’s book The Bread Bible. Drag the dough out and flatten it into a rectangle. Fold both ends in one on top of the other as though you are trying to wrap a present. Flatten it out gently, give it one quarter turn, stretch it out widthwise, and give it another fold.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 020 whole wheat artisanal loaf 022 whole wheat artisanal loaf 023 whole wheat artisanal loaf 024

Put the dough back in its container. Allow it to rise until it is at least doubled, which you can tell from the line you drew to mark its level. When it is fully risen it will be very puffy with air and you might even see bubbles at the surface. Look carefully at the picture on the right below — you can see bubbles enveloped in a thin stretch of dough.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 027 whole wheat artisanal loaf 028

Step 4: Shaping

At this point you are ready to shape the dough into loaves. Pull the dough out gently, lay it on the counter, and cut it into two. Each half will be shaped separately. The idea with shaping is you flatten the dough out and start rolling it width-wise, quite tightly, while firmly tucking in all ends. At the end you will have a cylindrical roll. Pinch the seams closed. When you think of bread rising, the easiest way to think of it is that you are stretching the dough at the surface to increase surface tension and make a sort of balloon — a gluten balloon — that will trap the air in as the yeast breathes out CO2.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 030 whole wheat artisanal loaf 034whole wheat artisanal loaf 032 whole wheat artisanal loaf 033

Dust the loaves with some dry flour, place them on a parchment paper on a cookie sheet to rise. Cover with plastic wrap so that the surface does not dry out.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 038

Whole wheat loaves: final rise

At this point wait 1.5 hours until the loaves have expanded 1.5 times.

Step 5: Scoring

Preheat the oven at 475 F. Before putting the loaves into the oven one has to score them, which means make half inch deep cuts on the surface. Once it starts baking in the oven the rapid expansion of steam inside the dough is going to make the bread rise so much that it wants to explode (the gluten balloon will want to pop). The cuts guide the ‘explosion’ to happen along those channels instead of an untidy way anywhere along the loaf (usually along the seams).

whole wheat artisanal loaf 042 whole wheat artisanal loaf 041

So take a sharp, serrated knife, and make swift, slicing cuts along the top surface with a very gentle motion. Half inch deep at least. Now mist the loaves with water from a spray bottle, and they are ready to pop into the oven.

Step 6: Baking

The oven at this point is very hot (475 F, and if you have a pizza stone stick it in there as well). We are going to circulate the heat around so it penetrates the loaves as fast as possible using steam. During the first 10 minutes, mist the loaves to create steam: open the oven door very briefly and spray water around inside. Mist it a few times — three or four times — during the first 10 minutes of baking.

Now lower the temperature to 400 F, and bake for an additional 25 minutes. Take the bread out and let them cool for an hour before slicing.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 046

Whole wheat artisanal loaf

The crumb of this bread was quite nice with a few small holes.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 052

Remember I said above that the explosion in the oven will want to happen along the seam, and you want to avoid that? I wasn’t able to avoid that completely, witness the explosion along the side below.

whole wheat artisanal loaf 048

Well I sliced right into that explosion and the whole thing was delicious anyway.