Loaf is all you need

While every other baker in the city was busy taking Marie Antoinette a bit too seriously, Aditi Handa decided it was time that the good people of Mumbai got their loaf of freshly baked bread.

The Baker's Dozen

“Bread is my calling,” says 27-year-old Handa, co-owner of The Baker’s Dozen, which began taking orders for home-delivery of artisan breads to certain parts of the eastern suburbs in January. Most of the breads at her recently launched Prabhadevi outlet, including French Brioche (Rs 100), Pain au Levain (Rs 120) and her favourite German Four Grain bread (Rs 120), are of European origin. “But that is only because most foods originated in Europe,” she argues, adding that pita is likely to make its way to the menu soon too. Currently, Handa offers two types of Indian breads too -- a loaf of ragi bread (Rs 25 for 7 slices) and garlic-infused ragi crackers -- which she claims is her version of lavash (Rs 50).

Four Grain bread with pumpkin
Four Grain bread with pumpkin, sesame, flax and sunflower seeds

Handa, who had decided she wanted to set up a business with her husband Sneh Jain and brother Siddharth Handa, realised her love for bread baking quite by fluke when she went to New York to attend a two-month baking course at The French Culinary Institute. “I studied pastry too, but the skillsets of a patisseur are very different. For one, the recipes for pastry baking are fairly fixed, while bread needs a lot of adaptation,” adds the baker, who loves to challenge herself in the kitchen.

Pain au levain with apricots
Pain au levain with apricots and cherries

After she returned from New York last November, it took her a whole month to figure out how to adapt the recipes to Mumbai’s climate and air pressure. Even today, she makes sure she spends nights at her kitchen in Wadala to help iron out any issues that might crop up while kneading or proofing (waiting for the dough to rise). “We begin baking the breads in our two-deck stone oven at 5 am every morning,” reveals Handa, tempting us to make the early morning trip to her kitchen just to get a whiff.

Walk into the two-week-old outlet and it is obvious that Handa has taken plenty of inspiration for the look of her store from her time in New York. But we’ve got to appreciate the chalkboard type of the beautifully worded history of bread (which has also made its way on the white paper bag the breads are served in) as well as the menu, which cleverly tells you about each type of bread and its health quotient.

Each of the breads is stacked neatly in a separate breadbox, to be removed only when a customer wants to buy. “Because we don’t add any chemicals or preservatives, the bread tends to dry up pretty fast,” explains Handa, who says she uses about five to 10 times more wheat than most other commercially sold “brown breads”.

Her apprehension about serving Ciabatta (the crustiest bread) -- something that wasn’t too popular before the outlet opened -- has been settled. “I thought it was a horrible bread when I first tasted it. But after I tried to bake it a bit softer than it is supposed to be, I realised the importance of food being cooked authentically. And now the bread has been flying off the shelves!” says Handa. We have reason to believe her -- the outlet is all out of Ciabatta the afternoon we visit.

Currently, the baker is forced to throw out leftover loaves of bread at the end of the day. But if Handa’s plans work out, today’s bread is going to be tomorrow’s croutons or even bread crumbs.

Dal Mehtab

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