Kokum baguette, yeast-free bread: Why we’re obsessed with bread

  • Meenakshi Iyer, Mumbai
  • Updated: May 13, 2016 13:11 IST
The Portuguese gave us the pav. Now, we’re back to adapting from the West, but adding our local touch too (Illustration: Srikhrishna Patkar/HT)

We’re buying, baking and inventing artisanal breads faster than ever

For anyone who’s grown up in Mumbai, some sights and smells evoke fond memories. One such memory is that of waking up to the aroma of freshly baked bread. If you walk by any of the city’s old bakeries in Fort or Marine Lines, it is hard to resist the temptation and not step in for a bite of the fresh, pillowy pav or brun maska, often devoured dunked in syrupy Irani chai.

A recently launched book, Crumbs! Bread Stories and Recipes for the Indian Kitchen (Hachette, Rs 450) by Mumbai-based food writer Saee Koranne Khandekar, is about many such memories.

It also contains over 40 recipes of Indian and international breads and lots of mouth-watering photographs of everything — from brioche and croissant to sheermal (a saffron-based flatbread) and thalipeeth (a Maharashtrian flatbread). However, what makes the book interesting is that it has been customised to suit the needs of a novice baker who may not have access to imported ingredients or sufficient scientific knowledge of making bread.

The new book, Crumbs! Bread Stories and Recipes for the Indian Kitchen, by (right) author Saee Koranne Khandekar

“Most recipe books on bread are international, and they speak a different language. For instance, they always measure ingredients in percentages, for instance, x percentage of flour and y percentage of hydration. I decided to do away with that and stick to grams and teaspoons,” says Khandekar. At the same time, many of the ingredients mentioned in these books are seldom available locally. “One such ingredient is strong white bread flour. In India, I don’t even know what that means,” says the 33-year-old author.

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Rise of the international bread

For most hobby bakers, baking bread can be intimidating. Yet, over the past few years, there has been a marked increase in the number of people who want to master baking at home. Thanks to shows like MasterChef Australia and the #foodporn phenomenon across social media, baking has been elevated to something akin to art. “Baking breads is a therapeutic experience. Working with dough feels fulfilling,” says chef and author Rakhee Vaswani.

How to bake: A beginner’s guide

She runs Palette Culinary Studio in Santacruz, where fortnightly bread-baking classes are often sold out, with six to eight students in each session. Similarly, food writer and consultant Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal conducts bread-baking classes at her Andheri-based cooking studio, APB (A Perfect Bite). Here, she teaches recipes for breads like focaccia and multigrain loaf, and healthier options like corn and millet loaf, among others.

Though flatbreads like chapatti, parantha, kulcha and roti have been a part of the Indian staple diet, it is international breads that are gaining ground — at restaurants and in home kitchens.

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French breads like baguette, brioche and croissants are being baked fresh and made-to-order. At La Folie, a popular city-based patisserie, croissants are baked every few hours to keep up with the demand. And at Serafina, focaccia (which comes as part of its breadbasket) is baked as soon as an order is placed, since it takes less than four minutes to bake in the traditional lava stone oven.

Slice of health

At the recently opened Craft Deli Bistro and Bar in Kurla, chef Paul Kinny bakes fresh loaves of multigrain bread, German rye bread, barley bread and olive focaccia for various dishes on the menu. These breads are also available to be picked up over the counter.

“Consumers are looking for breads enhanced with different kinds of grains and seeds (flax, pumpkin, sunflower) as they have realised that eating white bread is not the healthiest choice,” says Kinny. Gluten-free breads and yeast-free breads, and loaves made of indigenous ingredients, are also in demand. Ellipsis Bakery in Worli stocks gluten-free multigrain bread and sorghum bread. “We substitute regular flour with rice flour and sorghum flour,” says its owner Sanjnaa Talwar. While the resultant bread is quite dense and lacks elasticity, it is a good substitute for people allergic to gluten or those who suffer from celiac disease.

The gluten-free bread at Ellipsis, Worli

Similarly, at English Vinglish by chef Ranveer Brar, the makai (corn) dhaniya (coriander seeds) and flaxseed bread sells like hot cakes, and is popular among its health-conscious clientele in Juhu.

Makai, dhaniya and flaxseed bread by Chef Ranveer Brar at English Vinglish, Juhu

“While researching for the book, I found that bakeries in the city like Theobroma and The Baker’s Dozen are trying their best to introduce healthy and local options. For instance, at Theobroma, the bakers make beautiful bread called the kokum baguette. Instead of using olives, they use kokum, and it tastes divine,” says Khandekar.

Baking in future

At Chemistry 101, a newly opened gastro pub in Kamala Mills, Chef Stephen Gomes (one of the top Indian chefs in the UK) is recreating his childhood memories of bread with mini, bite-sized pavs served with keema. “I am Catholic, so pav has always been an important part of my diet,” he says. Soon, he plans to bake breads on the table — a concept that’s never been tried before. “I am working on creating mini ovens and get the fittings right,” he adds. While we wait for his experiment to see success, we will happily munch on some Welsch bread cooked and served in kullad.

Welsch bread in kullad at Chemistry 101, Kamala Mills

Indigo Deli — which has been one of the first few stand-alone restaurants to sell fresh breads — is still a top choice among city’s gourmands looking to satiate their carb craving. Now, with its upcoming central bakery and confectionery unit in Andheri, expect more artisanal varieties and experimental breads on the menu. When chef Jaydeep Mukherjee, or Chef JD, moved from Taj to Indigo, he initially found it tough to hire bakers who had worked with the artisanal variety of breads. However, today when he is hiring fresh recruits from culinary schools for the upcoming space, he seems pleased. “These kids have a lot of interest and knowledge about baking,” he says. Long before sourdough breads became a hipster trend, Chef JD had begun experimenting with it in his kitchen. “Our starter (the live fermentation) for the sourdough bread is as old as the restaurant,” he adds.

Assorted breads at Indigo Deli

Though his staff might be busy mastering the art of French breads, we won’t be surprised if we find chef JD chomping on fresh pav. “Bread should not be elite or fancy. It is something that the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich eat,” he sums up.



Pretzel: This bread variety originated in Europe. The traditional pretzel has a distinct shape with the ends of a long strip of dough intertwined and then twisted back. Salt is a common seasoning Others include sugar, chocolate glaze, seeds and nuts.

Fougasse: This bread is often associated with Provence in France, but can be found in other regions too. Some versions of this bread resemble an ear of wheat. Additions like olives or anchovies are common. The bread goes best with cheesy dips.

Bagel: This Jewish-origin bread is ring-shaped and has a chewy interior. The bread is topped with sesame or poppy seeds. Bagel with cream cheese is a classic combination.

Challah: This braided bread is made with wheat flour, yeast, oil and eggs. Usually made during Shabbat by Jews, it has had with the traditional meal.

Fougasse: This bread is often associated with Provence in France, but can be found in other regions too. Some versions of this bread resemble an ear of wheat. Additions like olives or anchovies are common. The bread goes best with cheesy dips.

Brioche: Another classic French bread, it has high butter and egg content. It is commonly served with desserts such as sundaes and puddings.

Baguette: Originally from France, this elongated loaf is made of water, flour, yeast and salt. The bread usually has slits on the top surface. It can be used as a base for a bruschetta or on the side of pasta.

Sourdough: This bread is made with naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast known as starter. Baking this bread is a 24-hour process to make a dark, crusty bread. It goes best with cheese like burrata or with tomatoes.

An easy recipe for Grissini, from Koranne Khandekar’s book

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