Although good bread is now available in Hong Kong, I make my own because I enjoy doing so - it's relaxing and satisfying. There are many types of dough you can use to make bread, including straight dough (simply mix all the ingredients together); sourdough (of which there are variations); and 'old dough' (a piece reserved from a previous batch; like a sourdough, it adds flavour). The first recipe starts off as straight dough; subsequent batches use the old-dough method.
Hearth bread (right)
This recipe is adapted from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum. Be sure to reserve 200 grams of dough from the first batch to use as the old dough; and do this with all subsequent batches, because it adds flavour. Don't let the old dough get too old, though - use it within a week.
For the sponge:
155 grams bread flour
35 grams whole wheat flour
3/8 tsp instant yeast
10 grams honey
320ml water (about 25 degrees Celsius)
For the flour mixture:
300 grams bread flour
1/2 tsp instant yeast
10 grams fine sea salt
Oil, for the mixing bowl
To make the sponge, put the bread and whole wheat flours in the mixing bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey in the water, then pour the mixture into the bowl. Use a whisk to mix the ingredients until smooth. In another bowl, mix the 300 grams of bread flour with half a teaspoon of yeast. Spoon this over the sponge in the bowl, cover it with cling-film and leave it at room temperature (or in a warm place, if it's cold outside) for one to four hours. It can also be refrigerated overnight; let it come to room temperature before proceeding.
Lightly oil a large bowl and set it aside.
If using an electric mixer, fit it with the dough hook. Sprinkle the salt over the ingredients in the mixing bowl, then mix for one minute. Cover it with cling-film and leave for 20 minutes. Mix for seven minutes on low speed, or until the dough is smooth and just slightly sticky - if it's too moist, add more flour. Scrape the dough into the oiled bowl, then lightly oil the surface. Cover with cling-film and leave to rest until it doubles in size.
If mixing the dough by hand, put it onto a lightly floured work surface, sprinkle it lightly with flour and knead it for about five minutes. The dough will be sticky; a metal 'bench scraper' is helpful at getting the dough off the work surface. Don't add too much flour or it will affect the texture later. Invert the bowl (the one used to mix the ingredients) over the dough and leave it to rest for 20 minutes, then knead it again until it's smooth and slightly sticky, adding more flour if needed. Transfer the dough to the oiled bowl, lightly oil the surface, then cover it with cling-film and leave to rest until it doubles in size.
Whichever mixing method you use, when the dough is doubled, give it a firm whack with your fist to deflate it. Knead it briefly in the bowl then turn it over so the smooth side is up. Cover it with cling-film then leave to rest until it doubles. You can let it rise at room temperature, but it will have more flavour (and be easier to work with) if you let it rise in the fridge. At room temperature, the dough doubles in size in about an hour (if it's fairly warm); in the fridge it takes four to eight hours (although you can leave it a little longer; if you need to, deflate the dough again and let it rise a third time).
If the dough has been refrigerated, let it come to room temperature before shaping it.
Cut off 200 grams of dough, put it in a zip-lock bag, seal it and refrigerate it for the next batch of dough. Cut the remaining dough into two even pieces. On a lightly floured work surface, shape the pieces into round, tight balls. For round loaves, put the dough, smooth-side up on a parchment-lined baking tray, leaving enough space between the balls so they can double in size. If you want to make baguette-shaped loaves, roll and stretch the balls until they're long and thin, then put them seam-side down on the baking tray. Leave them at room temperature until they've almost doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees (if you have a baking stone, put it on the lowest shelf of the oven). Sprinkle the loaves lightly with flour and slash the surface with a sharp paring knife. Put the baking tray in the lowest shelf of the oven (or directly on the baking stone). If your oven is large enough, put a cake pan filled with ice cubes in the oven to create steam. Bake for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 200 degrees and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the tray of ice cubes (which will be water by now). Continue to bake the bread until it's brown and crusty on the surface and the bottom; to test whether it's done, turn the loaf over and tap the underside with your fingernail - it should sound hollow. Cool before slicing.
When using old dough, break it into lumps and mix it into the sponge, then proceed with the recipe.
Sun-dried tomato bread (far right)
For this variation on the above recipe, there's no need to set aside some of the dough for the next batch.
Use the same ingredients as above, but decrease the salt to five grams.
20 grams tomato paste
30 grams sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (weighed after draining off the oil)
Dry the sun-dried tomatoes with paper towels to remove the excess oil, then cut them into small, narrow strips. Mix in the tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes when you add the salt, then proceed as directed in the first recipe. After the final rise, cut the dough into four pieces and shape into baguettes or round loaves. Bake as directed, but the loaves will need less time in the oven.
Styling Yvonne Lai