Bread of life

EAT’S EASY - Ernest Reynoso Gala (The Philippine Star) - July 26, 2012 - 12:00am

Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts. — James Beard

The hardness of the butter is proportional to the softness of the bread. —Steven Wright

Can you imagine a better place than the kitchen with the fragrant and tantalizing aroma of homemade bread browning in the oven, or a more satisfying scene than slicing freshly baked bread and watching warm steam rise, ready to be lavished with rich butter or sweet flavored jam?

The art of bread making has been around for a long time, where man adds flour or grain to liquid to instantly transform it into a crusty piece, then cooks it by either steaming, frying, or baking. With this discovery bread instantly became the staple food of the Stone Age, especially in Europe. Later on yeast, baking soda and other leavening agents formed dough to expand and rise, making it softer in texture and lighter in weight. It further evolved when wheat flour was kneaded by hand or by mixer with liquid to form elastic gluten or protein, which entraps gases of carbon dioxide that form bubbles that enable the bread to be soft.

Varieties of flour like whole meal, which contains wheat kernel, gave it a coarser texture and a unique, wholesome flavor. Rye flour was also added to some flour mixtures for its dark color and low gluten content, making a denser loaf and a healthier option for some people.

Mandarin Oriental pastry chef Roberto Molleman

Bread further evolved with the introduction of sweeteners such as castor sugar, more commonly known as granulated sugar; demerara, commonly called brown sugar; and muscovado sugar, which is less moist but darker than brown sugar and named after the river in British Guiana. Natural sweeteners from fruit juices, dried fruits, honey, malt extract, and molasses further enhance the flavor and impart a distinct taste when added to bread. Savory breads like focaccia have salt, various herbs and spices added to them while mixing and kneading to make it extra-special. Salt is essential in bread making because of its effect on the yeast and the expansion of dough.

Recently I was invited to a bread-tasting affair at the Mandarin Deli in the Mandarin Oriental, Manila. I always had fond memories of this deli because of the fantastic array of breads and delicacies they showcase. Their Quiche Lorraine alone is a masterpiece and a delicious meal, which I would regularly purchase and take home to share with friends. 

Executive pastry chef Roberto Molleman is both an artist and scientist, breaking new ground and cleverly bringing bread to an even higher level. As I asked questions I could see the passion and genius in how he creates bread, always keeping in mind what his clientele demands and needs. His expertise in bread is vast, from understanding temperature control to humidity variations, but it is his understanding that the majority of his customers prefer breads on the sweeter side and his ability to adjust and adapt that make him versatile and a master of his craft. 

The White Tiger rolls, special with its unique mottled crust, is excellent with butter or homemade lemon mango jam, which can also be purchased at the deli. The breadsticks are an excellent accompaniment to any tomato-based pasta with a glass of wine. The apricot and prune rye bread rolls are the perfect example of a rye flour-and-yeast combination, with a dense, rich interior and crusty exterior, perfectly baked when the bread is cut open and naturally sweetened by the toppings of apricot and prune. 

The Mandarin Deli is worth a visit, and their breads are offered at 50 percent off at 7 p.m. daily.

My personal favorite is the savory and soft focaccia bread — you have the option of eating it alone or cutting it in half and making it into a sandwich. As the bread tasting went along I continued to munch on the focaccia with slices of cheese and salami, failing to notice that by the end of the afternoon I had consumed four big slices — super sarap! For those who are health-conscious but don’t want to compromise delectable taste, the flaxseed bread, oatmeal bread, and granola bread will not disappoint. With every bite you will get full without feeling heaviness in your stomach. Whether you are a bread connoisseur or a bread enthusiast, the Mandarin Deli is worth the visit, and their breads are offered at 50 percent off at 7 p.m. daily.

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Breads and jams are available at The Mandarin Deli in the Mandarin Oriental Manila Hotel, Makati Avenue, Makati City, tel. no. 750-8888.

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