Trend of eating healthy breads inspires Penang-based baker to craft a variety of tempting loaves

OH Yean Ley’s love for bread-making began with a “loaf” story in the family. From there, her passion grew as she taught herself to bake a variety of beautiful loaves, especially sourdough, adding her own unique twists to the recipes.

“My family loves bread, especially a fresh loaf a day,” she said.

She now has a “full-blown affair” with breads, creating healthy low-sugar varieties while experimenting with local ingredients to produce new flavours and textures that appeal to the Malaysian palate.

Oh also extends her skill to baking sourdoughs, such as sourdough butterfly pea flower soft wool roll, orange sweet potato soft sourdough and two-tone sweet potato.

“I use a minimal amount of sugar and fat. I believe that we don’t need so much of that in our diet,” said the blogger and author of the book Low Sugar Cakes and Bakes.

She began with basic yeast-based recipes. After each bake, she picked up more ideas and learnt to appreciate ingredients and how they all worked together.

“I increasingly became adventurous, cultivating a sourdough starter (natural yeast). I began to learn more about ingredients used in commercially-made bread and that prompted me to explore healthier alternatives.

“Since then, I have been focusing on baking healthier bread and cakes with less fat and sugar,” said the 51-year-old.

Today, her baking repertoire covers more than 200 recipes, including delightful cakes, cookies and delicious pastries.

“I am very happy when other bakers use my recipes and tag me on Instagram,” she added.

What is your signature bread?

My personal favourite so far is sourdough shokupan (Japanese soft white bread). I use a sweet stiff starter (50% to 60% hydration sourdough starter with added sugar) and the Yudane method (pouring boiling water on a small portion of the dough).

The beauty of this recipe is that it reduces proofing time (when dough rises due to the fermentation process) because of the high percentage of stiff starter used.

I get faster results using the Yudane method as the bread stays fresh longer.

It is my favourite base recipe that can be applied to many variants. I bake often as it is my family’s staple. My family’s favourites are my sourdough focaccia or olive and sundried tomato sourdough loaf.

Are there any misconceptions about bread-making?

A common misconception is that salt and yeast should not come in contact with each other. I have learned that this only applies when using fresh yeast. The salt will not compromise dry yeast or instant dry yeast. A lot of people think that making bread at home is complicated. While that may often be true for sourdough baking, yeast bread is quite easy.

How do you come up with ideas to modernise the traditional bread recipe?

As a home baker, I use home appliances that may not yield the same results as commercial or industrial equipment. Thus, recipes are adjusted to get the best results with standard appliances.

I also get inspired when I travel to foreign countries. When I get home, I will work on replicating the food I tried by creating my own spin, with reduced sugar and fat while adjusting the proportions of ingredients.

A new recipe goes through a few trials, before I post it on my blog.

I always find that some flavours or ingredients can be substituted with locally sourced fresh ingredients and herbs from my garden. My recipe tweaks are often inspired by fresh produce.

Have you experienced any baking disasters?

I have had many failed bakes. Sometimes, things don’t turn out as expected. I have had bread that didn’t rise, under-active starters, over kneaded dough, under or over proofed dough and misshapen bread. At times, I share my mistakes on social media.

What are your future plans?

I am quite content to simply bake for my family and friends, explore new recipes and share my discovery and results of my experimentation. I am looking to explore further vegan-friendly and non-dairy recipes.