Breaking bread

Multigrain loaf  

‘Crumbs! Bread Stories and Recipes for the Indian Kitchen’ (Hachette India; Rs. 450) by Saee Koranne-Khandekar is a delightful read that goes beyond being a cookbook. At its core, she attempts to handhold those who would look at baking bread with some trepidation. She demystifies bread flour, the varieties of yeast, proofing techniques and other baking essentials. She also presents an insight into native flat breads like the akki roti, bhakri or dhebra and discusses how breads acquire distinct regional flavours perhaps every 200 miles in this vast country.

Edited excerpts from an interview with the author:

One can turn to cookbooks, blogs, television shows and online videos to learn any culinary art. What triggered this book?

In the context of bread, although there are many books and YouTube videos available, there wasn’t really a book that explained bread making in Indian conditions — climate, ingredient availability, etc. Also, the fact that the technique of bread making still seems a little intimidating to the average Indian made me realise that there was a clear gap. ‘Crumbs’, therefore, tries to handhold the novice Indian bread maker and offers a simplified explanation of technique using ingredients and equipment readily available in an Indian kitchen.

How long did it take you to work on ‘Crumbs! Bread Stories and Recipes’?

About two years. I had to travel a bit for my research on Indian bread traditions and I spent a significant amount of time testing and standardising the recipes. I also wrote a part of the book through a complicated pregnancy where I was mostly on bed rest, so that took a while.

The book demystifies exotic breads with recipes and anecdotes. What is the target readership?

Primarily the home baker, who needs a little reassurance and a dose of tips and tricks. But also the well-travelled foodie, who may not ever bake from the cook, but who will enjoy the read. This is one of the reasons why the size of the book was kept small — so that you could read it in bed, if not bake from it.

What made you write on bread over other things?

I’ve always been fond of baking, and baking bread in particular. In every bread class I taught, I realised how therapeutic bread was. People entered as strangers and left as friends. They what’sapped me pictures of the breads they would make at home. That made me realise that this was the time to write about the technique and the craft. Bread has always been so evocative — I wanted to bring that out through the snippets that come before the recipes.

Did the observations from the cooking classes help in writing this book?

Yes, especially the Theory and Troubleshooting chapters. My interaction with students helped me understand what areas they feared the most and what questions they had with respect to buying the right kind of oven or yeast.

What do you think is the reason behind the growth of artisan breads today?

There is a greater awareness today about what we’re eating as consumers of mass-produced food products.

Artisan breads (apart from the aspirational value attached to them) are usually baked in small batches and devoid of chemical additives.

This could be an important reason.

A recent report by the Centre for Science and Environment has raised questions on commercial breads. What’s your take on this?

Micahel Pollan, food scientist and huge influencer on my food philosophy, says that if you look at the ingredient list and find more chemicals than food ingredients or stuff that your grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food, then it isn’t good food. I believe that applies greatly to bread, where we see ‘improvers’, ‘stabilisers’ and ‘emulsifiers’ and ‘preservatives’ where we should only be seeing flour, water, salt, and yeast.

Even the flours used by commercial bakeries these days are chemically bleached, definitely not a soft milky off white that we associate with flour.

I always tell my students that bread made at home (even if it is made using maida) will be several times healthier than what you buy from a commercial bakery.

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Printable version | Oct 12, 2021 2:49:23 PM |

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