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The dough must flow

HK EDITION | Updated: 2020-03-05 08:55



[Photo provided to China Daily]

Most people who make their own bread do so to control what goes in it. Bread should really only contain six or seven ingredients: flour, liquid (water or milk), oil, sweetener (sugar, honey, agave or molasses), salt and yeast. I often add an egg to my breads to give them some squeezability; for vegans, ground flaxseed works just as well. If you want to be fancy, you can also throw in things like herbs, fruit, nuts, seeds or cheese. Some people may add dried gluten to their breads to give them more elasticity, especially if they are using flours like teff or spelt that are low in gluten.

I recently had a look at the ingredients of a popular brand of locally produced bread – one that's available in all the supermarkets here. Do you know what else it contains? Flour-treatment agents to make the loaf rise more so that the bakery can use lower-quality flour and less of it (you're essentially paying for bread-flavoured air), emulsifiers to reduce the rate at which the bread goes stale, preservatives to prolong shelf life and stabilisers to assist in the uniform dispersal of ingredients. The use of all these chemicals in food is legal in Hong Kong, but is it any wonder that more people are experiencing food intolerance issues these days?

With the plethora of affordable bread-making machines available on the market, it's never been easier to make your own loaves of wholesome, grainy goodness… not that it was that difficult before. My machine is a basic model that offers 12 settings for different types of breads (basic, whole wheat, French, et cetera). To be perfectly honest, I actually use the dough setting for all my breads and then pop the dough into the oven.

True, the advantage of using a machine from start to finish means that you only have one pan to wash up, but baking your bread in the oven means that you can shape it into something other than a boring rectangle. Thanks to an instructional video on YouTube, I'm now a pro at making a six-stranded braided challah. You can also add interesting items such as apple chunks, grated cheese or sesame seeds to the dough once it's ready. (Some machines automatically add items like dried fruit or nuts during the process, but mine isn't that sophisticated.) Oven baking also means you can get the crust just the way you like it.

Another good reason for making your own bread is because it's therapeutic. When I focus my attention on that blob of dough on my kitchen counter, any trouble that's been sitting on my mind just disappears. The aroma coming from the oven also helps to melt away any worries or concerns I may have. Bread-making is also a great way to bond with your kids over an activity; my friend already has her two-year-old helping her pour the ingredients into the machine. So go ahead and get baking! It's easy, it's fun and you'll feel better knowing exactly what's in your bread.

One of my favourite recipes is for beet bread. Yes, beets – though you wouldn't know it. The result is a slightly sweet, hearty bread that's a beautiful pinkish-brown color. It's healthy and the whole family will love it. Just don't tell them it's beets until after they've taken their first bite!

Beet Bread

½ cup warm water

14oz can of sliced beets, finely chopped or puréed

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon honey

2¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons salt

1 packet (2¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 egg or egg substitute (optional)

Tip: To get a redder loaf, swap out half of the water for the beet liquid from the can.

Add the ingredients to your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select the dough setting. When the dough is ready, either pour it into a non-stick baking pan or mould it to your desired shape on a very lightly floured surface. If the dough is too sticky to mould, add very small amounts of flour at a time until the dough is soft. Cover the dough and let it rest for about ten minutes. Bake the bread at gas mark 4 (180°C) for an hour. You'll know it's done when you tap it and it sounds hollow. Allow the bread to cool completely on a cooling rack before slicing or serving.

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