Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Making Tang Zhong Bread

So what is tang zhong? It is a water roux that gives the bread a bouncy and soft texture. The role that tang zhong plays in Asian breads is as important as those moldy starters that European breads use. Almost all bakeries in Taiwan, China, Japan, or Korea specialize in soft rather than chewy breads. Tang zhong is very volatile. You can stuff various ingredients in the dough and knead it with nuts, oats, raisins, or red give it more flavor.

I made several types of bread from tang zhong. Because the dough is volatile, it is very forgiving. I can over pour some milk and cream but still end up with a some tasty Hokkaido milk bread. Another time I overstuffed the dough with red bean and the stuffing was pushed out of the dough during the baking process. No biggy, it was like eating toast with red bean jam at the end! (If they weren't tasty though, I would have dumped them right into the trash can!)

So the first step is to make tang zhong--the star ingredient. All you need is flour and water. The ratio is 1 gram of flour to 5 gram of water. I usually do the following:

50g All Purpose flour
250g drinking water

Mix flour and water in a pot on low heat
Make sure there is no flour lump
Remove pot from heat when you can leave a mark on the roux and the mark won't disappear
Pour the roux into a clean container
Immediately cover the roux with plastic wrap to prevent the top from drying out

Look at the bottom right side of the bowl, you can leave a visible mark that won't disappear right away
A 50:250 ratio is enough to make about 3 loaves of bread. It can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Use the following recipe to get used to working with tang zhong. It can be sticky to work with at first, but practice makes perfect. Note* I knead my own bread, if you have a stand mixer, the stickiness is not a problem.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Up and Down Bread Journey

When I planned the content for this first post, I had in mind to make a tang zhong milk bread. It is one recipe that I have tweaked to perfection. However, I couldn't help think how boring my blog would be: picture, words, recipe. There are too many people out there with much higher photography skills. I, on the other hand, doesn't have the patience to decorate the table just to take a few snapshots of my food. Most of the time I just want to devour the thing right away. I'm always hungry in my kitchen.

To offer people more than just pretty pictures, I'm going to dedicate some posts to my baking growth. Take the tang zhong bread, for example, it did not even raise properly. I didn't know there is a difference between active dry yeast and instant yeast. Also my recipe was in Mandarin, so I had no idea I was translating the ingredients wrong. If the instruction says mix the yeast with the rest of the ingredients, then it is instant yeast. Active dry yeast needs a little feeding by bathing them in warm water for 10-15 minutes.

First attempt: failed, used the wrong yeast

If you use the wrong yeast, and the bread fails to raise, your bread would look like the above, and it would be stone hard. Maybe it will be a good pet toy.

When I used the proper yeast, the result was perfect. No wonder people were raving about tang zhong. The texture was velvety, and it lasts about 3 days outside and another week in the fridge. Look at the difference:

Second attempt: great taste, odd shape

These breads were so popular among my friends, I decided to double the recipe and make more bread at once. It takes so long for the dough to proof and re-proof, might as well make a lot and save some time. Doubling the recipe is a great idea, but I forgot that I did not have enough loaf pans for baking. I thought I could pass by doubling each pan...At the end, each loaf raised so high the middle was not baked through. The surface had a perfect glaze, but when I cut through the bread, my knife came out with a layer of gooey dough. So far 2/3 trials ended up in the trash can.

I guess I'm the type of person that looove to challenge myself, and every failure actually motivates me to practice more. Even though on the second try, I got the texture down. I wasn't satisfied with the look. I just can't roll up identical doughs, so one is taller than the other two when the bread comes out from the oven. Furthermore, the folds aren't tugged in tightly, that's why there's a slight gap between the dome and the body of the bread. 

How can I be content with my ugly bread and with a 33.33333% success rate? To fix the look, I looked up some molds that people use for sandwich bread and stumbled across pullman loaf pan. This type of pan has a lid, which keeps your bread from climbing out of shape or over the mold. All your bread would come out with consistent shape. I guess if I ever get tired of rectangular bread, I can always leave the lid on the side.

Pullman loaf pan
the perfect sandwich bread

I was dancing and cheering in my kitchen after I sliced my bread using the pullman loaf pan! The shape was perfect, and the texture was fluffy. This is definitely the climax of my bread making journey. What made me more proud was my dad thought I snapped him a picture of a store-bought bread. His confusion made my dad. I love you dad <3

Well after climax, I experienced a huge emotional drop when my ham flavored sandwich bread came out like this...
I am a deflated, under baked dough

The Canadian bacon slices were too thick so the dough between the bacons was under baked. My roommate commented on how the gooey part tasted like cheese. Any steaming hot goods that came out straight from the oven taste good, but when the bread cooled down, it was a heavy dense piece of shit that tasted like raw flour. 

I was crazily motivated by the last attempt. I tried to calm myself down after the disaster, hung out with some friends and came home all stuffed and happy at one in the morning. I had totally forgot about my ugly bread, but no it was sitting on the counter greeting me when I opened the door. At 1 A.M. I started prepping and kneading. By around one forty I placed the oiled bowl with my dough in the fridge for overnight proofing. Next morning, I chopped 2 slices of bacons into tiny pieces and rolled it up into the dough. 

I gave myself another happy dance around the kitchen when the bread came out of the oven. 

Call me Mr. Bacon Bread (or Toast after I get a tan in the toaster)

Since it was early in the morning, I had all the excuses in the world to devour a fourth of the bread. I realized I made a sandwich bread that is a sandwich itself. All I need is two slices of cheese and two slices of bacon toasts!

So that's my bread journey. The up and down from discovering the difference between active and instant yeast to finding the right pan for that perfect look. Now I've made one successful variation! The goal next time is a walnut raisin bread, maybe with a hint of cinnamon; yes, a cinnamon bun flavored toast. 

Keep on reading for the next post on how to make your own tang zhong bread!