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?
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!