Have a slice of French baked goodness
LOOKING for the next best thing since sliced bread? New French bakeries in Singapore are offering Francophiles classic loaves and a cornucopia of traditional pastries.
226 Tanjong Katong Road
After teaching pastry techniques at Le Cordon Bleu Paris for 18 months and at At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy for the last nine years, Frederic Deshayes left the classroom behind to open do:main bakery with Christophe Megel, former director of At-Sunrice.
The charming bakery-cum-bistro occupies a conservation shophouse in the laid-back Katong neighbourhood. Indoors, the place boasts white brick walls, black tables with wrought-iron legs, and a full-length glass window that allows you to watch Chef Deshayes in action. "Our guests can see that all the baked goods here are handcrafted," he says.
On offer are "old-fashioned" French breads and pastries, such as pithiviers (a round enclosed pie with almond cream filling under its shiny carapace) and puffy apple turnovers, among quintessential items such as croissants and baguettes.
Using Elle & Vivre butter, Valrhona chocolate and high-quality French flour, Chef Deshayes also serves up sweet treats such as choux pastries, eclairs with citrus orange filling, macarons and a range of entremet cakes.
Besides sweets, do:main will be doling out savoury quiches and Brussels-style club sandwiches such as the Dagobert.
Playing on the words "dough" and "main", which means "hands" in French, do:main pays tribute to the two most important basic elements in baking. Chef Deshayes explains that "domain" refers to house or own property, alluding to his first attempt at starting his own business after years of working for others such as Lenotre Paris and Lenotre boutique in Seoul.
All the accumulated experience is certainly coming in handy. One of the sea-salt chocolate cookies that Chef Deshayes is featuring comes from a "heritage" recipe he picked up when he was working at Pierre Hermes Paris back in 2002.
do:main bakery will open its doors for business on Thursday.
Bread & Hearth
18 Keong Saik Road
Henry Ng is an unlikely owner of the artisan French-style bakery. He is Singaporean (not French) and he does not have a food-and-beverage background (he was managing a chain of car washes in his last job).
But if the buttery, puffed-up croissants are anything to go by, the five-month-old Bread & Hearth has made the grade. Even French chefs such as Nicolas Joanny from the Nicolas Le Restaurant around the corner is a frequent guest - halfway through the interview, Mr Ng bids a cordial hello to Chef Joanny.
The ingredients are mostly French. The Normandy Elle & Vivre butter - "not a brand that you can easily get off the shelves" - is used in croissants even though it is more difficult to handle in our hot weather, due to its lower working temperature of between 18 deg C and 21 deg C. "If the butter melts, then you'll get a lump of dough instead of well-defined layers," says Mr Ng, who took baking lessons at Creative Culinaire.
The unbleached French flour is Moulins Waast branded and sourced from a supplier.
With the expertise of a baker who had worked at Maison Kayser, Bread & Hearth offers goodies you'd expect from a typical French bakery, as well as some innovative creations such as matcha and orange buns, as well as pineapple and fig bread rolls.
Mr Ng's wife, Kelly, also contributes to the business (she is a professional food flavourist and created rum essences to add to the almond croissants). "The essences used are not a replacer but an enhancer," clarifies Mr Ng.
Artisan Boulangerie Co
118 Killiney Road
This home-grown brand of European-style bakeries was launched one year ago but judging from the rapid expansion - there are now seven outlets in Singapore - Artisan Boulangerie Co is on a fast track to becoming a household name. "I think there is a lot of demand for bread in Singapore and I believe bakery culture is becoming more important in Asia," says executive chef Eran Mayer, who has over 20 years of experience.
Before relocating to Singapore, the French-German baker sold his Parisian bakery, Boulangerie Mayer, a successful venture that had won the best baguette award in Paris not once but twice: in 2008 and 2012. The baguettes at Artisan Boulangerie Co follow the exact recipe and boast a dark, toasty, brown hue and a lovely wheat aroma.
Going beyond baguettes, Artisan Boulangerie Co offers over 50 types of breads and pastries including five types of sourdough bread, croissants, eclairs and specialities such as orange brioche, rustic loaves and challah bread. The flagship outlet in Killiney possesses the biggest kitchen with 1,300 sq ft of space, and it is here that most of the breads are baked.
Chef Mayer finds that French flour is an integral part of making authentic French breads. The bakery's flour is imported from a traditional flour mill in Chartres, a small town located one hour away from Paris, because it uses quality wheat.
Time is another important element in his breads. "We need to allow the dough to rest for more flavour and aroma to develop - sometimes for more than 24 hours," he shares.
While commercial yeast produces clouds of carbon dioxide for a speedy rise, Chef Mayer uses water with fermented grape juice and flour to create his starter for some of his breads. The starter takes one week and each new batch is leavened with a piece of risen dough saved from the previous baking.
"Some people ask me what is the unique point of Artisan Boulangerie Co. I don't think it's supposed to be special, but just simply good and fresh," says Chef Mayer.
Bakery Artisan Original (BAO)
37 Mactaggart Road, #05-01 Tasty Plaza
It is noon and Christophe Grilo emerges from a shift which started at 10pm the night before in his bread factory. With a light dusting of flour on his curly mane and a powdery handshake, the French pastry chef - who made a name for himself in Singapore from stints at the now-defunct Canele Patisserie Chocolaterie chain and Hilton Singapore hotel - settles down to chat about French bakeries in Singapore.
He started his own venture, BAO, last year, but moved the business recently from a 800 sq ft space at CT Hub in Kallang Avenue to new digs at Tasty Plaza, in the industrial area of Mactaggart Road.
With a bigger space, all 4,500 sq ft of it, he is increasing production and rolling out up to 2,500 breads and impeccable croissants daily, but there is no retail section here. Instead, he focuses on supplying to restaurants such as Fleur De Sel. Fans can also purchase breads through his partner store, Patisserie G, located at Millenia Walk or at pop-up events.
According to Chef Grilo, there is the French style and the local style of baguettes in Singapore. The former spends 15 minutes longer in the oven, resulting in a harder, dark brown crust, while the latter is softer in texture and lighter in colour. "French people usually eat their baguettes very well-cooked and even if the bottom is a bit burnt, it's okay. But this texture is too tough for most locals," says Chef Grilo, who offers both styles depending on demand.
In general, his baguettes are not "too tall and fluffy" compared to those from supermarkets, because they are made from a long proofing process and contain almost no yeast inside. When I tried it, the baguette was crusty and lightly golden on the outside with a perfect spongy texture on the inside.
One of the defining factors of his artisanal breads is his specially customised French flour. "In Singapore, everybody tends to use the same premix, which results in breads with a similar taste," explains Chef Grilo, who works with flour mills from the north of France to produce flour with chicory for his baguettes and a special dark rye flour with seven types of seeds for his pain de campagne (also known as country loaf or French sourdough).
Chef Grilo feels that one cannot focus 100 per cent on the traditional French way if he wants to survive in the cut-throat bakery retail business in Singapore. This is why the chef is reinventing daily bread and offers buns with Japanese-inspired fillings as well as softer sourdough loaves to cater to local tastes.
THE BUSINESS TIMES