vegan killer toast

Update 5/9/21: I’ve updated this post with some general notes on bread and dough at the bottom, based on my experience and questions sent. I hope it helps! Please read it before trying out.

There is something about working with bread dough that is physical and psychic simultaneously, the material loosening the vicelike grip & ceaseless chokehold of the mental. I think of it as your soul taking a backseat and watching cycles open and close, begin and finish and start again like an endless ouroboros. Shaggy flour-flecked clumps to matte, plush dough; then curdled mess trying to incorporate smearing fat into a satiny smooth skein that is almost sentient the way it is glutinous, self-contained, a muscle that is both vulnerable and taut, full of strings and slow even breathing.

Then the rise, then the force of the punch, then the fall; then the rise again, and the final push towards light in the oven. This methodology requires manual dexterity but leave a respectful room for free association, for your eye to observe these movements repeatedly. The end result is something of a productive, positive hypnosis: my brain is filled with the notion of defeat, struggle, followed by triumph & contentment. I internalise the rising dough and as it dies many deaths: the micro shifting into macro, the infinitesimal genome and fractal and cell into culture, into pattern, into landscapes & ages, into the epoch. Fermentation is all about creating hospitable ecosystems for bacteria that will share resources communally, digest it, and transform what they have into abundance that will transcend its first form multifold. At the end I learn that I always have more to give, and that there will be enough at the end for myself and those I love.

Whenever depression and anxiety with all their manifest side companions of physical & mental ailments hit, I take to bread as a means of body activation. The slow climate apocalypse happens in its slight but inevitable greying; the multifold political narratives with imminent but preventable accordion-fold futures suspend the current moment in the constant sludge of dread anticipation. But in practice, in baking, I am able to understand the here and now. It is a small but humane moment that allows you to breathe between the unyielding edge of the institution and nothingness; and at the end you are able to feed yourself, and those around you, and this act of communion keeps you going.

In that sense bread can feel extra punishing when it fails, almost as a personal rebuke: you’ve nurtured it so far, and it seems that you have failed it at the end. And hence it’s easy to feel the pall of discouragement chilling the initial spark of impulse, that precious animating seed of energy that can be so merciful to someone in need of hope.

So I’ve tried to break it down for you in as simple, easy and minimally asking methodologies as possible. These are less about effort than they are patience, and motivating yourself to keep going. What I’m trying to impress upon you is that there is flexibility, that you can find a way that works for you; and to encourage you to just try, to be okay with the process. There is something so magical, so elemental about the breadmaking process; I hope you will be able to experience it yourself.

This is the first bread recipe I’m publishing because it is the simplest, and requires the least from you in terms of time and energy. It utilises the straight dough method instead of gelatinised starch like tangzhong 湯種 or yudane ゆだね; it does most of the heavy-lifting itself once given time for introspection and growth (most of the indicated time periods goes towards resting the dough; and you can rest too!). And most importantly, you can break it up between two days with one long, fitful sleep where it rises slowly and gains flavour through slow-chilled ferment.

I was inspired by the legendary ‘killer toast’ formula as pioneered by Victoria Bakes, but a lot of the strength of the dough relied on animal-derived fat and the tenacity of egg and dairy proteins. But with a lot of trial and error with overnight rising and ingredient ratios, as well as inspiration from this recipe for roti paung lembut (soft breadrolls) by Kak MamaFami, I’ve optimised a recipe that will create soft and tender, creamy and flossy dough from soy milk and multiple enrichment sources (powdered plant milk, vegan butter). It is sweet and tremendously fluffy, a wobble of fragrant air and cotton tender crumb.

Later, I pass my mum a few slices to try; I can smell the rich, golden butter of heat-browned crust as I pass her the bag, feel the weight of transfer, the acceptance in her fingers against mine. It feels good to give her something, after everything she has done for me. She sends pictures and videos over WhatsApp later: those same fingers opening and closing like a gentle flower as she squeezes a soft slice and it bounces back, healthy and full, into springy shape; the softly textured crumb of the white-milk slice and the way the slices fall over each other gently. And the next morning, for her breakfast, covered with a paint-smear of peanut butter. In one loaf, the manifold giving and return; the exchange and transfer. In these actions we can keep going.

Vegan ‘Killer Toast’ (Single-Rise/Proofing Dough)

250g bread flour

25g coconut cream powder/soymilk powder

20g sugar

3g yeast

3g salt

30g coconut milk, full fat

150 to 160ml soy milk (choose as ‘whole’ a version as possible, like Bonsoy; none of the watery brands like Silk or Alpro)

30g vegan butter, cubed at room temperature

Combine all ingredients except for the butter in a stand mixer: add the dry ingredients first; it is crucial to keep the salt and yeast separate (or you will kill the yeast!). Mix with the dough hook attachment until the dough comes together, about 2-3 minutes.

Stop the mixer, cover the bowl lightly with a damp teatowel or clingwrap, and let it rest as is for 30 minutes. From there, you can go two ways depending on how much time and energy you have: A is the quickest and simplest, B requires a quick shaping as well as an hour more of waiting the next morning.

A – about 1 hour 10 minutes / 1 hour the next day

Start your mixer again, kneading the dough until rough windowpane stage is reached. Add the vegan butter and keep kneading until the fat is incorporated and the dough becomes smooth, elastic and stretches to full windowpane; this usually takes me about 15-20 minutes.

Remove the dough and let it rest on a lightly floured surface, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Divide into segments: 6 for buns or 2-3, for more traditional shokupan; your dough should be about half a kilo (500g) so you can roughly divide from there or weigh exactly. Cover these and let it rest for another 10 minutes. In the meanwhile, grease your baking tin of choice well and line it with a strip of parchment across its length (it should be broad and long enough for you to lift out the bread after baking).

Shape the segments into taut, smooth balls. Place these into the prepared baking tin and cover with clingwrap.

Place in the fridge and let rise overnight (8-12 hours).

The next morning, take out the tin from the fridge & let it come to room temperature, about 30 minutes. It should have risen a little more than double. Towards the end, start preheating your oven at 200 degrees Celsius.

Brush your dough lightly with additional soymilk if desired. Turn down the heat to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for 25-30 minutes depending on the size of your tin; it took me about 30 minutes for my standard 400g loaf tin. Cover with foil no earlier than 10 minutes in if they start browning too quickly.

Once done, remove from the tin using parchment overhang and let cool on a wire rack.

B – about 1 hour / 2 hours the next day (one punchdown)

Start your mixer again, kneading the dough until rough windowpane stage is reached. Add the vegan butter and keep kneading until the fat is incorporated and the dough becomes smooth, elastic and stretches to full windowpane; this usually takes me about 15-20 minutes.

Remove the dough and let it rest on a lightly floured surface, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Divide into segments: 6 for buns or 2-3, for more traditional shokupan; your dough should be about half a kilo (500g) so you can roughly divide from there or weigh exactly. At this stage, place them each into individual lightly greased containers (bowl, tupperware) that are tall enough to allow them to rise.

Place in the fridge and let rise overnight (8-12 hours).

The next morning, grease your baking tin of choice well and line it with a strip of parchment across its length (it should be broad and long enough for you to lift out the bread after baking).

Take out your cold dough and work on a lightly floured surface; you must handle them while they are chilled. Using lightly floured hands, gently stretch the dough lengthwise. Then, using a floured rolling pin, gently knock out the air and roll the dough out into a rectangle. Tightly roll this up (for shokupan loaf) and place in the prepared baking tin. Please watch this segment of this video for reference (3:06 to 3:58; there are English subtitles)!

Let the loaf rise, covered with clingwrap or a damp cloth, till it reaches 90% of the tin, about an hour – it took me about 1 hour and 10 minutes total.

Towards the end, start preheating your oven at 200 degrees Celsius.

Brush your dough lightly with additional soymilk if desired. Turn down the heat to 180 degrees Celsius and bake for 25-30 minutes depending on the size of your tin; it took me about 30 minutes for my standard 400g loaf tin. Cover with foil no earlier than 10 minutes in if they start browning too quickly.

Once done, remove from the tin using parchment overhang and let cool on a wire rack.

notes:

this loaf is best consumed on the day itself, but will last 2-3 days at room temperature in an airtight container. I recommend freezing any slices immediately beyond the first day to retain the texture, and steaming to reheat.

BASIC DOUGH ADVICE

KNEADING TIME

Protein contents in different flour brands will differ, and hence your kneading time will also vary – not to mention the various strengths of stand mixers, elbow grease etc. My number one tip is rest – at each stage, letting your machine stop and your dough work on its own covered with a damp teatowel for 3-4 minutes will allow you to achieve a windowpane faster and better without overheating your machine. I like to use this time to wash up as I go along too, and suddenly breadmaking is that simpler and efficient. 

HYDRATION & LIQUIDITY

My liquid proportions are given exact to what works for my climate and brand of flour: I recommend always holding back about 10-20ml of liquid when you try, to adjust as you go along. Your dough pre-butter should come together cohesively but not be too dry; nor should it be a porridgey, muffin batter. What works for me for a basic loaf texture is a slight tackiness: think of the skin of a freshly steamed dumpling/gyoza; it should stick a little and be moist and tacky, but still cleave away upon touch as an autonomous, self-contained  membrane without smearing. Liquid must be adjusted before adding fat, as it’s impossible to add flour after that stage of kneading without compromising the texture of your dough in marked ways.

As you go along in your breadmaking, you will be able to vary the liquid quotients with strategies like mashed starches/fruit purées, poolishes, tangzhong etc that allow for more hydrated doughs without additional bulking with flour to compensate. The more hydrated the dough is, the softer it will be as a general rule. This will make it harder to hold strict patterns and/or shapes as the aqueous dough melds & warps upon proofs, but it will be incredibly cottony. 

PROOFING & LIQUID TEMPERATURES

Working in Singapore, I use fridge-cold wet ingredients unless otherwise specified (this is excluding the butter of course, which must be softened at room temp). If you’re working in a cold climate, it might be advisable to bring them to at least room temperature, if not blood heat. Proofing times will vary according to humidities and temperatures.

I always proof my bread dough overnight and work with it cold from the fridge; this video is a good general guide to how I handle my dough. However, if you’re proofing your dough at room temperature, here are some indication guides:

FIRST PROOF TO DOUBLING: with a floured finger, you should be able to poke an indentation in the dough that springs back slightly whilst maintaining its shape; it should feel gaseous but elastic. 

SECOND PROOF TO DOUBLING/90% TIN: with a floured finger, gently touch the buns/top of proved dough without poking. It should yield gently, hold the indent, and slowly fill back to its original shape with a small dent. If it bounces back immediately, it needs more time. 

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