Indulge 14th anniversary special: Brioche burger buns to black rice loaves, Chennai bakers are giving bread all-new avatars
Here’s a slice of what you might be missing...
Bread makes everything better. Or so the pandemic has taught us. While folks isolated, attended work meetings through a screen or woke up on a Sunday with nowhere to go, the one thing we all had to comfort our souls was ‘bread’. Some baked it, spamming our social media feeds with perfectly bronzed crusts of sourdough. Others ordered in. And boy, did Chennai’s bakers deliver. Korean cream cheese buns, babkas braided with decadent swirls of dark chocolate and sugar dusted cinnamon rolls arrived at our doorsteps. Sweet, savoury, sinful... satisfying. Fast track to the present: and a wholesome ‘Sunday sourdough sesh’ seems like a distant memory. One that we’re happy to revisit on our Instagram grids but with our days back to business as usual, perhaps not as often, in the home kitchen. On the flipside, commercial bakeries are still riding the creative wave of momentum around bread, sparked by the lockdown.
It started with the buzzword ‘immunity’. “Post COVID-19, there has been a lot of awareness and focus on health hence we are in the process of developing varieties of sourdough such as whole wheat sourdough and multigrain sourdough,” says Sweta Garapati of the Old Madras Bakery. Meanwhile, their 11-grain cereal bread (packing in flaxseed, oats, foxtail and kodo millets) quickly shot up in demand. More millets, more sales. You could say that over the past couple of years, the indigenous millet has quickly gone from forgotten to cool kid on the block. Bread and Chocolate in Alwarpet rolled out a Gluten-free bread made with a mix of brown rice and millets that is seasoned with virgin oil and Himalayan pink salt. (INR 150). While a short drive away, Brod Bakery on ECR has a denser Danish-inspired Black Rice bread with whole wheat, millets and ragi. Expect earthy notes from the black rice and hint of nuttiness from the sunflower seeds on top. (INR 280).
However, our most unique find was after a conversation with Chindi Varadarajulu, chef and partner at Pumpkin Tales. Chindi had been researching alternative flours to put into her sourdough and was delighted when she discovered one of the three oldest grains in the world — Enmer — was available right here in India. “I get mine from Maharashtra and Karnataka,” she says. Dating all the way back to Mesopotamian times, this grain also known as khapli wheat is not refined, white or polished and is packed with nutritional benefits. These include remedial properties to treat diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. As for taste and texture, Chindi shares, “I use the grain and flour to make a sourdough that is a little bit sweet and thanks to the enmer used, it’s softer than a classic sourdough and not as chewy as one made with whole wheat.” (INR 350).
Chettinad masala sourdough?
Of course, our South Indian palate that grew up on soft, spongy loaves — has taken some time to adapt to the crusty, more rustic sourdough. Which is why Shruthi Sivabalan of the recently-opened Tukaway Café in Nungambakkam is working ‘familiar flavours’ into her dough. “We started with a basic spiced turmeric, and later added a Chettinad Masala and Spinach and Jeera loaves,” she tells us. (INR 250) Purists might be aghast at the thought of a South Indian spice mix working its way into a European staple, but we realise that more customers experimenting with their bread purchases post lockdown, has given bakers the creative license to experiment as well. “I think Chennai rediscovered breads after the lockdown and got to find out how versatile a product it actually is,” says Chindi. For the record, we did get a chance to sample a slice of turmeric sourdough toast with some butter. And would definitely go back for more.
In fact, uniquely-flavoured artisanal breads have a whole sub market of their own. Instagram bake shop Beyond Loaf, an enterprise borne from the pandemic began with Podi Bombs laden with swirls of ghee and a mix of podis from three different cities (Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad) last year, alongside another hotseller, the Mexican Fiesta Bundt that pairs with a cheesy dip. “We have all of these flavour combinations in mind, and bread is such a great vehicle to carry them,” says Ritesh Parakh, who started the enterprise with wife Shikha. Their latest addition is flavour-packed bun that they call the Matka. A mini bread handle on top can be removed to reveal a spicy, cheesy filling of corn, bell peppers, onion and garlic inside. We can’t wait to give this one a go! (INR 325 for three pieces)
Slowly but surely, bread has become so much more than a functional two slice go-to. It’s brought us creativity and warmth, fresh out of an oven. Often, nostalgia comes from a childhood memory of distinct aroma from a familiar bakery. Possibly why, the Coconut Bun at the Old Madras Bakery, shot up in popularity during the early days of the lockdown. And it has given us something to look forward to, as well. “People like novel taste experiences,” says Ritesh. So much so, that he shares, very often orders have been gifting options for friends and family, close by and further away. “We’ve delivered artisanal breads as far as Madurai, Coimbatore, Tuticorin and Mumbai,” Ritesh tells us. And it certainly isn’t limited to breakfast anymore. “We don’t even deliver in the morning!” Ritesh shares with a laugh.
Give ’em pumpkin to talk about
With Halloween around the corner, Samia Sait, the owner of Tryst Café tells us that her team has a batch of ‘pumpkin shaped’ loaves available. Intended as a fun centrepiece for the dinner table, this multigrain milk bread is likely to be a swell conversation starter. INR 200, available till October 31. Also, not to miss is their Peanut Butter and Jelly Danish, inspired from a day that Samia had a P&J craving but didn’t have the patience to go and make a sandwich. INR 150.