Tear-apart breads are always a good addition to the party. Everybody gets something they like, and somehow there are still fights over the best flavour that’s always obviously in the middle.
- 350ml milk
- 500gr strong white flour
- 10gr salt
- 25gr sugar
- 10gr dry yeast
- 30gr butter
- 1 egg – to brush the tops
- grated Gouda cheese
Makes 12 small buns as part of 1 loaf
I knead this by hand (and find that immensely satisfying) but if you prefer to not have lovely doughy hands, you can also use dough hooks on your mixer, or use a freestanding machine. Be careful to not overmix the dough (this is close to impossible by hand). The more the gluten develop, the less sticky the dough will become, so another option is to start with dough hooks on your mixer (or even a wooden spoon) to get a somewhat coherent dough, before sticking your hands in. The instructions below are for kneading by hand.
Bring the milk to the boil, then leave to cool to lukewarm.
Place the flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a bowl. Make sure the salt and yeast do not touch, as yeast is a living organism which dies when salt is added, making your bread dense. I pour the flour in on the side of the bowl, creating a hill. I add the salt to the bottom, the yeast on top and then add the liquid to the lower, salt area. When I have mixed together the liquid with the salt and some flour, I stir in the remainder including the yeast.
Add the milk to the bowl, together with the butter. Mix the dough a bit with a wooden spoon, or the dough hooks of a mixer. When the dough is coherent, tip the contents of the bowl onto a clean working surface (and by clean I don’t mean “covered in flour”).
Start kneading the dough. This can be done in several ways:
- Push the fingers of your left hand into the dough on your side and push the remainder of the dough away from you with the palm of your right hand. Drag the dough back to its original position, turn 90 degrees and repeat. You will get handier with doing this by practicing. The dough being sticky is a good thing, as you stretch the dough more when part sticks to the kitchen counter, resulting in you having to spend less time kneading
- Make a ball in the middle of your countertop. Make sure there is nothing hanging closely over your countertop. Push the fingers of both of your hands under the sides of the ball, lift if, stretch it by moving up and spreading your hands apart. Turn the dough mid-air (you can also do this once every 4 or 5 lifts) and knock the middle back on the countertop. Fold the sides over the middle, then push your fingers in the bottom of the sides again and start over. As with the method above, this takes practice to perfect but I have found that this yields the best results (and it is so much fun, however be careful as I have kitchen cabinets over my countertop and have once or twice slapped my dough to the underside of them. Woops!)
- Any other method, such as using two hands to knead, will work as well. I however prefer the methods above as this really stretches the dough well and limits the time that you are slaving away to get the gluten to develop properly.
Many recipes state that you need to knead for 10 or 15 minutes. This is for people with experience. If you don’t stretch the gluten well you might be working for over 20 minutes and still not have the desired result. The best test is to take a small piece of dough and to stretch it between your fingers. You should get a nice, thin, stretchy membrane in the dough that doesn’t easily tear. The rule is that you should be able to read a newspaper through it, but I hold mine up against the light to see if it’s really transparent.
During kneading, a scraper is very useful. Not only can you use it to get sticky dough from your countertop to get it back in with the dough, it is the easiest way to clean your countertop (adding water just makes a doughy glue) and functions as the best dough cutter you can find.
So, now that you have kneaded your dough, you leave it to rest. Wipe off the original container (if it’s big enough, it will easily double in size) and place your dough in it. Cover it with a lid or clingfilm and set the container in a warm place. The ideal teamperature for bread to rise in is 30 degrees. Colder will cause the bread to rise slower, warmer will increase the rising speed, but will make the dough weak and you may kill the yeast if it gets too warm. Be patient for it to rise, you can make it rise faster in the sun (or by placing the container in a tin of warm water, my trick in winter), but a slow rise does produce a tastier bread. If it’s warm and sunny outside, don’t put the container directly in the sun.
Leave it to rise until more than doubled in size. I aim for just over two times the original size. I won’t give you a time to let the dough rise, as it is so highly dependent on the temperature of your room, and I am assuming you are a home-baker like myself, without a proving cabinet or other fancy bread baking tools (which you don’t need to make really good bread at home).
Heat your oven to 230°C.
Ok, so your dough has doubled in size. Very lightly oil your countertop (add a drop or two and spread it by rubbing your hand all over the counter) and tip your dough out onto it, using your scraper to get everything from the bowl.
Pull the sides of the dough up and inward to tuck them in the center, turning after every pull and fold. This creates a uniform ball of dough. Cut the dough into 12 wedges now and they they will be approximately the same size.
Take a wedge and fold the sides inwards, creating a small ball of dough. Place it fold down on the countertop, make a loose, round cage of your fingers over it and roll the ball around. This shapes the ball and results in a more even rise.
Place the buns on a baking tray, two centimeters apart to allow for rising.
Brush the buns with egg wash.
Cover the dough loosely and leave to proof (which is the last rise) in a place without drafts.
The bread is proofed when doubled in size, and when pressed, the dough springs back gently. If it doesn’t allow to be pushed much, or springs back fully, the dough is underproofed. When the push leaves a hole, or even makes the dough around it sink somewhat, the dough is overproofed. You will get a knack for seeing when the dough is perfect by trying.
Top three buns with grated cheese, three with gorgonzola and three with brie. Leave the other three bare.
Spray the bread with a little bit of water from a plant spray. I have a “bread spray” in my kitchen at all times. Quickly place the bread in the oven, spray water into the oven and close the door. The water creates steam, which stops a crust from forming. This, plus the initial very hot temperature, creates an extra boost for the yeast. After 3 minutes, lower the temperature to 190°C and bake for a total of 20 minutes.