Please welcome Monica Bhide, the India-born, DC-based writer/teacher/cook, author of the blog A Life In Spice, the book Modern Spice, as well as a cool new spice app, iSpice, for iphone and ipad. Here she gives us instruction on a flavored bread (basic breads can be flavored as easily as a pasta dish—see this recipe for a corn-chipotle ciabatta for instance) as well as a lesson in some Indian seasonings, here, curry leaves which I've only worked with a couple times and am glad to see used here. —M.R.
by Monica Bhide
I would be lying to you if I told you I knew how to bake.
In most Indian homes, baking is not something you grow up with. There are a few exceptions like in the western part of India where the Portuguese settled and opened some lovely bakeries. But where I grew up in Delhi, we mostly ate griddle breads and the tandoori breads (in a hot clay oven), were baked by a vendor down the street, never at home. And while my mom made amazing Indian milk desserts, she nor her mother nor her mother’s mother has ever baked a single cookie in their life.
So when I moved to the States, 20 years ago, I would find myself looking for excuses to be uninvited from cookie sharing parties. And when my kids started school, I dreaded school baking sales. Give me a pot and a bag of spices, and I will whip you up a curry to be remembered. But ask me to bake a cookie and I am at a total loss!
Another reason is that baking requires precision: you need to measure things exactly. And I grew up cooking by “andaza” or estimation. We estimated spices, oil, ingredients and learned to cook by listening, watching, smelling. I grew up making recipes that were very forgiving. Baking to me is such a rich art and such an exact science.
Necessity being the mother of invention and all, I did try my hand at baking. In 2006, I visited my alma mater in Bangalore, India. I stepped into one of the local bakeries that was serving cumin bread, curry leaves bread, cardamom bread and so many more. I fell in love with the taste. The baker refused to share his recipe so I came home and practiced and practiced until I got it right. Friends, who were bakers, helped me with the measurements and taught me how to recognize important stages, such as when the dough has risen properly.
What you see here is the result of that experiment.
A little about the recipe itself: This is flavored dough where the soul of the recipe lies in the fresh curry leaves. They are easily available at Indian grocers and now even on Amazon.com. Curry leaves are easy to grow at home, but a word of warning when buying seeds: ask for seeds of curry leaves (Murraya koenigii) not a curry plant. A “curry plant”(Helichrysum italicum) has no relation to curry leaves. Buy the shiny leaves that don’t have any signs of bruising. ()
Curry leaves have nothing to do with curry powder; they are superbly aromatic leaves that add a lemony flavor to dishes. While, they have no substitute, this basic dough can be flavored in any number of ways for a spiced bread. If you cannot find them, you can add a teaspoon of crushed carom seeds instead. These seeds add the flavor of thyme to the bread. If you cannot find those, you can add crushed fennel seeds. The recipe is very versatile and can be easily adapted.
Finally, I openly ask Michael’s (and your) forgiveness: He has asked me twice, very politely, if I had the weight for the flour. I did not. This recipe was written before I read and learned from Ratio. Next time, Michael, I promise. I will have weights!
Monica Bhide's Curry Leaf Bread
from Modern Spice
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 envelope active dry yeast (or 2 ¼ teaspoons)
- 1-½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, pounded in a mortar or crushed
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh curry leaves
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ cup water (more if needed)
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- Place all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to combine.
- Heat the butter, water and milk just until the butter melts. Allow to cool until warm to the touch (110 to 120 degrees F./43 to 49 degrees C.).
- Gradually add the warm liquid to the dry ingredients and mix with a wooden spoon until a soft but not sticky dough forms. You may not need all of the liquid but if the dough is too dry, add warm water, a tablespoon at a time, until you get a soft dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until you have a soft, smooth and elastic dough.
- Remove the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
- Place the dough on a clean work surface and knead for a minute or two.
- Shape and place in an oiled 8-½ x 4-½ inch loaf pan, cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise until dough is about 1 inch above top of pan (45 to 60 minutes).
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F./190 degrees C. with a rack in the middle position.
- Bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Remove from pan; cool on wire rack.
Makes one medium-sized loaf
NOTE: Since flours vary in their protein content from brand to brand and region to region you might need to adjust the amount of liquid in this recipe.