Artisan breads: The new favourites among Indian foodies

Love bread? In any form? At any time? On any day? Golden brown, crusty loaves of ecstasy get you drooling? Then step into the world of artisan breads, created with high-quality raw materials, handcrafted, and yes, chemical additives-free!

A healthy shift

The popularity of artisan breads can be credited to lifestyle shifts of health-conscious global travellers and mindful eating habits. Aditi Handa, Co-Founder and Head Baker, The Baker’s Dozen, explains, “Artisan bread, with its health benefits, is becoming the ultimate choice for those who want to choose bread without guilt. Plus, with the pandemic leaving everyone confined to their four walls, baking at home has become popular as it helps keep one busy with an activity and gives one the opportunity to learn a new skill. Of course, it is also a great way to spend time with family members as well!”

Dough(t)y matter

Baking is not a piece of cake. It can take hours or even days to bake an artisan loaf. It’s a procedure that appears out-of-place in the milieu of fast food consumption, but amidst the buy-local, farm-to-table movement, artisan bread has made its mark. “Baking a good loaf of bread requires a lot of experience with the dough. We cannot go by the clock each time as the look and feel is very important to judge if the bread is ready for baking,” informs Chef Astik Oberoi, Pastry Chef at Academy of Pastry & Culinary Arts, Marol.

Baguette sourdough by Aditi Handa
Baguette sourdough by Aditi Handa
The Baker's Dozen

According to him, as most people were accustomed to the market-place ‘square’ bread, it took some time to explain the concept of artisan breads. Handa elaborates, “The unusual appearance of handcrafted loaves was quite a surprise for our customers, so while selling our loaves, we answered all their questions and cleared most of their doubts.”

Is price a deterrent?

“Definitely!” answers renowned Mumbai-based Chocolatier and baker, Varun Inamdar, “the entire genre of baked goods, artisan breads especially, is virgin territory in the minds of the people. They don’t even understand the difference between brown bread, wheat bread and whole wheat bread. Yes, they are not interchangeable names.”

Egg Cottage Cheese Bruschetta by Aditi Handa
Egg Cottage Cheese Bruschetta by Aditi Handa
The Baker's Dozen

The biggest myth that artisan loaves are expensive, crusty and limited-end-use bread has been smashed, reveals Handa, “It was busted over time when many local home bakers and our brand, The Baker’s Dozen, made these artisan items using local ingredients and offered them at affordable prices.”

Micro-baker, Pallavi Ved, Owner of Velvette Patiserrie located in Chembur, Mumbai, enthuses, “Our whole grain breads are usually sold out and we bake baguettes thrice a day to meet the demand.” This reinstates the fact that artisan bread is going mainstream, irrespective of its price.

Raid your larder

Most of the ingredients needed are available in your kitchen pantry. Inamdar elaborates. “Creating yeast can be done in so many ways – equal measures of lemon juice and baking soda also does the trick, so does sourdough with natural yeast. Flavours can range from cocoa nibs to crushed coffee beans too, to make it unique and personal with barberries, fennel, anardana”. Locally available ingredients and organic stores are a big source of help when logistics become a concern. “The exciting part is that you can play with artisan breads,” observes Inamdar, who is quite innovative with home grown elements like coriander seeds and oats. He is also known for his potato bread, pomegranate and pistachio sourdough bread apart from Goan Poee made with raspberry kombucha instead of toddy.

Moumita S, a city-based home-baker, and a food and lifestyle blogger associated with the Bakers Club of India, works on orders placed three days in advance. Talking about replicating ingredients at home, she suggests, “For gluten-free cakes you can use almond or coconut flour. For lactose intolerant individuals, dairy milk can be substituted with coconut, soya or almond milks.”

Sourdough saga

Slow-fermented bread – sourdough – has caught the fancy of home-bakers. “The inherent nutrition of this slow-fermented bread is great for immunity and also helps in digestion when it’s made from 100 per cent whole-wheat flour. Sourdough adds a lot of flavour and texture to the meal and is a healthier pick against regular bread. The primary factor is quite simple, use it as you like it!” says Handa. “A bread dough is like a small baby – it needs a lot of love, attention and care. Make sure you give all of it!” advises Chef Oberoi.

Sourdough Baguette with goats cheese, beetroot and apples by Aditi Handa
Sourdough Baguette with goats cheese, beetroot and apples by Aditi Handa
The Baker's Dozen

Pro-tips for the artisan breads from Chef Astik Oberoi, Pastry Chef at Academy of Pastry & Culinary Arts

Strong Flour: Refined wheat flour with high gluten content

Yeast: Any type of dry or fresh yeast will work

Salt: Fine table salt

Sugar: Castor sugar will mix well, especially as the dough is kneaded by hand

Water: Use cold water for best results

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