Unlike cakes and muffins where the same result can be achieved by simply following the recipe to the "T", bread baking calls for patience and experience and the same recipe may not yield the same result.
It has been almost 7 months since I first started experimenting with breads and I can proudly say that today I am confident about my breads. While I can vouch for my pizzas which did not take me much time to reach perfection, I have achieved a fair bit of failures with my breads. The texture was where I always fell short of baking that perfect bread.
From two of my previous bread attempts, I realized milk powder provides a better texture than milk and honey glaze works as a better alternative for sweet breads. Also, egg provides that perfect tenderness in the bread which otherwise may become quite dense. In case of vegetarians, buttermilk is a great substitute. Above all, the most important factor for baking that perfect bread comes from kneading and proofing the dough.
While your first few attempts with bread dough might deter your spirits as kneading is quite a job and messy too, but if you really want to enjoy the luxury of eating freshly baked bread you have to put in that extra effort. With time, this will become a task which you can accomplish with the back of your hand. Although I had passed the first hurdle of successfully kneading the bread dough and quite nicely too with the perfect rise ( my dough always breaks through the clingwrap!), I was always very time bound.
Considering the busy lives that we lead and the amount of time that bread baking needs, I always wondered about the results of "Postpone Baking" where you can knead the dough in advance and keep in the refrigerator until you are ready to start the process. For today's bread, I kneaded the dough in the morning and let it rise for 2 hours and then refrigerated it until I was ready for the second proofing. The yeast did not show any kind of irregularity and was perfectly normal as with the regular procedure. This gives me a big respite as hereon I will be following this procedure which saves me a lot of time and effort, especially when my little one is back from school and demands all of my time.
So my only advice to all my baker friends is to keep trying and oneday you will definitely bake that perfect bread. Maybe this is the one! So go ahead and give it a try!
1 cup wholemeal flour
3/4 cup bread flour (all purpose flour can also be used)
1/3 cup milk powder
1 tsp instant active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp steak seasoning (optional; can use any seasoning like cumin powder, garam masala powder or anything that you like and which will compliment the pesto)
3 tsp olive oil plus little extra while kneading
100 ml warm water
For the filling
3-4 tbsp Pesto
Salt and pepper to taste
Butter for brushing the top after baking
Milk for brushing the top
In a bowl, mix warm water and sugar and dissolve the yeast. Let it stand for 10 minutes until frothy.
In another bowl, mix the flours, milk powder, salt, seasoning, and egg. Now slowly pour in the yeast mixture and start kneading the dough, either with the electric mixer with the dough hook or with your hands. Today I started off with the electric mixer till the dough was well combined and then started kneading with hands. Saved me a lot of time and effort. Halfway through the kneading when the dough has come together but very sticky and when you are compelled to add in extra flour, add the oil. That will release the stickiness from your hands as well as the dough and help you to smoothen it out. Continue kneading until the dough is still quite moist but non sticky. Since you are using wholemeal flour, it is really important to have a wet/moist dough. Now grease the bowl as well as the outer side of the dough and cover with a clingwrap and let it rise in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
After the first proofing, I punched the dough for 3-4 times and again wrapped it up and kept it in the refrigerator for about 3-4 hours. Once I was ready for the process thereafter, I took it out and let it come to room temperature before continuing with the process.
If you are following the regular process, after the first proofing punch down the dough and gently roll out the dough into a round/oval shape. I placed a parchment sheet below while rolling which helped to keep the mess away. Rolling it thin is advisable as otherwise you will end up with thick fat slices.
Now apply the pesto with a butter knife evenly over the entire surface of the dough. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly on top keeping in condideration the salt content in your pesto. Gently start rolling in the dough just like rolling in a carpet. Seal the edges by pressing it down.
Now cut the dough lengthwise into two.
Hold one side of the dough and start braiding the strips on top of the other. Don't worry if there is filling all over your hands. Once done, you can just apply it back in the dough from top.
Bring the edges together to form a ring and keep it aside covered in a warm place for the second rise. If your dough was in the refrigerator, allow it to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled. Without refrigeration this should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Towards the end of the proofing time, pre heat the oven at 175 degree celsius. Brush the top with milk and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top and the crust is still slightly soft when pressed down but hard to feel and gives a hollow sound when tapped.
Remove from the oven and let it sit for 10 minutes. Apply butter on top and keep covered wiith a kitchen towel meanwhile. Slice and enjoy warm ovenfresh bread!