DUBAI: If you’re a bread lover, Dubai resident or both, then you’ve likely come across Solemann Haddad’s Instagram feed. The UAE-based chef, who goes by the moniker @cutebreadboy on social media, routinely takes to his page to share candid shots of mouth-watering recipes — he’s responsible for a number of delectable dishes on menus across the city, such as Hapi’s comforting chickpea curry — alongside snaps of sourdough boules, fresh Japanese milk buns and loaves of ciabatta.
“Fun fact, I don’t really like baking as much it may seem,” Haddad, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu Tokyo, revealed to Arab News. “But people associate me with baking because of my Instagram handle and because it’s what I started doing,” he added, sharing that what first drew him to baking was the culinary skill’s allure.
“At first, baking seemed like rocket science to me. It took me months and months of reading, practicing, obsessing and staying awake until five a.m. to fully get the hang of it. And even now, I still feel like there’s still so much to learn,” the chef declared.
The 24-year-old admits that it was a healthy dose of sibling rivalry that allowed him to discover his passion for cooking. “My earliest food memory goes back to when I was four. My brother, who is two years older than me, had this children’s cookbook and started making omelets and chocolate chip cookies. I remember getting so jealous that he was allowed to cook all of these ‘cool’ foods while I wasn’t just because he was older,” recalled Haddad.
So, the then-pre-schooler would wait for his mother to go to work, “steal” his brother’s cookbook and make these recipes himself. “Cooking has followed me ever since. I can’t remember a period in my life in which cooking wasn’t relevant,” he noted.
However, despite this, Haddad never thought to pursue cooking professionally until his last year of university.
“I wasn’t really enjoying what I was studying and was definitely not looking to work in that field. A friend of mine at the time suggested working in a professional kitchen, so I gave it a chance. It has so far proven to be the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said.
Now, during the city-wide lockdown, Haddad has been utilizing his Instagram account to post tutorials of simple bread recipes so his followers can make it themselves.
Indeed, the coronavirus pandemic has created the perfect environment for a surge in making bread from scratch.
Online, it seems that everyone is baking bread and the assumption may not be far off: According to Google Trends, searches for “bread recipes” have spiked. Meanwhile, the food item’s main ingredients, yeast and flour, are flying off supermarket shelves worldwide as people across the globe discover their newest stay at home hobby. For others, baking bread from scratch is a necessity as they limit trips to the supermarket in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“I feel like in tough times like these, nobody really knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. People feel like they’ve lost control over their own lives,” the chef said. “So I feel like making something as complicated and time-consuming as bread makes people feel a bit safe and more in control again.”
Below, Haddad shares a simple Arabic bread recipe that you can make while you stay home.
Super fluffy Arabic bread
450g white bread flour
50g whole wheat flour
3.5g (1 tsp) yeast
40g (3 tbsp, or 45ml) olive oil
310g water (room temp)
This recipe makes eight pieces.
1. Add the water to the yeast and mix thoroughly to combine. Let sit for 2-4 minutes. You should notice some activity happening in the water after a few minutes. This will tell you if your yeast is still alive.
2. Next, add the yeast mixture plus all other ingredients into an electric mixing bowl and mix on the lowest setting for three minutes. Once fully combined, increase to a medium-high speed setting and mix for three to four minutes, or until the dough is shiny and slaps off the sides of the bowl.
If you don't have an electric mixing bowl, once all the ingredients are combined, knead your dough on a work surface for about five to ten minutes, or until the dough is smooth and bounces back when poked.
3. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and let the dough rise at room temperature for one to one-and-a-half hours, or until it has doubled in size.
4. Portion out the dough into eight small pieces. Shape into tight balls.
5. You can refrigerate your dough and use it within three days. If you want to use it immediately, let it sit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes after shaping.
6. To bake, preheat your oven at 250C for at least 45 minutes. Roll out your dough balls gently into ½ cm thick, flat rounds.
7. Place in the oven uncovered and cook for about four to five minutes, until it has puffed up and gained color.
8. Eat straight away!