Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New vent cover

I managed to mod my oven vent cover after scouring hardware stores for suitable materials. I settled for an aluminum bracket and instead of a hinge type design, I made a sliding cover. 

I got to test it out today on some baguettes which were meant for a New Year's eve party. I hope it will go well with the curry.

Today's baguettes were the best looking I have baked so far. The steam vent cover worked reasonably well although I could still see wisps of steam coming out from the vent. I will try lining the cover with a heat resistant soft material to improve the seal. However, going by how the baguettes turned out, I may just leave it alone for some time.

The ears opened up better in some of the slashes but I was still unable to get those that Hamelman illustrated in his book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rosemary herb bread

I was given a bag of Rosemary by a baking friend and made some Rosemary herb bread with it. The breads were about 75% hydration with the addition a couple tablespoon of EVOO. While they were in the oven, my wife remarked that the aroma of roast chicken was in the air. I wonder how I should eat it. Rosemary is such a wonderful herb and I was devastated when I singlehandedly destroyed 2 specimens which I had grown from a cutting bought from the supermarket. Hopefully, the sprigs that I had planted will survive and thrive.

It has been a long day as I had spring clean the kitchen from morning to dinner time, stripping down the fume hood and hob for a thorough scrub down. I always wish I had a helper to do this thing for me but alas, I guess I will be doing this till the end of my days. I hope that there will be such things as a robotic helper intelligent and versatile enough to replace a human in doing household chores in 20 years time.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Passionfruit Lemon Curd

Last Sunday I delivered some flour to a couple of baking friends and one of them gave me a bottle of Passionfruit Lemon curd. She made it from Tan Hsueh Yun's recipe. It was so super yummy that I was already scraping the bottom of the bottle within a day.

I had made a batch of Levain baguettes to go with it. Since my craving for it has not been sated, what I can do but to roll up my sleeves and make some for myself. Thankfully, all the ingredients for this delight is easily available and cost next to nothing. The only thing I lack is Hsueh Yun's recipe, ironically. My wife had cut out the recipe and filed it in her collection of recipes but they were somewhere in the house and I haven't had the faintest clue where it was. My wife was not in but as I did not want to bother her or my friend, I decided to follow Martha Stewart's recipe because I was confused by Dorie Greenspan's list of ingredients. The only extra ingredient was the pulp from five Passionfruits.

I got myself 3 large jars of 'sunshine' for my efforts, thanks to Hsueh Yun for such an inspired combination of flavors and of course to my friend for her gift which inspired me much.

Hsueh Yun wrote to me and was so kind to send me a copy of the recipe. Thanks to the link which she sent, I was able to get an online copy of the original article with the recipe. It can be found here:

6 lemons
250g cold unsalted butter, cut into 1cm cubes
450g caster sugar (add 50g more for a sweeter curd)
250ml passionfruit pulp, from 6 passionfruit
8 large eggs
1. Zest the lemons using a fine grater, set aside. Then juice the lemons. You should get just over 250ml of juice.
2. Fill a pot about 25cm in diameter with water up to the one-third mark. Bring the water to a simmer.
3. Turn heat down to low. Sit a glass, heatproof bowl about 30cm in diameter on the pot, making sure the bottom of the bowl never touches the water. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, butter and sugar into the bowl.
4. Stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until the sugar and butter melt.
5. Add the passionfruit pulp and stir to mix well. Taste and add more sugar if needed.
6. Crack the eggs into a medium bowl, beat with a fork just to break up the yolks, then strain the eggs through a metal or plastic strainer into the curd mixture.
7. Continue stirring. Adjust the heat so that the water in the pot does not come to boil. It should remain at a gentle simmer.
8. After 20 minutes or so, the curd should start to thicken. Watch it carefully, keep stirring and when the mixture coats the back of the wooden spoon, the curd is ready.
9. Take the bowl off the pot and spoon the curd into clean glass jars. Cool completely, screw on the lids and refrigerate. It will last about two weeks in the fridge.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I have been tinkering with the steam vent of my oven again. The thought of modding my oven has been on my mind for the last few weeks but procrastination has ensured that the vent cover never materialized. I had a hinge type design in mind so that it can be opened when a steam environment is no longer needed. All this was put into the back-burner of my mind until yesterday when I stripped out the innards of my oven for a thorough cleaning. I had anticipated a thick build up of flour caked onto the oven's inner walls. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the accumulated flour was less than I had thought. While cleaning the oven, I had a clear view of the oven vent and this jarred my memory about modifying the vent. 

In the meantime, I blocked the vent with foil to ensure that the steam stayed in the oven chamber. I was quite happy with the results as the slashes opened up nicely. The effect of steam made the crust more shiny instead of the matt finish.

Tonight's bake was my favorite busy person's baguette. The dough has been doing its thing in the fridge while I had gone on a 7 km walk and returned by 6.30 p.m. The 24 hour baguette was shaped at 7.00 p.m and by 9.00 p.m, the kitchen was already cleaned up and I was sitting on the sofa, contemplating if I should bring out the butter as the smell of the loaves was so enticing. I ended up eating a leftover slice of Bertinet's sweet dough bread that I had made the night before. It had a wonderful flavor as I had added orange zest and rum soaked raisins. It was really decadent with some handmade kaya. I really should curb my bread craving and intake considering the fact that I had had my dinner only a couple of hours earlier.

I was satisfied with the result. The crumb was creamy with a holey texture and a flavor which is addictive after a single bite. My only gripe is the short shelf life of the bread. Actually, it is the humid Singapore weather which is the problem. The crunchy crust degenerates quickly and has to be refreshed in the oven everytime before consumption. 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Slashing and Steam

I played with covering the steam vent of my oven in an experiment to see if it would help in improving the appearance of the slashes. High energy prices has forced me to bake without a baking stone and my conclusion is that it is possible to get good results on a sheet pan.

I decided to give the baguette a rest this time round as I have been baking these for the six to seven bakes consecutively. It is time to use up some of the whole-wheat occupying premium freezer space. I have been using a liquid preferment and long bulk fermentation recently and since I like the results, I did not change it in this bake. 

The results were very satisfactory indeed as I was able to get the results I had hoped for. The only problem now is having to wait for morning so that I can feast on these beauties accompanied by some fresh pesto which I had made earlier in the afternoon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

More baguettes

I found myself making baguettes again. The process I used evolved out of necessity because of my busy work schedule. The combination of a preferment followed by a long bulk fermentation guaranteed their excellent flavor and the hand mixing ensured that the dough was not overmixed. The result was a creamy crumb, irregular air pockets and fantastic flavor. One of the constraints was that they were baked on a sheet pan and the oven was barely preheated.

In the past bakes, I had been a little disappointed in the way they looked. The grigne was hardly there and they were all splitting at the bottom. I managed to solve that with a little bit of failure analysis and I was able to get a more decent grigne. 

I know that I am still a long way from perfection but that's the best part since the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Levain Baguettes

Dan Lepard once made 3 different styles of baguettes for comparison and his verdict was that the levain baguettes was the best. My starter culture has been neglected in the fridge lately as a result of my busy work schedule. I have had no time for anything lately as work at the office has been piling up this month. 

Strangely, despite the hectic schedule, I found myself working at a new level of efficiency and creativity,  gaining insights which helped to solve some long festering quality problems. One of the insights I had was to realize that the polar effect of solvents could be the root cause of a problem which some co-workers had been working on. I used to demonstrate this effect in science experiments for my kids in the kitchen and it was ironic that this should come in handy at work. 

I had been waiting for the week-end to make some levain baguettes but since I had run out of bread, I had to do it earlier. Unfortunately, the starter was not properly refreshed and that affected its power.  Coupled with the longer than optimal fermentation period as I had returned home late, I was certain that the baguette would be a disaster. Fortunately, it worked out better than I had hoped. 

I am undecided if the flavor and taste of these levain baguettes beat those poolish baguettes that I had been doing for the past weeks. The levain baguettes while having a complex flavor and taste, lack the clean refined flavor of my regular poolish baguettes. Hopefully, I can improve on this the next time round.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The crumb is creamy and has irregular holes.
The loaves proofing on a couche.
The dough after 18hours bulk fermentation.

Baguette again

It's that time of the year again when most of my colleagues are taking their annual holiday. When this happens, I'd be extremely busy as the workload would be shouldered by the rest of the team. This year, as fate would have it, Fornax the goddess of fertility has been busy and 3 of my colleagues had buns in their ovens if you know what I mean. This meant more work for the rest of us. While Fornax has been busy, she has not blessed me with good weather to fire up her namesake, the hearth or in my case, my beehive oven.

Busy schedule or not, there must still be be bread on the breakfast table and I was prompted to develop a schedule which will allow me to make bread even when I reach home a little later than normal. I settled for a preferment which will ripen fully in the morning. Before breakfast, I would mix it in the main dough and the bulk ferment will happen while I am at work. My process allows me to complete my bread easily before I turn in to bed, even when I am back late from work. The wonderful thing is that dough contact time is actually minimal and I am still able to watch a little TV and do the dishes. I like to do the dishes after after I have worked the dough because I can wash the dough off my hands while soaping up the dishes.

I have also been baking without a baking stone and minimal preheating. Somehow, the characteristics of my oven results in side splitting despite my slashes. After a while, they kind of look attractive although they are not in the form of the classic Parisian baguette by Ganachaud. In any case, the long fermentation process and minimal mixing result in a creamy crumb and the flavor was what made me fall in love with bread in the first place. Somehow, a simple homemade baguette with good butter and coffee is something that I can eat anytime of the day, everyday.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I have been on a baguette spree lately. Ironically, the simple baguette can be quite a challenge. Compared to other types of bread, I find that it is very difficult to make the perfect baguette. My goal is to make baguettes that look as good as Hamelman's and Ganachaud. I am getting nowhere near that at the moment and it is compounded by high energy costs. These days, I have been avoiding the use of a baking stone because of the long preheat times. Getting it to taste great is not the main issue as this can be achieved through correct fermentation processes. I have to console myself that modern prize winning baguettes by Gosselin and Anis Baoubsa don't exactly look like the classic baguette.

I have settled for poolish baguettes in most of my bakes because I find this suitable to my schedule and setup. The dough hydration was 70%,

The poolish took 12 hours and the main dough had a bulk fermentation for another 12 hours. The baguettes were baked at 220C for 10mins followed by 190C for another 20mins. Unfortunately, I did not manage to get a decent grigne and this is something I am striving to get without a baking stone. However, the crumb and flavor was to my satisfaction. All that open structure will make it perfect for this evening's curry dinner.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cardamom Fruit and Nut Loaf

I ran out of bread this morning and quickly made a batch of dough for baking in the evening. I made up a formula with 70% white and 30% whole-wheat flour. Using the regular amount of yeast and salt, I thought it might be better if I raised the hydration to 80%. For a kick, I threw in a teaspoon of cardamom and a teaspoon of organic molasses.

Despite the ridiculous increase in the price of bread flour, it is still more convenient and cheaper to bake bread at home. Bread is my daily staple but I do not mind eating some other type of food for breakfast. Unfortunately good breakfast food served outside is hard to find. One of the rare gems is Yong's Teochew Kueh. It is still made with integrity and sincerity and the quality speaks for itself. The kueh that they make have a fragrant clean taste with abundant filling. It's truly Artisan Kueh!

Update: I had some of the bread this morning and I have to say I loved it. My main mistake was the uneven distribution of the fruit and seeds. Need to do this better the next time round. This bread is definitely worth revisiting.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Flour test - Kamut

I was given a bag of Kamut by a friend to test. I have read good things about Kamut and needless to say, I was very eager to see how it will turn out. As I was in the process of refreshing my sourdough starter, I decided to do some sourdough loaves with it. I did not follow any specific recipe of the masters but just made up one using my generic method. That was probably not very wise and to aggravate that, my wife announced that she had a dental appointment and that I had to send my daughter for a class. OMG.

Initially I wanted to make a rye starter since I had some leftovers taking up valuable freezer space. The initial build was with rye flour but I decided against using rye for the second build because I was afraid that it will compromise the evaluation of the Kamut. I ended up with a starter which was one-third rye at 100% hydration.

The main dough consisted of 25% Kamut with the rest consisting of Prima's Clover flour. I have always had problems with this flour and the recent batch that I got seemed to be at the higher end of the protein range. I keep telling myself that this was the last time that I was using this flour and I hope I remember this the next time I am at the distributor.

The Kamut had a pleasant nutty smell and it was relatively easy to handle the dough which was at 75%. The bread was baked at 220 deg for around 10 mins with the rest of the bake at 190 deg. The loaves smelt fantastic when they came out of the oven. As luck would have it, my friend happened to be on an errand near where I live and I was able to present two loaves to her.

The flavor of the bread was good although the crumb was a little moist when I first cut it a couple of hours later. However, this was characteristic of sourdough as this type of bread needs a day to set. The crumb was a little better when I ate it the next day. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell my friend about this and I guess I'd have to do better the next time. On the whole, the bread could have been a little better had I followed a proper recipe instead of making one up on the spot.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kalamata Olive Bread

A friend once said that she baked on borrowed time and I am beginning to feel the same. There seems to be a thousand and one things to take care of. This is even more so with baking in a beehive oven.

I was itching to bake and eat bread again. I don't think I'll be eating scones for some time to come. That's the problem of having a big oven. Everything has to be done on an industrial scale. The advantage is that I get to eat my fill of my favorite goodies. Unfortunately there is also a tendency to get tired of them after a while. This is especially true for the sweet stuffs. I don't seem to get the feeling when eating bread.

Since the weather seem to be holding, I decided to chance it and fired the oven for lunch and for making bread. My wife bought some Kalamata olives which she used for her pasta the day before. Since my daughter loved the olives, I decided to make Kalamata olive bread. I made up a 40 oz formula with 10% semolina flour, 20% wholewheat and 70% bread flour. The hydration was 75% with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Lunch was pizza, my favorite banana leaf otah and roasted Japanese sweet potatos. The pizza came out horrible. It was a mistake baking it on a tray. I should've done it direct on the oven floor. The bread came out not too bad although it was a little pale at the top. Ideally, the beehive should be fired with larger logs but I was firing the oven with small pieces of charcoal which did not heat the roof sufficiently.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

My garden in its former glory
Tumeric and Thai Basil
My Passion fruit plants grown from seeds. I was thrilled by the growing tendrills.
Lemon grass
Laksa leaf for making my favorite Laksa pesto.
Curry leaf
Sweet Basil
Rosemary grown from a sprig bought in the supermarket.

The weather has not been favorable for baking and cooking outdoors recently. Most of my baking had been done indoors and this morning I enjoyed myself with a breakfast of scones made from a recipe from Michel Suas new book on Advanced Bread and Pastry.

After breakfast, we headed down to Oh's farm to get a few herbs for the garden. With my limited floor space and not so green thumb, the herbs that I grow are clearly insufficient for my regular use. Instead, they are used only in contingencies to make up for my recalcitrant lack of planning. The herbs would be laid bald if I were to use them in daily cooking. They are very useful to have around when you suddenly find yourself needing a sprig of a herb called for in a recipe.

I had taken a renewed interest in gardening following my discovery of a wonderful website featured in the local papers. The website( has a forum with a food sub-section and populated by individuals who seem quite competent in baking bread also. The forum is also an indispensable resource for finding out the wrong things that you have been doing with your plants.

A few years ago, I had a very nice garden simply because I had learnt to place plants in their natural habitat. From a management point of view, it seems people are also like plants. They have to be deployed in roles suitable to their temperament. I had learnt that some plants neeed partial shade while others love full sunshine. Before this realization, I was doing it all wrong and was guilty of burning and killing many of my beloved plants through excessive sun exposure. After I realized this simple fact, my garden began to thrive.

More recently, I was thrilled that my passion fruit seedlings have been thriving well in the pot, sending out tendrills. I would have to make a trellis for them soon. The Rosemary which I had grown from a sprig bought in the Supermarket has been growing very well too. I attribute this to the ash from my Beehive oven.