the smell of freshly baked bread can send one into a state of bliss. similar to fragrant morning coffee, fresh bread conveys a delightful feeling of wakening, pleasure and good health, simply through its smell. “bread has something mystical to it; it is part of our culture, something sacred,” as french bread expert augustin paluel-marmont has once described it. biting into fresh bread is sensuality on the highest level, achieved by the most simple, natural means.
around 10,000 years ago, people started becoming aware of the importance of this food. back then, grains were consumed in raw form at first; later they were roasted, then eaten in the form of a paste, and finally made into a baked flat cake. throughout the history of mankind, thousands of different kinds of bread were developed, enriched with various ingredients and varying in taste depending on the culture of the area as well as the local agriculture. in germany alone, there are around 300 different varieties of bread today. in the following interview, michael hohoff, manager of the brot&butter retail points at the manufactum shops in munich, waltrop, cologne, düsseldorf and berlin, discusses the various facets of bread, tells us about “real” bread, as well as explains why he would blow off a “luxury meal” for a crispy slice of sourdough bread with delicious sour cream butter.
mr. hohoff, what connection do you personally have to bread? did you already love eating bread during your childhood?
my grandfather was a baker, so i was surrounded by the smell of dough and baked bread since i was a little boy. i myself am an avowing baker from compassion, a certified confectioner and pastry cook, and today i am master of the confectioner’s guild in westfalen-lippe ... and of course i eat bread every day too – i always have.
fresh, ambrosial bread is the epitome of coziness, pleasure and comfort. where do you think do these pleasant associations we have with bread come from?
scent and warmth are two perceptions that immediately make us feel cozy. early-childhood memories certainly play a central role here.
bread-baking is also a form of art and craft. do you think that the human feeling for kneading and baking, the love for bread-making, can be replaced by machines?
i think it is too romanticized to say that modern machines cannot replace a baker’s hands. on the contrary: today’s mixing and kneading machines can be ideally integrated into the craft of baking, and they can handle amounts of dough that a baker would have difficulties with. the final kneading of the dough and forming of the bread loafs however is done by hand in our brot&butter bakeries, because the feeling for the various textures of dough and the “savoir faire” (know-how) are needed for this.
our bakers can tell exactly how much the portion of dough they are holding in their hands weighs, often down to the gram. their experience is irreplaceable and proves the sensuality of this trade.
how do you tell (or taste) “real” bread from the chemically produced kind?
you just need to rely on your sense of smell. everyone who trusts their nose can avoid the disappointing experience of biting into a chemically produced product. freshly baked bread made from high-grade flour, only produced with natural leavening or natural yeast, has a multifaceted smell of the most wonderful nuances: grainy, spicy, slightly sourly. the processed bread we find in today’s bakeries has an unpleasant penetrating and trite smell of the saturated, sweet aroma of various additives, and the artificial yeast-like smell of leavening agents.
we are living in times of staging and orchestration. especially in the culinary field, a special experience and sophisticated arrangement are part of the lifestyle. on the other hand, the desire for simplicity, for the basics and naturalness, is growing. how do you think these trends will develop in the future?
if you can say so, we are combining both trends in our concept. we are also using the positive effect of “emotional marketing” by constantly baking fresh bread in our stores, visible to the customer. this however is caused by our understanding of quality: only this way we can guarantee the quality of our ingredients and of our bread production, while at the same time making it obvious to our customers. and this is where i can answer the second part of your question: there is a strong trend towards simplification with our clients, to the extent where they are almost relieved when they realize that they merely have to choose between six different kinds of bread in our store. in times of selection overload and the constant availability of foodstuffs, it was particularly important to us to offer a small selection of the highest quality.
“his bread and butter”, “bread for the world” ... why is it that bread is often used as an expressive symbol for important events and as evidence of our existence?
bread is a vital food par excellence – it truly is an essential victual. it is an everyday product with the highest degree of popularity, and therefore an ideal symbolic item. additionally, bread has a manifold significance in the history of food, but also in politics, religion and literature.
like no other dish, the combination of bread and butter stands for originality, simplicity and essence. what do you associate with the combination “bread & butter”?
personally, i think about the traditional buttered bread: a slice of crispy and juicy sourdough bread, buttered with the best sour cream butter. for this, i would blow off a “luxury menu” anytime ...
there is an infinite number of combinations with bread: cold cuts, cheese, vegetables, spreads etc. – there is no limit to our imagination. quite a good and neutral basis to promote creativity, right?
that’s exactly what we do in our brot&butter shops. our bistro area offers small snacks and open-faced sandwiches, for example with delicious spreads from yoghurt curd cheese (dried yoghurt from a small cheese dairy in münsterland) and homemade pesto from a manufacturer in hamburg. our customers and staff continuously come up with new suggestions. by the way, the best creations so far were found by improvising.
a healthy diet, with wholesome bread, makes healthy people. can you draw conclusions about the health-consciousness of a country based on their bread consumption?
i don’t think so; aside from the quality of the bread, the culinary combination also makes a big difference. like you mentioned earlier, bread is an ideal base for many toppings. high bread consumption could also be caused by junk food (i’m thinking of hot dogs, gyros, hamburgers etc.) and the common habit of eating on the go. the natural rhythm of a culinary day exists less and less today, and the variety of foods available for a quick bite is accordingly high. this of course has very little to do anymore with health consciousness.
every country, every culture has their specific kinds of bread. are there cultures that have a particularly large variety of breads?
i find the incredible variety of grains and bread recipes in india especially impressive. their simple and delicious way of making soured and (even more) not soured bread is remarkable. in this country, it becomes clear how little you actually need to make good bread.
did you ever have a special experience with bread, where the exquisite taste sent you to “heaven on earth”, so to say?
when i was five or six years old, i watched my grandfather one night as he filled the old brick oven that was customary back then with bread loaves. that smell, that experience influenced me greatly. i can still remember every small detail: the breakfast, the smell, and the taste that morning.