Every bread baker has his own basic formula for creating what, in his opinion, is the best bread. I have no idea what “best bread” means because everyone has his preference. The peg, for some, is the health value and they opt for breads made with whole grain flour. For others, it is the softness and fineness of the grain of the bread. And, for some others, it is crusty exterior. In most cases, personal preferences are defined by culture. If one grew up in a place where the standard is the flatbread, one wouldn’t readily accept the statement that leavened breads are better, and vice versa.
When Speedy and I decided to get serious with bread baking, we agreed that we wouldn’t limit ourselves with Western definitions. In fact, we are consciously veering away from factory standards characterized by perfectly shaped soft white breads. We want to explore breads from different cultures with the hope that, someday soon, we can feed Alex regularly with the paratha that she loves so much without busting our food budget. Oh, yes, grocery-bought paratha is pricey — not because the ingredients are more expensive than those of other breads but because of the skill involved in producing the layers of cooked dough.
Admittedly, it will be a long and, hopefully, fun journey. And as with every journey, everything starts with the first step. For us, that first step is a basic bread recipe that is versatile enough to produce buns, rolls and loaves. We did a couple of projects, we weren’t satisfied and I wrote that we would need to tweak the recipe that we used.
We were about to do just that when a reader, Nina, pointed out something so obvious that I wanted to bang my head against the wall for not realizing it before — that my pan de sal recipe is the basic bread recipe.
She wrote: “I experimented with lots of recipes and finally nailed it after I found your recipe for pan de sal. I use the same recipe to make rolls and loaf – your recipe makes really wonderfully soft bread. My toddler always asks for it and she helps me make the bread sometimes.” Right, once the dough is ready, it can be shaped into buns, rolls or loaves.
Thank you, Nina, your comment is priceless.
So, I am reproducing that recipe as a stand alone post, something I can refer to in future baking projects.
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 1 tsp. instant dry yeast
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 and 1/2 cups bread flour
- additional flour for dusting
- additional vegetable oil for greasing the bowl
- Pour the water into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over it. Leave for 10 minutes.
- Add the salt, sugar and vegetable oil to the yeast mixture. Stir. Add 3/4 c. of all purpose flour and 3/4 c. of bread flour. Mix.
- The dough will be wet and sticky at this point. Add the rest of the flour. Mix.
- The texture of the dough will be uneven at this point but it will start to come together.
- Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface.
- Gather into a ball and start kneading. If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle with some flour but do so sparingly as adding too much flour will result in a hard and very dense bread.
- After five minutes of kneading, the dough will be smoother. Keep kneading until the dough feels elastic.
- Feeling the elasticity may take some practice but here’s a tip. Pinch a small part of the dough — it feels like pinching your earlobe, it’s time to stop kneading. Usually, 10 minutes of kneading is enough to achieve this texture.
- Brush the inside of a bowl lightly with oil. Put the dough in the bowl, turning it around to coat the entire surface with oil.
- Cover the bowl. If your bowl does not come with its own cover, use cling wrap. Place the bowl in a dark place — away from draft and direct light — to make the dough rise. I like to do this inside the oven with the heat off, naturally.
- After an hour and a half to two hours, the dough should have risen. From my experience, the dough doubles after an hour. I like to leave it for another half hour to one hour to allow it to triple in size. The bread turns out softer that way.
- Punch down the dough and transfer to a lightly floured surface.
- Cut and shape into whatever kind of bread you wish to make. The given recipe will yield 24 pieces of pan de sal or two medium-sized loaves.