Masala Bread

There was an Iyengar bakery in every corner of Madras in the 90s. There was one very close to my school. I’ve had so many slices of the spicy, fragrant masala bread from there, our bicycles parked outside, laughing with friends.. such happy times. Even now the aroma of cumin and onion and green chilies evokes memories from high school for me. Of course, this recipe is a bit more milder, mainly because my kids don’t like it too spicy.

Masala Bread

Ingredients:

3 &1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil

1 small bunch of cilantro,finely chopped
1 bunch of curry leaves, finely chopped
1 onion,finely chopped
1 tbsp green chilli, finely chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
2-3 pinches of salt
1 tsp of turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Method:
1) Make masala:
Heat 1tbsp of oil, add cumin. Then add onions, chili, curry leaves, salt & turmeric. Saute for 4-5 min, turn off the heat and add the cilantro. Let the masala cool.

2) Make Dough:
Warm the milk in the microwave for 20-30 seconds (Milk should be luke warm).
Add sugar and yeast and mix well. Let it sit for 10 min till it becomes frothy.
In a big bowl, mix dough, oil, yeast mixture and salt. Add the water and mix till the dough is homogenous.
Add the masala and mix once more.
Then knead the dough on a floured counter for about 10 min, till the dough isn’t sticky, but soft and springy. (you can do this whole thing in a stand mixer too)
Shape into a ball, place it in an oiled bowl, and cover with a tea towel. Let it proof in a warm place for an hour- 90 min.

3) Shape the dough:
Punch the dough to de-gas.
On a floured counter, flatten the dough to a roughly rectangle shape. The width of the rectangle should be the same as the length of your loaf pan.
Fold the lengthy side of the rectangle (which is closer to you) a little past the half way of the length of the rectangle. Fold over the other side, overlapping slightly. (It is like folding a letter to put in an envelope, except for the overlap).
Seal the seam tightly by pinching together (so that the top of the loaf is nice and taut).
Place in the greased loaf pan seam side down.
Cover with a oiled plastic wrap loosely (the loaf will rise over the pan and you want it to rise).
Let the dough rise till the center is about an inch over the loaf pan sides (about an hour-90min)

4) Bake the bread:
Preheat your oven to 375F.
Brush the top of the loaf with milk/butter.
Bake for 45-50 min, until the top is golden brown. Turn the pan around 180degress halfway through baking, so it bakes evenly.
Take the bread out, let it sit in the pan for 10 min, turn out on the cooling rack, and let it cool completely before slicing.
Slice with a serrated blade (motion like a saw) for uniform slicing.

Tips:

Alternately, you can also shape the dough into buns, dinner rolls etc. Baking times would vary: about 20-25 min for dinner rolls, 18-20 min for buns.
Herbs can be varied: you can use dill or parsley instead of cilantro. And you can make your bread more spicier with more green chilies.
Since the bread has no preservatives, it will harden after 2-3 days. Don’t throw it away, it makes amazing ‘spicy french toast’.

Go Bananas!

We buy about 6 bananas on Saturday. It usually lasts till Tuesday, and then we buy 6 more. But these days, with the mercury hovering around 40C, the bananas turn almost black by Monday evening. Over-ripe bananas are easy to include in the menu though. Pancakes, crepes, appam (a south-indian dessert with bananas, flour and jaggery).. but my favorite is Banana Bread. One, I don’t have to sweat in front of a hot stove. Mix and into the oven and ready an hour later. Two, I love how it makes the house smell. Vanilla and bananas fills the house right now and my kids eyes light up when they come back from school.

I’m sure you have over-ripe bananas on your counter now. Go ahead, try this recipe out.

Banana Bread

Ingredients:

All purpose flour – 2 cups
Sugar – 3/4 cup
Baking powder – 1/2 tsp
Salt – 1/2 tsp
Ripe Bananas – 3
Eggs – 2
Butter, at room temperature – 6 tbsp (or vegetable oil, same amount)
Yogurt – 1/4 cup
Vanilla extract – 1 tsp

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Butter and flour a loaf pan.
3. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Mix so that they are well combined.
4. Smash the bananas with a fork. Don’t puree it. Some chunks are good.
5. Mix the eggs, butter, yogurt and vanilla well. Add the bananas and combine well.
6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Don’t over mix.
7. Pour the batter into a prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, turning the pan around once in between.
8. Let the loaf cool completely (for an hour or so) on the counter before slicing.

Tips:

1. Once you have this basic recipe on hand, variations are endless. Add about half a cup of roasted walnuts or pistachios. Play with the flavoring, substituting cardamom powder for vanilla. Replace the all purpose flour with whole wheat flour for a healthier option. Really, you can’t go wrong.
2. Recipe won’t be the same with unripe bananas.
3. This is a bread and not a cake. It falls under the category of quick breads along with muffins, scones etc. So use a bread knife (serrated knife) to cut the bread.

Whole Wheat Burger Buns

Whole-wheat burger buns

I hate store-bought burger buns. They are too soft, too sweet, and don’t hold weight. I rarely make burgers but when I do, I want them to be works of art. Hence, these whole wheat burger buns.

Ingredients:

1 cup whole wheat flour flour + 3 tablespoons
1/4 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
1 tsp sea salt (optional)

Method:

1. Mix the yeast and sugar in the milk and let it froth.
2. Mix the salt and flour in a bowl, make a little well in the middle, and add the egg and milk mixture and mix well till the dough comes together.
3. Transfer the dough to a floured counter, and knead for 8 – 10 minutes, till the dough is soft and springy.
4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel. Leave in a warm place to proof for an hour or so.
5. Punch the dough down, and shape into buns. This is enough dough to make 2 big ones, but I made a couple of tiny ones as well, for my kids. You can double the recipe easily.
6. Pre-heat the oven to 400F.
7. Let the buns proof for 30 mins or so.
8. Brush the buns with a touch of egg wash, top with sesame seeds and sea salt (if using).
9. Bake the buns for 15 minutes, till the buns are golden brown.
10. Cool the buns for 15-20 minutes before slicing for burgers.

Rosemary Focaccia

The fruteria below had fresh rosemary that caught my eye on Saturday. (Everything is shut on Sunday, Spaniards like their weekends too much to work). I immediately thought of Rosemary Focaccia.

My recipe for focaccia is based on the recipe from “The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook“. The recipe follows and then a few tips and tricks to make it really simple. This could be your first bread baking attempt and trust me, it’s very rewarding.

Rosemary Focaccia

Ingredients:

31/2  cups + a few tablespoons all purpose flour

11/3 cups warm water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons salt

Topping

Olive oil – may be 2 tablespoons

Fresh rosemary – a bunch

1 teaspoon sea salt

Method:

1. Mix warm water, yeast and oil in a large bowl. Let it sit for 5 minutes.

2. Mix in the flour and salt and mix till the dough comes together.

3. Transfer dough to a floured surface (the few extra tablespoons of dough) and knead for about 10 minutes. Trust me, this is the hardest step in the recipe. You could do it when you are cooking lunch or something, the focaccia would be ready for dinner.

4. Turn the dough into a oiled bowl (large enough to hold the dough when it doubles) and cover it with a tea-towel and leave it in a warm spot in the kitchen for about 1.5 hours or till it doubles in volume.

5. Punch the dough down, and flatten it on a inch deep pan (this dough is enough for a 15.5X10.5 inch pan) but I didn’t have a rectangular pan, I just used a circular pan.Flatten the dough and let it rise again for another 1.5 hours.

6. Preheat the oven to 215C (425F) for 15 – 20 min. Just before baking, dimple the dough with your fingers (if you have long nails, then your knuckles). Press down a piece of rosemary in each dimple, and drizzle the olive oil on top.

7. Bake it till it turns golden brown, for 20 – 25 minutes. Let it cool a bit and serve warm.

Tips:

1. I served it as a caprese (pronounced ca+prey+sey: something from the Capri region) sandwich with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. There is enough olive oil and salt in the bread, that you don’t need to add more to the sandwich filling. Or you can serve it with some soup, appropriate for the season.

2. Top it with whatever you like, black olives, onions, sage, red peppers, basil, parmesan, just plain sea salt or anything you like.

3. If you are particular, replace 31/2 cups all purpose flour with 2 cups whole wheat+11/2 cups all purpose flour.

4. If you are serving left over bread the next day, a panini is an excellent option!

Go ahead, bake your own bread!

P.S. I am submitting this to Yeastspotting!