For those of us that have grown up in communities that do not consider bread to be a staple, our understanding of it is restricted to the prepackaged, pre-sliced loaves that came into our lives as consumerism caught on. Although in India we have always had our bread in the form of pavs, rotis, poies and naans, packaged bread was like a wondrous new addition. It made us feel like global gourmands, suddenly more connected with the western world.
Today, our markets are flooded with umpteen varieties of our beloved sandwich loaf: multi grain, brown, high protein, spiced, etc. Along with it has come the recent introduction of international concoctions like Pumpernickel, Sourdough, Baguette and Focaccia to name a few. This has caused a lot of confusion amongst consumers who don’t know enough about global cuisine to understand and appreciate the difference between each kind.
To make your next trip to the grocery store a little easier, here is some helpful information on some of the most popular breads available in the market:
Baguette: While there is some debate over the origin of the Baguette (They Polish believe the French stole the recipe from them), this loaf has been around for over 150 years and has come to become synonymous with the word bread. It is characterised by a thin crackly crust, diagonal cuts across the top that bloom open into crusty flaps (ears), and a colour varying from light gold to a deep ochre with shades of reddish brown. The interior crumb is filled with irregular holes. A traditional baguette is best enjoyed within a few hours of being baked. A day-old baguette can be used to make bread crumbs, croutons, French toast, etc.
Ciabatta (Rustic Breads): Loaves made with wetter doughs (80% hydration or more) are known as rustic breads. The most common amongst them is the Italian Ciabatta. Others examples include the Pugliese, Sitrato, and Francese. Due to the stickiness of the dough, additional flour is used during the mixing and shaping stage which causes a floury crust and stretch marks on their exterior. The internal crumb is almost bear with enormous holes and tunnels. The interior is gelatinised and shiny. The crust is sweet and nutty from the natural caramelisation of the sugars and has a pleasant toasty flavour.
Pumpernickel (Rye Bread): There are many versions of Rye Bread. Pumpernickel originates from Germany / Russia, and is made using coarse, whole grain rye flour. Other Rye loaves usually use a finer variety of rye flour mixed with wheat and / or other grains. Rye breads have a denser texture and tighter crumb owing to its low gluten content. They have an earthy sweet taste that comes from the natural sugars present in the rye berry.
Flat Breads: Flat breads are popular around the globe. They can be with the help of a leavening agent (wild starter or commercial yeast) like Middle Eastern Pita or Italian Focaccia or without the addition of any leavening agent like the Indian Chapati or Jewish Matzo. Focaccia breads are made using a minuscule amount of commercial yeast, a long fermentation process and a generous addition of olive oil on its dimpled surface. They are referred to as flat bread due to the manner in which they are shaped and baked. They do not have a lot of aeration and their crumb is soft in texture.
Processed Breads: Personally, I would not categorise all sandwich loaves to be processed bread because my company Bonne Bakery sells artisan sandwich bread. However, the most popular bread amongst processed bread is most definitely the Sandwich Loaf. Processed Bread is different due to the addition of synthetic conditioners, emulsifiers, strengthens and flavours. Further, it is created almost entirely using machines, with little to no human touch. As a result they are standardised in flavour, texture, look and feel. Their flavour is very mild (almost bland with a hint of sweetness from the sugar) and suitable to most palates.