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Bread is the latest 'it' food in Metro Manila

Paul’s baguette

Publication Date : 23-01-2014

 

Aside from the favourite 'pan de sal', Filipinos are discovering other types of bread

 

Bread has become the latest obsession in Manila, which can only be a good thing. Pan de sal was recently featured in Saveur, described as “pillowy-soft”, though it needn’t be; the best has the merest semblance of a crust and a mature, slightly fermented, decidedly non-industrial interior.

I used to buy mine from Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City, which no longer uses a wood-fired oven; the closest old-fashioned pan de sal to Manila is Lipa, and the best, they say, is still that of Panaderia de Molo in Iloilo.

Two notable bakeshops are Paul in Taguig and Eric Kayser in Makati.

Eric Kayser opened its first branch inside Rustan’s Supermarket in Rockwell, Makati. Around Christmas last year, the bread lines could have been from a Soviet famine. People would stand in crowds waiting for the baguettes to come out of the oven, and when the trays emerged we would all rush forward, waving our “ration” coupons.

Kayser’s baguette is the classic Parisian baguette, with soft but springy crumb, and a thick, hard crust that quickly gets soggy in our humid atmosphere, but needs just a few minutes in the oven toaster to be once more crunchy and sublime. This, I feel, is the bakeshop’s masterpiece, and that alone justifies its existence.

Its other main draw are the croissants, which also need about two or three minutes in the oven toaster (under a sheet of aluminum foil to prevent the top from burning). Both are not just as good, but better than the average baguette or croissant in Paris, though not as great as the very best you’d get in Paris.

The baguette and croissant are urban inventions. In France, bakers do an afternoon bake for people to take home to dinner, because the best baguettes shouldn’t last more than a few hours. If they do last longer, it’s an ominous sign that preservatives have been added to keep the bread fresh.

The problem with Eric Kayser is that, as of now, there is only one branch, so it’s hard to get a fresh baguette for dinner on a regular basis. And, as always, I’m worried about the quality.

According to the grapevine, the trainer bakers are still in town. We still have to wait and see if they are able to maintain the quality, or if the franchise holders will cut corners on ingredients.

The rest of the selection is pretty good, but not mind-blowing. The almond croissant looks like something that was run over in the road, though it tastes okay; L’Artizan made a better one for a fraction of the price. The financiers are a bit heavy on the sugar but competent, as are the eclairs. The sourdough loaves are dense, soggy and heavy: not even close.

At Paul’s, the natural leaven baguettes are standouts. The same dough is used to make pain a l’ancienne, which they shape like focaccia loaf and might be a better option if you like the crumb more than the crust. The baguettes aren’t cooked with a hard, crackling crust like a lechon skin the way Kayser’s is, but there’s a bit of fermentation to the dough (you can see the irregular holes) and the merest hint of acidity.

Paul originally made its name as a boulanger (baker) rather than a patissier, but when it turned corporate and expanded its reach as a worldwide brand, it included patisserie in its lineup. The Manila selection includes macarons, chocolate and lemon tarts, canele sponges, as well as sandwiches, making it more like a salon-de-the.

The swathes of fabric, the lamps and the seats are all very Angelina or Laduree, lavish and lush in the vein of TWG rather than functional. I’m not sure about how well the fin-de-siecle look works in a mall, but the interiors definitely trump the Paul franchises in London, where they’re a bit grimy and compete with the cheerful utilitarian blond wood interiors of Pret, everyone’s favourite sandwich place. The pastries are better than London’s, too.

Johnlu Koa, who was unceremoniously taken out of Rustan’s to give way to Kayser, has set up shop at Serendra, much in the style of Paul’s but at more affordable prices. But I have yet to visit.

The last time I spoke with Koa, more than a year ago, he promised that he would attempt to produce an authentic sourdough, or even something close to Poilane bread. This is a brave claim, because the only thing better than good sourdough is Poilane sourdough bread, the best in the world and rumored to be made with a decades-old starter.

But after years of our bread languishing in the dark ages, with everyone saying that real classic breads and pastries couldn’t be done because of the humidity, suddenly they’re a reality. As the crowds outside Versailles once told Marie-Antoinette, we’re hungry for bread, and have been for some time.

Eric Kayser is at the LG/F, Power Plant Mall,  Rockwell Center, Makati; Paul is at SM Aura Premier, Taguig.

 

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