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If bread is your canvas, invent new fillings

How to pick the freshest breads, and use them in myriad ways

(left) Retro ‘sooji paneer’ toast; and Catalan tomato bread.(Photographs by Nandita Iyer)

By Nandita Iyer

LAST PUBLISHED 20.01.2024  |  09:00 AM IST

The pandemic led to a surge in bread baking at home, offering solace and a sense of control in stressful times. But my interest in baking bread goes back to 2012. A company named Breadworks Boulangerie had organised a whole day’s workshop in Bengaluru on making different kinds of bread, taught by expert baker Maurice Chaplais. It was an experience of a lifetime to learn, hands-on, how to work with flour and yeast to bake Scottish baps, brioche, pizza and boules.

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Around 2016 or so, there was a sourdough trend on Instagram. Bakers would post stunning images of their daily breads, and I was bitten by the sourdough bug. It is deeply satisfying to convert four ingredients—flour, water, salt and time—into a beautiful loaf of bread. I wrote about my experience in my book This Handmade Life: 7 Skills To Enhance And Transform Your Everyday Life. It is a skill that needs time and patience, no more complicated than making your own idli and dosa batter at home. Given that we are spoilt for freshly baked sourdough and other artisanal breads in Bengaluru, I bake bread at home only once in a while. Krumb Kraft and Sour House are two of my go-to brands for quality sourdough. The Farmhouse Kitchen and Bakery, and Chez Mariannick are two restaurants in Whitefield, Bengaluru, that also stock up on fresh bread. Once you get used to freshly baked bread at home or your local bakers, it is impossible to go back to the industrial variety.

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Bread, as both slow and fast food, draws contrasts between European and American practices. Paris has around 30,000 bakeries, each baking quality loaves of bread several times a day. People walk to these neighbourhood boulangeries whenever they want fresh bread. These breads are baked with an emphasis on flavour using traditional techniques and ingredients, without compromising on quality.

In contrast, the industrialised bread culture in the US focuses on cheap, soft sliced bread designed for a week-long or more shelf life. Sliced bread was not always a part of our lives. In July 1928, the world changed for good when sliced bread was sold for the first time in the US. It revolutionised meal and snack times. This convenience, however, led to a shorter shelf life than loaves had, eventually necessitating the addition of preservatives and extra ingredients to make it more shelf stable.

When you buy artisanal sourdough bread made with the basic ingredients and no preservatives in sliced form, it tends to spoil faster. Also, unsliced loaves of bread allow you to cut chunkier slices for sandwiches or a fluffier French toast.

Bread is your canvas to make art. For a brunch party, set up a bruschetta bar with a few different kinds of bread, compound butter, pesto, soft or hard boiled eggs, cheese, sliced veggies like tomatoes and cucumber, rocket and lettuce, peanut butter, banana and cold cuts. Set up some microgreens, edible flowers and mixed seeds for garnish and allow your guests to make their own toasts.

For a low effort, high impact dish, make an overnight berry French toast by soaking bread slices in egg-milk mixture and berries, refrigerating overnight and baking it in the oven the following day. It saves the effort of preparing multiple servings of French toast for a kids’ sleepover breakfast or brunch.

Another way to showcase great bread is to make a grand Turkish-inspired breakfast spread with cheese, spreads, olives and eggs, served with black tea.

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Bread is also a time saver and a versatile ingredient to prepare creative lunch boxes for kids of all ages. From peanut butter-banana-cinnamon sandwiches or egg salad sandwiches for young ones to more complex sandwiches with fillings like kimchi, smoked cheese, roasted vegetables for older kids, you can come up with a new sandwich idea each time depending on what ingredients you have in your fridge and pantry.

Try these two toast recipes—one desi and one from Spain.

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RETRO SOOJI PANEER TOAST
Serves 2

Ingredients
4 tbsp sooji (semolina)
6 tbsp yogurt
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, deseeded and finely chopped
2-3 tbsp finely diced capsicum
2-3 green chillies finely chopped
2 tbsp coarsely grated tofu or paneer
2-3 tbsp fresh coriander finely chopped
Half tsp salt
4 slices bread or 2 large slices of sourdough
2-3 tsp oil to cook

Method

In a bowl, combine the semolina with yogurt and mix well. Cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. The semolina will absorb the yogurt, fluff up and the mixture will turn thick. To this, add all the veggies, tofu or paneer, coriander and salt. If the mixture is too thick, thin it with 1-2 tbsp of water. Spread the mixture on one side of each of the bread slices.

Grease a griddle with some oil.

Place the bread slice with the mixture side facing down. Cook on a low to medium flame for 1-2 minutes until golden and crisp.

CATALAN TOMATO BREAD
Serves 2

Ingredients
2 slices of sourdough or half a baguette sliced lengthwise
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 medium tomatoes, well ripened
2 pinches of salt
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus 1-2 tsp for garnish

Method

Toast the slices of bread in the pan, oven or the toaster until crisp and golden. Rub the garlic cloves on the toasted bread to infuse it with garlic flavour.

Halve the tomatoes and grate them cut side down into a bowl until you reach the peel. Discard the peels. Mix in the salt and olive oil. The rustic style is to rub a half of a juicy tomato directly on the toast.

Spoon this grated tomato mixture over the toasted bread slices. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

Sourdough or a crust baguette is the best choice for this recipe as it holds up to the juices from the grated tomato.

Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). She posts @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.

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