With commercial, sliced bread today full of questionable preservatives (especially calcium propionate, see for example, Fact Sheet on Bread Preservative (282 calcium propionate) and Bread Preservative Research), it’s always good to make your own bread at home if you can. Which is why I’ve been doing quite a bit of bread making recently – with a bread machine, I’m afraid :), and I was quite excited to see this bread recipe in grandmother’s notebook. There being so many different varieties of bread, I wonder what these bread rolls are like? Crusty on the outside, or more like soft buns?
Traditional bakeries in Singapore produced very soft, airy loaves of white bread in a tall rectangular shape. Usually the blackened crust would be cut off and the loaf sliced before being sold. There are few of these traditional Chinese bakeries left these days, and the commercial bread market is dominated by mass-production factory brands like Gardenia. I’m curious as to the origins of these Chinese bakeries (perhaps somewhat similar to the story behind the famous Polar Cafe?)and the broader history of bread in Singapore.
The story of commercial bread-making is a fascinating one as this account of the history of the industrialisation of bread-making in the USA by Aaron Bobrow-Strain, a politics academic, reveals. He mentions that an obsession with the whiteness of bread led to complaints in the first two decades of the 20th century that bakeries were whitening bread with ‘plaster of Paris, sulfate of lime, borax, bone, pipe clay, chalk, alum and other nefarious compounds’. There was even a debate in the US Supreme Court over whether bleaching flour with chlorine gas could be considered a criminal act. More generally, the article ‘traces the articulation of capital and bio-politics over the terrain of baking’.
I don’t recall ever having tried this technique of making a separate ‘yeast dough’ then mixing it into another dough later, even in my days of baking bread by hand (which was almost twenty years ago!). Note also the use of plain flour, as opposed to bread flour which has a higher proportion of gluten to give that chewy texture (as opposed to the crumbly texture of cake). I’ve found that plain flour gives a lighter, more airy texture to bread, whereas bread flour produces a more dense and chewy loaf. Also intriguing is the use of condensed milk in the yeast dough recipe (see here for my historical notes on condensed milk), most recipes call for milk and sugar as separate ingredients.
The four eggs will certainly make this a very rich bread. As I learnt from Prepared Pantry,
Typically, dough for rolls is a little richer—maybe with an egg added and a little more sugar—than most doughs for bread.