I’m afraid of the oven. Why? Because once you put the tray in, you don’t have as much control as you do with a pan on the stove. But I love bread… white, brown, multi-grain, I love ’em all. So I decided to overcome my fear of the oven by learning to bake breads. My first attempt was to make cinnamon rolls and I partially succeeded. Although the dough was properly, kneaded and rolled, I could not figure out the right settings in my convection oven which resulted in partially baked cinnamon rolls. The top half was pretty nicely baked, but the bottom half was raw. And I tried putting it back , but that almost burnt the top (already baked) layer.
Anyways, my second attempt was to bake croissants and that too only after my mom gave me her old mini-oven. So this little magic box has a switch and only one dial with settings from 1-10. I know many would say, why try croissants when you are a novice at bread baking and one that’s afraid of ovens. But I’m hoping to get through the difficult breads first to make baking the regular ones easier than easy. So did I succeed? After a lot of struggle I got the dough right. But I goofed up with the temperature and made croissant shaped biscuits instead.
Talking of struggle, here are my 7 biggest lessons. I wish I found a few sites that spelled certain things out for me. But most blog posts seem to be talking to people who are either very good at baking or who have at least baked a bunch of cakes and breads successfully. So things that are big question mark in my head are the obvious for them. So here’s the silly and not-so-obvious stuff:
- Don’t panic. If you have forgotten an ingredient, if you have changed the order of adding the ingredients, if you don’t understand your oven settings, if the dough is not looking or feeling right. Whatever the issue, don’t panic. Take a deep breath, Google your predicament, someone out there might have faced the same problem and would have been kind enough to share the solution.
- Knead the dough till it’s tight enough to be rolled. ‘How much to knead the dough?’ is a question answered on various blog posts. But somehow, I understood what everyone had posted only after I watched a video on croissant baking. So please watch bread baking videos before you start. Also, all purpose flour/self-raising flour/maida is extremely sticky. Unlike the wheat flour dough that we make in India everyday because we need chapattis (Indian bread) no matter what, this dough needs more muscle, time and patience when kneading. For the Indians reading this knead the dough till it’s as tight as and resembles chapatti dough in texture (not colour). Also, I prefer kneading with my hand than using a machine.
- If the butter softens and oozes out when you are folding the dough the first time, dont panic. Put the dough in the fridge (not freezer) for 15-30 mins till the butter has turned hard. Croissants were probably meant to be made in cold countries. Assuming these are hot country problems where butter left on the kitchen counter will soften in minutes, treat the fridge as your loyal sidekick.
- Don’t forget to convert it to Celsius if that’s how you read temperature. Most American blogs and recipe sites give baking temperatures in Farenheit.
- Baking time may differ depending on your oven. Don’t panic. Google may be able to help you or then start with a low temperature and increase the baking time. I also tend to do the reverse sometimes. My third attempt was batter based banana bread and I baked it at a higher temperature and for lesser time than what the recipe stated.
- If you are trying a recipe for the first time, reduce all the ingredients by half. You’d rather have six good croissants than throw away messed up dough for an entire dozen. Also smaller quantities are easier to work with when you are a beginner. In case you follow instructions to the tee, you could freeze part of the dough and make a trial batch with just half the quantity.
- If you’ve messed up the dough, again don’t panic. You can probably make something else with this dough. For instance, the biscuits I made were actually quite nice to have with tea or coffee.
I’ve realised baking can be stressful when you are worried about getting it all right in the first go. Always remind yourself to be creative and figure out fun ways to use the dough that didn’t quite turn out as expected. I have part of the croissant dough in my freezer. So while I will make another batch of croissants, I’m also going to try making a weird version of a quiche pastry with the left over dough and fill it with stir-fried vegetables for a nice side dish or starter.