Last month, I visited chef Moshe Shek's cooking studio in Alibagh where he was conducting a class on Israeli food. Pita was one of the recipes we tried out, and from adding the flour and water in the kitchen aid to working the dough to roll pitas and tossing them in the oven, the process of bread baking was exciting. Just watching something rise in the oven gives me goosebumps.
A few years ago, food writer and consultant Saee Khandekar was teaching breads at a friend's studio and blogging actively about food a few years ago when she realised that all the information we in India have about bread making is not relevant to us because of the differences in climate (as compared to the western world; humidity makes a huge difference to bread proofing time) and the unavailability of ingredients such as strong bread flour. "Also the yeasts prescribed in the western books are quite different from the ones locally available here. That's when I realised that a book on bread making in India could be of some help," she says.
In May 2016, she her book on breads, Crumbs, was published. "While it is possible to treat the book as a textbook for baking, I would encourage readers to also pick it up simply if they would like to read about bread traditions and my personal memories about all things bread," says Saee.
According to her too, sourdough and heirloom are the current keywords. "We're definitely going back to a simpler bread-making tradition, eliminating additives and chemicals and other nasties that commercial breads rely on. Bread making at home, from scratch is gaining popularity across the board," she affirms.
Chef Anahita Girish, demi chef de partie at Toast and Tonic, Bengaluru says the usage of freshly stone-milled ancient grains is the new wave among bakers today. Grains such as spelt and Indian heirloom varieties such as emmer, kathiya and paigambari are coming to the forefront. Flavouring breads with fermented ingredients and whey is also quite the rage. "Our sourdough is our most iconic bread. We also do a take on pav using rye flour, which is paired with pastrami. The rolls and crackers featured in our complimentary bread basket are updated frequently, keeping in mind seasons and trends. Currently, we serve fermented millet pull-apart rolls."
Customers almost always reach out for soft, sweet breads. Enriched buns such as the brioche are often a top choice. However, crusty breads with deep, complex flavours are slowly gaining a fan following, especially since most are completely vegan and contain no chemical additives.
In some dishes, the bread becomes the hero on the plate, like in the smoked mackerel toast, mushroom toast and soft eggs with Andouille sausages all feature the slow-risen sourdough. "Toasted slices of this whole-wheat blended loaf act as a perfect vehicle in these dishes, providing a moreish, earthy and slightly tart flavour. Our breads also play a role in our dessert menu with one of them being a rich challah that forms the base of our breakfast French toast," says Girish.
Local & delicious
Head baker Rachelle Andrade put one clause in her contract before joining Magazine Street Kitchen - to use local ingredients. The 2,500-sq ft space housed in an old industrial estate in Mumbai focuses on culinary innovations. When I walk in on a sunny afternoon, she is sipping on chai and working on an in-house Nutella recipe of hazelnut and milk chocolate. When the conversation steers towards bread, she too agrees that the industry is going back to basics. "Sourdough was created when there was no yeast, but today people opt for it because it is good for the gut. The slower the bread-making process, the better," says Andrade, adding that the chocolate ganache she is working on will be the filling for cruffin. "The innovations are happening too, she points out. Since our inception here, we make croissant in a muffin, inspired by the one apparently invented in San Francisco," she says.