Going the yeast way

The one book you must have if you aspire to bake bread in an Indian kitchen


Bruschetta.
Bruschetta.

If you’re anything like me, be warned: do not, I repeat, do NOT read this book on an empty stomach. Or in between meals. If you love bread—as I do—all this book will do is make you bring out your baking paraphernalia and set about making dinner rolls or a foccacia or, why get fancy, a whole-wheat loaf for breakfast.

And while you measure out water and flour and yeast, you’ll wonder why no one wrote this book earlier. You’ll remember looking at the store-bought yeast dunked into lukewarm water and cursing it for not frothing. You’ll remember the blank stares you got when you asked for bread flour at the gourmet shop. You’ll remember thinking if you’d be ever able to bake a whole-wheat bread (and bid a relieved good-bye to the ‘brown bread’ at the local bakery). You’ll remember all that and silently thank Saee Koranne-Khandekar.

Crumbs! Bread Stories and Recipes for the Indian Kitchen by Saee Koranne-Khandekar, published by Hachette, 256 pages, <span class='WebRupee'>Rs.</span>450
Crumbs! Bread Stories and Recipes for the Indian Kitchen by Saee Koranne-Khandekar, published by Hachette, 256 pages, Rs.450
This is a book that’s been a long time coming but, now that it’s finally here, let’s say it upfront: It doesn’t get any better for an Indian who wants to bake bread. Unpretentious yet joyous, passionate yet encouraging, matter-of-fact yet not dumbed down, this is as an absolutely invaluable companion for the newbie bread-baker in the Indian kitchen.

It is also recommended reading for anyone interested in India’s many breads. Possibly for the first time ever, Koranne-Khandekar compiles a list of the leavened and unleavened breads found in virtually every corner of India, from the phulka to the parotta and from the thepla to the luchi and the brun to the bhature, picking out their commonalities and distinctions with all the aplomb of an approachable anthropologist. The chapter is not exhaustive and I’m sure whole books could be written on each of these breads, but the author also takes the section to its logical conclusion by providing recipes for Iyengar bakery breads and ‘Surti butter’ cookies.

As Indian user-friendly as the recipes for challahs and foccacias are, the research and standardization of Indian bread recipes for replication in the domestic kitchen—for most of these are only available commercially—are the factors that take this book into the realm of a keeper.

But, let’s admit it, you’re probably far far more intimidated by the idea of bread than roti. And that’s precisely the mindset that Koranne-Khandekar addresses: She evokes the making of rotis to explain kneading bread-dough, refers to idli fermentation to demystify yeast and tweaks classic Western recipes for the hot and humid Indian weather conditions. She also works with our commonest flours, the chakki atta and maida—no spelt or rye breads here—though there’s the odd recipe for gluten-free and multigrain breads.

If I have any cribs about the book, it’s this: I wish all the photos were in colour. Black and white really doesn’t do justice to a brioche. I also wish the two graphic spreads were not half-swallowed by the binding.

Now excuse me please, for I really must go and bake some bread.

P.S. That wasn’t just for effect—I did bake some bread, the 100 per cent whole-wheat loaf without any additives (read, vital wheat gluten, usually used when the dough skips white flour) and, while it did call for about three times the yeast I need in the 1:2::maida:atta bread I usually bake, it was comfortingly dense, nutty and intense. This is totally my go-to loaf going forward.

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