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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Bakeries on the rise

As more bakeries set up shop here, the choices for gourmet bread have boomed
The Sunday Times - January 29, 2012
By: Eunice Quek
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Bakeries on the rise Photo: Paul Bakery at Takashimaya -- ST PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM

Five years ago, bread-lovers such as Mr Saw Sin Chee would get their buns from commercial bakery chains such as BreadTalk or Prima Deli.

Now, they are no longer limited to buying mass-produced buns as no fewer than 13 artisan bakeries in Singapore are now rolling out the gourmet dough.

They include internationally famous bakeries Paul Bakery, originally from France, at Takashimaya Shopping Centre, and an outlet of French-Japanese brand Maison Kayser, at Scotts Square.

These names have entered the bread market here to much fanfare and are raising the profile of the humble loaf.

Mr Saw, a 35-year-old senior bank adviser who used to frequent Bread Society at Ion Orchard and German bakery Werner's Oven in Siglap, is now spoilt for choice.

He says: 'I have long heard of Paul Bakery and Maison Kayser before they opened here and had to try their breads when they opened. So far, I've not been disappointed.'

Artisan bread is handmade and uses small amounts of yeast in the dough to allow for natural fermentation. This method can take up to 20 hours for the dough to rise fully. Bread which uses commercial yeast takes only a couple of hours to rise.

The baked aromatic loaves have a crispy crust outside and a slightly chewy crumb inside. Such breads are most commonly found in France, where the universally popular baguette - long bread stick - originated.

Another much-loved, traditional treat rolled out by these bakeries is the buttery, flaky pastry known as a croissant.

But, do these breads live up to the hype?

LifeStyle's Posh Nosh columnists Tan Hsueh Yun and Foong Woei Wan, as well as food critic Wong Ah Yoke, ate their way through 13 plain baguettes and croissants in a blind taste test (see side story).

The best baguette was from Maison Kayser, while the worst was from Werner's Oven. Paul Bakery and Nick Vina's baguettes had the toughest crust.

Ms Tan says: 'What you need in a baguette is something that is not too airy or dense. It should have a slightly chewy texture.'

The croissant from jones the grocer came up tops for its buttery fragrance and flaky layers.

Other croissant favourites include those from Maison Kayser, Paul Bakery, Pullman Bakery, Baker & Cook and Antoinette. The judges did not like the croissants from Werner's Oven and Freshly Baked as they left an unpleasant aftertaste.

With the humid climate in Singapore, artisan bakers are well aware that their bread's quality can deteriorate. Their products are best eaten immediately when bought, or at the most, within two days.

Well aware of this, the bakeries churn out small batches of bread each time and inform customers on proper bread storage.

At Paul Bakery, the baking starts at 4am to get ready for the breakfast crowd.

Mr Jean-Pierre Erba, Paul Bakery's chief executive officer for the Asia-Pacific and India regions, says: 'We don't want to leave products out for too long, so baking constantly will ensure the best quality.

'We have received feedback from customers that our baguettes can be hard, so we are trying to balance the dough levels to solve that.'

One of the oldest players in the bakery business is Cedele, which welcomes the new players to the market.

Says Cedele's owner Yeap Cheng Guat: 'When more players come in to do what we've been doing for 141/2 years, it is confirmation that this style of bread is a good trend and they can help raise consumers' awareness.

'For artisan bread, the baker is like an artist and so consumer taste is subjective. Each brand will have its own following, and for Cedele, our niche is artisan bread with a health angle.'

Mr Saw says: 'Cedele has good choices but I hope it updates its range of breads. It would be interesting to see more outlets spring up and this will spur the local bakeries to improve their menus too.'

Indeed, the bakery scene still has room to rise.

Says Maison Kayser's director Shu Kimura: 'Compared to our other outlets overseas, Singapore is not there yet. So far in the Singapore outlet, we can sell 100 baguettes in a day on weekends. In Tokyo, we sell up to 300 baguettes any day in one outlet. France is totally different, each outlet can sell 7,000 baguettes a day.

'The market is small still, but it can grow fast. We can't create the market on our own so it's good to have other bakeries like Paul.'

Antoinette's chef Pang Kok Keong notes: 'Locals, including myself, are very used to the soft sweet buns we grew up eating, but, I believe, the European bread market will pose a great alternative to that.'

He runs the Sugar Daddy Group, which owns Pique Nique and Antoinette outlets, and they are planning to launch a bakery bistro this year, once he finds a suitable location.

For Ms Mia Nue, 30, who buys bread at least once a week from bakeries such as Swiss Bakery, Maison Kayser, Simply Bread and Cedele, more artisan bakeries are definitely welcome.

The regional marketing executive says: 'I like artisan breads for their heavier and chewier textures, compared to the usual sandwich bread slices. They are often baked with wholemeal flour and nuts or seeds, which really add to the overall flavour and texture. These breads also tend to contain less or no added sugar, so they don't taste sweet.

'I would like to see bakeries from the United States enter the Singapore market too, such as Acme Bread, La Brea Bakery and Bouchon Bakery.'


LifeStyle's Posh Nosh columnists Tan Hsueh Yun and Foong Woei Wan, and food critic Wong Ah Yoke, do a blind taste test of plain croissants and baguettes from 13 artisan bakeries


Where: Two outlets at Mandarin Gallery, 333A Orchard Road, 04-21/23, tel: 6836-6372; and Block 9 Dempsey Road, 01-12, tel: 6476-1512

Verdict: Of the croissants ($2.50), Ms Tan said: 'The croissants are fragrant and buttery with a hint of sweetness.' Added Ms Foong: 'The croissant has nice and flaky layers. The bread is crisp outside and soft inside.' All three judges agreed that jones the grocer has the best croissants.

The baguettes ($4.60) were also a hit. Ms Tan said: 'The baguettes smell yeasty and have a good crust.' Mr Wong felt the baguettes had good flavour, while Ms Foong liked that the dough was slightly chewy.


Where: 6 Scotts Road, B1-09, Scotts Square, tel: 6636-3672

Verdict: One of the six favourite croissants ($2.60) that the judges picked. Ms Foong said: 'It is airy in the middle and full of flavour.' Said Ms Tan: 'I like the slightly burnt taste. The ends of the croissants are yummy too.'

The judges unanimously agreed that the baguettes ($4.10) were the best. Ms Tan explained: 'It has a beautiful sourdough smell. The bread is bright and tasty with a nice saltiness and crisp crust. The crumb is soft but springy.'


Where: Takashimaya Shopping Centre, 03-16A/17, tel: 6836-1914 (bakery) or 6836-5932 (restaurant)

Verdict: For the croissants ($2.50), Ms Tan said: 'The croissants are bready inside, with a crisp crust outside. You can hear the crunch when you bite into it. But they are not as buttery as those from jones the grocer and are slightly sweeter too.'

The judges were not fans of the baguettes ($2.50), which they felt were hard and dry.


Where: 148 East Coast Road, tel: 6344-6826

Verdict: Of the croissants ($2), Mr Wong said: 'The croissants are chewy and not very buttery.'

The judges had mixed reviews for the baguettes ($2.50). Ms Foong said: 'The baguettes are not bad, they are quite dense and bready.' Ms Tan felt that the crust was too dry, while Mr Wong commented that there was not much aftertaste.


Where: 9 Raffles Boulevard, 01-97/98, Millenia Walk, tel: 6337-3575

Verdict: For the croissants ($1.50), Ms Tan said: 'The croissants are slightly undercooked inside, so it is a bit wet. However, the outside is crisp and very fragrant.' Mr Wong, on the other hand, felt that the croissant was quite bready. He said: 'It tastes more like bread than a croissant.'

As for the baguettes ($3), Ms Tan said: 'There is a fragrant crust but the baguette is more like the type you dip into curry.'


Where: 174 Joo Chiat Road, tel: 6440-9228

Verdict: While Ms Tan liked the butter flavour of the croissants ($1.90), Ms Foong was not a fan.

For the baguettes ($3), the three judges agreed that they were of average standard.


Where: 12 Gopeng Street, 01-54/55, Icon Village, tel: 6224-7848

Verdict: For the croissants ($1.80), Ms Foong said: 'I like the layers inside.' Ms Tan and Mr Wong agreed that the croissants were bready.

Of the baguettes ($1.50), Ms Tan said: 'There are nice holes in the crumb, but the baguettes are dry.' Mr Wong added: 'There seems to be a spicy aftertaste to the baguettes.'


Where: 6 Upper East Coast Road, tel: 6442-3897

Verdict: Of the croissants ($1.60), Ms Foong said: 'It looks like a curry puff and has an unpleasant aftertaste.' Mr Wong commented that the croissants were not crispy and Ms Tan added that there was a margarine taste.

Likewise for the baguettes ($2.l5), Ms Tan also felt that they had an unpleasant aftertaste.


Where: Outlets include Raffles City Shopping Centre, B1-01, tel: 6334-4828; and Tanglin Mall, B1-07/08, tel: 6738-0629

Verdict: While Mr Wong liked the shape of the croissant ($1.60), Ms Tan and Ms Foong felt that it was too oily. Said Ms Foong: 'The oil seeps into the dough which makes the croissant quite greasy.'

While the judges felt that the baguette ($1.60) was difficult to tear, they preferred it to that of Baker & Cook, which has a hard crust.


Where: 77 Hillcrest Road, tel: 6469-8834

Verdict: Another croissant ($2.95) favourite, Ms Tan explained: 'There is a nice buttery flavour and slight sweetness. If it's toasted, it will be yummy. I like the dark sheen of the croissant's crust.'

The judges agreed that the baguette's ($3.95) crust was too hard.


Where: 57 Killiney Road, tel: 6735-3298

Verdict: For the croissants ($1.60), Mr Wong said: 'They do not look like croissants, more like an eggy bread because of the yellow parts.'

Ms Tan said that the baguettes ($2.40) were not crispy. Mr Wong added: 'They look more like big hot-dog buns.'


Where: Three outlets including Penhas Road, tel: 6293-3121; and Mandarin Gallery, tel: 6836-9527

Verdict: The judges also picked the croissants ($2.50) as a favourite. Ms Tan said: 'It is nice and buttery with a pleasant sweetness.'

For the baguettes ($3 for a serving of two pieces, only for dine-in), Ms Foong said: 'The bread is too hard, almost like a biscuit.' Ms Tan added: 'The flavour is not bad but the bread, when cut length-wise, is exposed to too much air. It is best eaten in the restaurant, when it is freshly toasted.'


Where: Two outlets at Guthrie House, 01-03, tel: 6466-7767; and Cluny Court, 02-07, tel: 6763-2628

Verdict: Of the croissants ($2.50), Ms Tan said: 'The crust is too soft and has a chemical aftertaste.' Ms Foong agreed that there was a 'strange coconut taste'.

For the baguettes ($3.60), Ms Tan said: 'The baguette is doughy and the crust is soft.'



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