The truth is, Spain doesn't have (certainly not in this day and age) the same bread culture that you'll find in, for example France. Although they are neighbors, somehow the idea of treating bread as an important element to be enjoyed as part of your daily meals, or even the center of your meal, say a breakfast of a croissant and coffee, was exiled from the history, or perhaps never existed. Don't get me wrong, Spaniards need bread, I am chastised by my boyfriend if there is not a barra de pan (baguette) in sight at the time of the meal, and a pastry with a coffee is painstakingly common for breakfast, but for them it is generally a condiment, a cheap commodity or tool to soak up whatever sauce or bulk of the meal remains on the plate -- taste isn't a major component. And while you will see bakeries sprinkled across all Spanish towns and cities, these "bakeries" typically do not allow the bread a proper fermentation process, the masa madre might arrive pre-made and pre-frozen, or the temperature of the oven will be set lower. All in all not permitting that same doughy bubbly center, the deep-golden crunchy crust, or even the possibility of a final product of gusto.
There exists a saying in Spanish "es pan comido", meaning that something is really easy, equivalent to our "it's a piece of cake." However, bread wasn't always cheap or so easy to come by. During the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), bread was critical, the staple and necessity of a person's caloric intake. Today the grandparents that lived through this tragic affair speak of many recipes based around the presence of bread. But as the younger generations were born into a nation free of dictatorship, and introduced to the materials of a different society, bread took a back seat, and began to hold a more passive role in Spanish history. The majority of panaderias today offer a standard baguette for 60-90 cents. These "modern" or renaissance bakeries I will mention in today's post generally have a price between 1.30 - 2 euros for the same product, keeping in mind the price elevates for whole wheat, six grain, or other flour varieties. More expensive, yes, but extremely more local, of far superior quality, and a shelf-life often three-five days longer than their frozen/industrial cousins.
The good news is there is a wave of culinary professionals with the intention to change this mentality into a forgotten past, to provide fresh, well crafted bread to their citites. Today I'll focus on Barcelona, but there are certainly others doing the same throughout Spain and in the US (where I caught a glimpse of this before my departure in 2009). Sure other countries have been doing it for ages...but some of us have to relearn to appreciate this ancient art.
Madrid Fusión 2012. Anna Bellsolà.
While attending Madrid Fusión last month, I had the pleasure to chat with Anna Bellsolà, owner of Baluard in Barcelona. Situated in the heart of the fisherman's neighborhood of Barceloneta, for the last five years she and her team have worked to develop a paramount example of the bread maker's resurgence in Spain. She claims a national gastronomic prize (2011), the nomination for the best bakery in Barcelona (in Time Out Barcelona) and works a schedule that many of us would not be able to keep -how many mornings would you start work at 1am?-- all the while keeping up her sweet disposition, warm character and humble and eloquent ideals. Worldly and pensive, I heard her speaking English, Catalan and Spanish to various members of the press, surely she knows more, as she spent part of her formation in Italy.
Part of her secret is in her DNA, coming from generations of bread makers. The other factors lie in a wood-fire oven supplied with oak, holm and beech timber, a fermentation process of between 15-17 hours according to the type of bread, and natural flours and yeasts, often stone ground, and sometimes organic. The final outcome are breads with more color, thicker crusts, more aroma, and longer conservation periods.
She agrees that Spain has been through a mala epoca, a rough period, one that did not succeed in promoting a fondness of a bread culture. For many reasons perhaps, but partially due to disinterest of young culinary professionals and the absence of professional training in culinary schools relating to bread techniques and practices.
At Baluard you can find baguettes, Viennas (wheat flour with milk), loaves, rolls, and quirkily named "panes de barrio" like Bogatell and Barceloneta. As well as sweets such as brioches with chocolate chips, boules of nuts and fruits or brownie bars. Baluard's bread identity, is not one known to most (although Anna would like to share it with you), but one that holds characteristics of generations of bread makers, humanity encrusted within it's crackled edges, molded by the grace and wisdom of a new-age baker's hands.
Her advice to people interested in the field is to travel and educate themselves, love their product, "llevarlo dentro", or in other words live your work and passions, and be prepared for mucho empeño (a lot of dedication). For everyone else, it is simple to enjoy a well crafted bread and in good company.
Mini-croissant with raspberry filling at Baluard
The front entrance at Carrer Baluard and across the street from the Mercat de la Barceloneta.
Carrer del Baluard 38-40 baixos (street level)
+34 93 221 12 08
Turris, the original location nestled in the heart of L'Eixample, is another forn de pa (bakery in Catalan) of the 21st century using high quality flours and serving fresh, sometimes you'll catch them hot, bread, rolls, muffins, pastries as well as traditional Catalan holiday treats such as rosco de reis and panellets. Xavier Barriga leads this neo-bread haven, also nominated by Time Out as the best bakery in Barcelona, at which he and his staff follow traditional bread making methods. Strong yeast smells, crunchy crusts will be found in this bakery, traditional loaves mixed with modern flavor combinations, and in my opinion the best chocolate chip panecillo in town.
The whole wheat croissant and panecillo de chocolate/chocolate chip roll at Turris
Carrer D'aribau 158
+34 932 17 96 06
Metro: Diagonal L5
- Three other locations in Barcelona and Sant Cugat del Valles
During your Barcelona carb hunt, don't forgot to pop into one of Boix's locations. If you happen to be strolling through the tourist epicenter of Barri Gòtic, it's almost inevitable that you'll be drawn to them, as smells can be detected from around the corner. Doing business since 1920 but with an updated interior. Catering available, and for take away options you'll find sweets, savory and my personal favorite rye bread. Ask them to slice it for you, outstanding toasted with butter or olive oil!
Both are conveniently located behind El Mercat de la Boqueria, read more about Barcelona's most famous market here.
Carrer Xuclà 23 and Carrer de l'Hospital 20
+34 933 02 27 82 +34 933 02 89 32
Metro: Plaça Catalunya/Liceu
Others involved in the quality bread movement, include:
Bread to take-away, but also a cute cafe to enjoy desserts, coffee, teas and light fare.
- Calle Muntaner (with Via Augusta) Metro: Muntaner
- Mercat de la Llibertat (point of purchase) Metro: Fontana and Gràcia
- Carrer Valencia 246 Metro: Passeig de Gràcia
+34 943 870 551
Well designed and inviting 100% organic bakeries (all flours are Spanish), with unique offerings like carob and carrot breads, some gluten free. Instead of an industrial yeast, they use a "starter" made with corn, peas, honey, and spelt. Disclaimer: Prices can amount to a rather high total as most breads and treats are sold by weight.
- Carrer Doctor Dou 12 (Raval neighborhood)
+34 933 02 09 21
Metro: Plaça Catalunya
- Carrer Astúries 20 (Gràcia neighborhood)
- Carrer Princesa 16 (Born neighborhood)
Metro: Jaume I