Amateur Hour Baking: Brötchen + Bonus Naan!

Bread week on The Great British Bake Off gave me the push I’d been needing to venture into the breads and rolls section of Classic German Baking. Quite frankly, I’d been avoiding it. I’ve never really tried making bread and my previous attempts at working with yeast have gone decidedly sideways. Remember the Zwiebelkuchen?

But the time had come. Before I watched the episode, I decided to start as easily as possible, which meant baking the most basic thing in the world, Brötchen. Call it a bun, a dinner roll, a bread nugget, I called it hopefully easy. And then we watched the episode.

Me (while eating my dinner of an African-inspired veggie stew with rice): Hm. Naan looks pretty easy.

BV: You’re right, it doesn’t look too bad. You could do it in the oven, but I think you could also cook them in a pan.

Me: I bet that Naan would go really well with the rest of this stew tomorrow.

BV: Ohhhhh, yes it would.

My fate was sealed. The following day (thankfully Thursdays are free at the moment because who has time for yeast during the normal workweek?) I cleaned up the kitchen and proceeded to trash it again. Baking is about consistency people.

First up: the Brötchen.

I opted for fresh yeast this time, as I thought that gave me better results than the dried yeast had. These plain white rolls don’t require anything too fancy, just a few minutes of proofing time for the yeast, then mixing together with the flour, milk, and salt. A bit of kneading and it was ready to rest. I realize that photos of balls of dough are not the most thrilling thing in the world, but I CANNOT trust my eyeballs on this one. I always take before and after pictures because otherwise I will no idea if/how much things rise. Perhaps I should get a more photogenic bowl though?

An hour later I took it out of the cold oven where I had let it rise. The change in the weather this week has returned our house to its usual winter temperature of too-damn-cold and I thought it was at least safer from Killer German Draft in there. And did it rise?

This time I probably could have trusted my eyeballs. But I stand by my method.

Next it was onto the always-satisfying punching-down part. Then the dough was separated into eight pieces, and formed into hopeful future Brötchen.

I was really not sure about these guys. Would those wrinkles sort themselves out somehow? Or would my rolls end up looking like sweet little Shar Peis? I would have to find out in the morning, because these guys were destined for the fridge and more proofing overnight.

The next morning I popped them out of the fridge and found them… more or less the same. Slightly bigger? Slightly less wrinkled?

Okay, yes, they’re bigger.

While the oven preheated, I brushed them with a bit of milk and slashed them down the middle. My paring knife was probably not sharp enough for this job though, as it didn’t cut down as neatly as I would have liked it to.

25 anxious minutes later, breakfast was almost ready. They’re out!

They really should have spread open a bit more on top, but again, I don’t think I slashed them well enough. I was pleased with the color and that lovely hollow sound when I gave one a knock. How’d they look inside, you ask?

Not bad. I was expecting them to be a bit fluffier inside and they were slightly more on the dense side. Not heavy or wet at all, just more substantial than I expected. I wonder if that has something to do with not expanding enough where they were cut? If you know, let me know in the comments, bitte!

Now that we’ve covered the domestic bake, let’s turn to the foreign. I hadn’t forgotten about the naan, in fact, that was all happening at the same time.

Since the naan was part of my plan for dinner that night and needed a longer resting time, that actually got thrown together first. But again, it doesn’t start off in a very exciting fashion. Yeast, flour, a few other odds and ends, a bit of kneading and off to rest it went.

A few hours later I got back to work, dividing and rolling out the individual pieces. In the interest of saving space, I decided to stack them next to the pan where I’d be cooking them. This was a mistake. It looks all nice and neat but after the first two layers, I wound up having a mess of dough that required reforming and rerolling.

Needless to say, it got a bit frantic in the kitchen what with all the flinging of flour about and pivoting from the table (where I was reforming the pieces) back to the pan (trying not to burn said pieces), all the while brushing on butter and trying to press on the fresh garlic. Luckily our kitchen isn’t that big.

Though they had baked their naan in the oven on GBBO, after reading through various recipes, I though cooking them in the pan would be easier. Why? I don’t really remember. But it worked pretty well, minus me making the kitchen smoky af in the process.

The main problem as far as I was concerned was that fresh garlic. I love fresh garlic, BV REALLY loves fresh garlic, and we cook with a ton of it (apologies to colleagues). However, we really didn’t get that much of a taste of it. Either there wasn’t enough, or it got too burnt, as you can see on that slice up front. I think next time I’ll use a mixture of fresh garlic and powdered garlic, or garlic salt. I’m rather pleased with the color, and the consistency of the naan themselves. They were nice and light, with the occasional air bubble, and it really did pair perfectly with that stew.

Obviously this was NOT a recipe from Classic German Baking, oddly not a lot of naan in traditional German cuisine. For this bake, I opted to follow this recipe from Food & Wine. And if you’re curious about the stew as well, that’s here at NYTimes Cooking. I followed that fairly closely, but next time I’ll be adding more of the fresh ginger, and also fresh cilantro (store was out when we shopped, grumble) now that my cilantro-conversion of BV is complete. Happy cooking!


7 thoughts on “Amateur Hour Baking: Brötchen + Bonus Naan!

  1. I made naan this week too. Not thrilled with the results, because the texture wasn‘t quite sturdy enough for dipping into the channa masala @Regensbloggerin made. They were too thick and chewy and floppy; almost like naan-flavored pancakes.

    I gave up on dry yeast packets long ago in favor of fresh yeast. They never worked for me, and I‘ve never seen an adequate explanation of the difference between active dry and instant yeast. The only hard thing about fresh yeast is finding it in your grocer‘s cooler.

    Fortunately there is a great site I found to convert dry yeast recipes to fresh, and from volume- to mass-based measurements to boot:

    I love that site. I dread the day it shuts down.

    Another thing: we must live an igloo or something because DIDDLY SQUAT rises at room temperature anywhere we‘ve lived. When we moved to the current house, it was equipped with a steam chamber in its EBK. Theoretically we could be using it for steaming vegetables and rice and I guess meats and stuff, but mostly it‘s our dough rising place. And the fresh yeast love that place on its lowest setting (30 °C).

    Confession time: despite living in the land of great bread, I still crave whole wheat sandwich bread from the USA, the kind you‘d want for a turkey breast and mayo sandwich. I am disappointed in myself when I buy Golden Toast brand or similar; I think I could MAKE that. I‘m going to try converting a KAF recipe.

    • You should give the recipe I linked a try, they were nice and firm. No idea on the oven vs pan method, I mostly opted for that because I’m not a fan of opening and closing a hot oven while wearing glasses. Recipe for disaster, haha.
      You’re exactly right on the biscuit-like interior. That’s what I meant by denser in the post. They tasted pretty decent though, so I’m not sure how hung up on that I want to get. But I’m only kneading by hand, since we only have a hand mixer… no Kitchen-Aid fanciness up in here. Any tips on how to get them fluffier on the next try?
      Feel your pain on the house temp, especially as winter approaches. I think I’m going to have to get an oven-safe mixing bowl and do everything that way. Very nice that your kitchen came equipped!

  2. I wrote a big ol’ comment before on this point, but I think my iPad, or maybe Akismet, ate it. I’ll try to keep it brief this time.

    – I prefer fresh yeast and a steamy oven for a quicker rise time. Active dry and instant yeast have NEVER worked for me. But fresh yeast and a steamy chamber at 30 °C works great for me. I found an Australian website that converts yeast in recipes handily — active dry, instant or fresh from volume measurements to mass measurements, and back. Great for those who prefer fresh yeast and a scale (like me) but who are reading recipes based on dry yeast and measuring spoons.

    – Did you knead your Brötchen by hand or with a machine? For how long? Your Brötchen-innards look more like biscuits. MMMMM BISCUITS.

    – I made naan this week too, and was only partially happy with them. My turned out too thick and floppy; I was hoping to dip them into some of Regensbloggerin’s channa masala, but they were like naan-flavored pancakes. I wanted a thinner, stiffer result. Maybe I over-kneaded or should have broiled them instead of pan-frying them. Any ideas?

  3. Pingback: 50 Recipe Challenge: Part 4/5 | Heather Goes to Deutschland

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