© Mervin Chua
Wherever you are in the world, the appetising smell wafting from a bakery is a reminder of home. From flaky croissants to a mouth-wateringly savoury pie. Ascott Living takes a look at the rising popularity of the artisanal baker
Words by ALISON MARSHALL Photos by MERVIN CHUA
INTEREST IN “REAL” FOOD MADE WITH LOVE AND QUALITY is growing once again. Despite some modern diets which shun carbohydrates, everyday items made with care are on the rise again — quite literally in the case of the home-made bread our grandparents might have taken for granted, which are largely mysterious to their great-grandchildren. Sadly, to many of today’s generation, the smell of a crispy, freshly baked loaf has been replaced by the image of a flavourless, mass-produced rectangle swaddled in a plastic bag.
Bread is one of the oldest baked foods known to man, and some think the most primitive version — probably a flatbread made by mixing flour and water together before baking — was invented around 10,000 BC. Then came the closed oven, invented around 3,000 BC, which ushered in ever-more baking possibilities.
The humble pie was first referenced in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1303. Meat was originally wrapped in leaves or mud to stop it burning, until an industrious medieval baker formulated a pastry crust to protect and preserve the meat. From its simple savoury origins, the pie has been elevated from its role as common sustenance, and is now found in many guises — layered with international savoury ingredients, or glisteningly sweet with seasonal fruit.
For baking enthusiasts, there’s nothing quite like the fragrance of a cake fresh from the oven. According to some accounts, fruit cake, a sign of Christmas in many parts of the world, traces back to Roman times. In the 18th century, it was allegedly outlawed across Europe, after being deemed sinfully rich — a major part of its appeal today.
Despite the fact that more people are dining out than ever before, food programmes and baking shows are becoming even more popular. Last year, four million viewers in the United Kingdom tuned in to the first episode of the BBC’s Great British Bake Off — a programme where amateur bakers are pitted against each other, to see who can produce the most delicious baked goods.
As discerning diners and fervent foodies become more interested in where their food is coming from and how much better we feel when we are eating something healthy, artisanal bakers are going from strength to strength.
With a wide range of bread from across the globe, a bewildering variety of sweet and savoury pies, and cakes packed full of rich goodness, baked goods are now drawing people back into the bakery — from London to Shanghai.
In some Eastern cultures where a baked delight is not part of the traditional cuisine, contemporary demand for baked goods is growing. Today, bakeries producing croissants and delicious patisserie are flourishing as much in Dubai as they are in Paris.
© Aaron McLean
A move towards healthy eating has seen the consumption of fish increase year on year. Today, on average, we each eat a staggering 17 kilograms of fish per year — though of course, some cultures eat more fish than others. For centuries, the Japanese have acknowledged the health benefits of eating from the sea, and even back in the seventh century, Japanese scriptures made mention of sushi, which was initially a portable snack. The word “sushi” originally referred to fermented fish. It was later made more of a meal, by being stuffed with rice before fermentation. This earliest form of Japanese sushi is known as nare sushi.
Today, high-end sushi is as much an art form as a humble fast food. Hailed as the greatest sushi chef in the world, 86-year-old Jiro Ono is considered by many to be a true artist, with three Michelin stars to his name. Now the star of the critically acclaimed documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Ono also holds the honour of being a Guinness World Record-holder, as the world’s oldest three-star Michelin chef. Visitors to Tokyo need to book far in advance to get a seat in his tiny restaurant. Perhaps more easily accessible is the source of his supplies: the Tsukiji Fish Market, which is a feast for all the senses.
The allure of a freshly shucked oyster, dressed with just a squeeze of lemon juice, or a cockle plucked straight from the shell, are taste explosions that many revel in. Even the humble fish egg has its place in gastronomic extravagance, with caviar rated as one of the world’s most expensive foods. Top of the caviar list is almas, from the Iranian beluga sturgeon. Only one in 6,000 of these fish carry the golden albino eggs, which are prized by caviar connoisseurs and currently cost in the region of US$9,200 a kilogram — some years ago it cost a staggering US$35,000 per kilogram. Best eaten unadulterated by seasoning or spice, aficionados prefer to eat caviar from a spoon made of mother of pearl or bone — as metal utensils are said to alter the food’s delicate flavour.
© Mervin Chua
Whether we come from a family that enjoyed cooking or not, there is something comforting about the smell of baking, an aroma that enfolds and caresses, making a dark day brighter and bringing comfort to hectic times. Even during times of austerity, people take comfort in the simple pleasures of tradition — and baking ticks all the boxes, whether you aspire to do it yourself, or you prefer to enjoy the fruit of someone else’s labours.
Global baker Dean Brettschneider is one of those responsible for this newfound love affair with the world of baking. A New Zealander by birth, he now spends much of his time travelling the world, advising restaurants and large supermarkets about how best to bake.
Travellers to Singapore and Shanghai can taste some of his wares at his Baker & Cook and Baker & Spice outlets respectively. As Ascott Living went to press, he had a brand-new project due to open in Abu Dhabi.
“Food has always been a passion. Baking was the first stop and I got fully involved in all aspects, from working with large industries to craft bakers,” Brettschneider tells Ascott Living.
“There’s a resurgence in the artisan style of baking, things that used to be everyday — good bread without preservatives, something that tastes good and is not out of a packet — we’re returning to that. People really don’t mind paying for something of quality.”
The quality aspect is an interesting one. Figures from the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, or Defra, show that 32 percent of bread purchased in the country is wasted, which according to the anti-food waste organisation Wrap amounts to a staggering 680,000 tonnes — at a cost of £1.1 billion (US$1.75 billion). It is thought that the easily available, mass-produced white loaf that retails there for as little as 20 pence (US$0.39) has much to do with the lack of value that some people place on food.
As Brettschneider says, “With artisan food there is more value. When you have something yummy, why would you throw it away when it is wonderful? If you get something for almost nothing that comes in a plastic bag, there is no involvement.”
“Baking has become really emotional,” he adds. “Some bad bakers cut corners and think the consumer wants a loaf that is cheap and has a long shelf life. But if it’s a good product you want it fresh, daily.”
He notes, “Our grandparents talk about bread that had real flavour. We have read and heard about it. And artisan baking is all about that texture and taste.”
Baker & Cook
77 Hillcrest Road,
Tel: (65) 6469 8834
From croissants to flatbread, you’ll find it all here — but get there early
© 2Mervin Chua.tif
8 rue du Cherche-Midi
Tel: (33–1) 4548 4259
Aside from their famous sourdough, Poilâne’s other breads — such as raisin or nut — are also worth a try
44 Angove Street, North Perth
WA 6006, Australia
Tel: (61–8) 9328 7442
Italian goodies for everyday — or special occasions
Andersen Kitchen Buffet
Hondori, Mashinakaku, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 7300035, Japan
Tel: (81–82) 247 4800
Offers a variety of baked goods from local favourites to Danish pastries
60316 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Tel: (49–69) 431 585
Try their delicious bread — and maybe a slice of gateau
Comptoirs de France
China Central Place
89 Jianguo Road
Building 15, No. 102 Chaoyang District
Tel: (86–10) 6530 5480
With over 20 varieties of cake this is a foodie must
5 Xuan Dieu, Tây Ho, Hanoi
Tel: (84–4) 3933 2355
Where locals and foreigners alike go for a crisp croissant or decadent sweet treat
Proof that quality has longevity is the famous sourdough loaf of the Parisienne baker Poilâne, which has been baked in the French capital since 1932 — and is now enjoyed all over the world.
In a world where some feel pressure to ditch the carbs, it is interesting to see that the appetite for “real” baked goods is growing. “People are moving towards bread that is much better for you, with more grain. We are all more mindful today about what we are putting down our throats,” observes Brettschneider.
From flaky croissants to pillow-soft Turkish flatbreads, densely seeded German loaves or a simple and beautiful white bloomer, there’s much to choose from straight from the oven. Brettschneider knows the loaf he loves the best. “Bread-wise, for me the favourite is a sourdough. It’s the king of breads, which is nothing more than flour, water, salt and wild yeast (which I grew 15 years ago). It’s uncomplicated and has strength and integrity. I like it toasted because it doesn’t shrivel — it stays just as it is.”
Baking is not just confined to bread. From cakes to tarts and succulent savoury pies, the aroma of baking from a nearby oven can evoke a warm rush of emotion in virtually any traveller.
As coffee shop culture grows worldwide, more people see the perfect weekend morning as a nice coffee in a homely environment, alongside a baked treat. Brettschneider feels for bread in particular, he’s seen a renaissance. “People come to the bakery and want to take a loaf home and share it with friends. It’s become a family activity.”
With an international drive by artisan bakers to provide quality baking, hopefully future generations across the globe will be able to appreciate what their elders took for granted.
Dean Brettschneider’s Farmhouse Carrot Cake
For more of Dean’s recipes go to www.nzbaker.co.nz
170g granulated sugar
170g brown sugar (light or dark is okay)
200g plain flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinnamon
¾ tsp salt
275g vegetable oil
150g grated carrot
90g walnut pieces
70g crushed pineapple - from a tin and well drained
Sieve the flour, baking soda, salt, mixed spice and cinnamon into a mixing bowl fitted with a beater.
Add the eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar, oil, grated carrot, walnut pieces and crushed pineapple to the mixing bowl. Beat on slow speed for one minute then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Beat for a further 2 minutes on medium speed.
Pour the batter into a prepare 20 cm round loose bottom spring release cake tin. Ensure that you lightly grease the tin and then line the bottom and sides with non stick baking paper. This is necessary to avoid over baking due to the long baking time required.
Place directly into a preheated oven set at 150ºC and bake for 1 ½ hours. Check the cake is correctly baked by inserting a cake skewer in the centre of the cake, if it comes out clean then the cake is baked.
Allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes, then remove from the tin and allow to cool completely. Remove the grease proof paper.
Once the cake is cold, spread the cream cheese icing (see recipe below) on the top of the cake using a palette knife, ensure the icing is smooth and evenly spread.
Sprinkle a ring of chopped dried apricots, pumpkin seeds and a sprinkle of poppy seeds on the top of the icing approximately 1cm from the edge of the cake.
Cut into wedges and serve with a nice dollop of natural yoghurt
Cream Cheese Icing
105g Cream cheese
90g Soften butter
190g Icing sugar (sieved)
1tsp Lemon zest
Place the cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and lemon zest into a mixing bowl fitted with a beater. Beat on medium speed until the icing is white and fluffy. Use immediately.
70g dried apricots – cut into even cubes
50g pumpkin seeds
½ tsp poppy seeds