European bread such as sourdough are on a roll in Singapore

Local bakeries are selling breads such as sourdough which are denser and have a chewier texture

Soft and sweet breads are common in bakeries here, but heftier Europeanstyle loaves such as sourdough and rye are fast rising in popularity.

On top of of big-name chains such as Paul and Maison Kayser, at least five standalone bakeries have opened within the past year. Two of them are located in the heartland - Miche Baguette in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10 and Moonstone Bakery in Clementi Avenue 3.

Other outfits include Do.Main Bakery in Tanjong Katong Road, Bread & Hearth in Keong Saik Road and Crown Bakery & Cafe, which will open on April 29 in Crown Centre in Bukit Timah Road.

Unlike light and airy buns laced with mayonnaise and cream, breads from these bakeries are made with little or no commercial yeast and bread improvers in their dough starters. This results in a lengthier fermentation period. The end result? These crusty breads have a dense and chewy texture.

Most of these European-style bakeries want to provide a healthier alternative to mass- market bread offerings.

Mr Henry Ng, 34, owner of Bread & Hearth, notes most consumers are not well-informed on the types of preservatives used in breads, such as chemicals to prolong their shelf life.

Calling his bakery "the English version of Tong Ah Eating House", a nearby coffee shop famed for its kaya toast, he says about 60 per cent of his customers are Caucasians.

He says: "Bread chains such as BreadTalk have created a market conceptualisation that Asians generally prefer soft breads, but with more players selling European-style breads, I hope to create an inclination towards more flavourful and nutritious breads."

Four-month-old Do.Main Bakery has seen a steady increase in demand for its rustic French-style breads, with about 240 loaves sold over a weekend.

Its owner, Mr Frederic Deshayes, 45, started the business because he had not been able to buy authentic French breads and pastries easily here.

Previously, he was head of At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy's pastry and baking faculty for eight years.

He feels that local customers are ready for European-style breads, as many of them have studied or travelled abroad and have been exposed to such textures.

His baguettes take three days to make, thanks to its long fermentation period. He also uses a French all-purpose flour, unlike most other bakeries which use mixed flour sourced from various countries. This, he feels, dilutes the European character of the bread.

Also seizing on the growing demand for artisanal breads is the upcoming Crown Bakery & Cafe, which will feature a creative array of European-style breads made from five types of natural leavens, including sourdough and those flavoured with strawberries, raisins and beer.

The bakery is a six-figure-sum collaboration between flower retailer Far East Flora and Pacific Yoko Company, a Japanese baking machinery company which owns nine-year-old artisanal bakery Significant Signifie in Tokyo.

Managing director Raymond Cheok, 38, says this is part of Far East Flora's plan to look into starting florist-cum-cafe concepts in the future.

The bakery will roll out 10 of Significant Signifie's baked goods, such as the Kaori Ciabatta, which boasts a springy mochi-like consistency and is made of Kitanokaori flour from Hokkaido.

To cater to local tastebuds, Crown has also come up with breads with popular flavours, such as a Hainanese Chicken Rice bread and a fiery seedless chilli baguette.

To make the concept of European-style breads accessible, some bakeries have introduced a hybrid loaf, which has a fluffy interior beneath its crusty facade.

Moonstone Bakery rolled out four varieties of "Euro series" loaves in October last year, and demand has been so encouraging that it doubled the range to include flavours such as sun-dried tomatoes and walnut raisin. The bakery sells up to 300 of such loaves in a week.

Calling such loaves "Pseudo-European", owner Goh Shuiling, 28, says: "Clementi is a mature estate. When older customers poke these breads and realise that they are not hard, they are more receptive."

She adds that introducing European-style breads makes her bakery stand out from about seven other bakeries in the vicinity, which have breads that are high in sugar and butter and have oily fillings.

Another unlikely sight in the heartlands is Miche Baguette, which offers more than 30 types of European-style breads, such as brioche, wholemeal and dark rye. Its marketing manager, Ms Florence Chee, 45 says: "Our customers are mainly middle-aged and prefer less sweet breads. Others buy breads for their parents, who have medical conditions such as diabetes."

The bakery also added flavours such as tuna seaweed and Parmesan cheese and spinach to its brioches. It also offers mini versions which are half the size of its 520g loaves, so that they can be eaten within a day.

Engineer Goh Tee Yong, 38, who visits Miche Baguette up to four times a week, likes the wide variety of wholesome breads. He says: "Though the flavours of their breads are not as heavy as those that I have tried in Europe, they are a healthier alternative. They are also suitable for my dad, who is recovering from a stroke."

Nurse Doreen Chow, 55, started buying heavier breads as her children requested for them after travelling to Australia.

She says: "Though I am still used to having kaya toast, it is nice to switch to different varieties of breads, such as those with pumpkin seeds and multi-grain."

kengohsz@sph.com.sg


MICHE BAGUETTE

This heartland bakery offers more than 30 varieties of European-style breads, of which about 10 are of a sturdier texture.

Popular breads include pumpkin seed wholemeal ($5), walnut & raisin ($5.50) and multi-grain ($6).

It also offers hybrid loaves, which are crusty on the outside and fluffy inside, such as corn & sesame ($4.80) and potato & onion ($5). It also sells five types of brioche, with flavours such as tuna seaweed and ham (both $4). The shop sees more than 800 customers in a week, says its marketing manager Florence Chee.

Where: 01-1839, Block 574 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, open: 10.30am to 8pm, Monday to Saturday; Closed on Sunday

Info: Call 6459-6686


CROWN BAKERY & CAFE

About 60 per cent of its 45 types of breads and pastries require at least 12 hours of fermentation, with the longest being the 18-hour fermentation period for its baguettes.

Innovative creations include the Hainanese Chicken Rice Bread ($4.50). Chicken broth, instead of water, is used in its dough mixture, and the bread is studded with bits of chicken thigh.

The Crown Bread ($12.80) is a crown-shaped bread that features four flavours, including red wine and figs, as well as cranberry and cherry.

The cafe is run by managing director Raymond Cheok and head baker Kevin Chang.

Where: 01-03, Crown Centre, 557 Bukit Timah Road, open: 7.30am to 9.30pm, Sunday to Thursday; 7.30am to 10.30am, Friday to Saturday

Info: Go to www.facebook.com/crownbakerysg


BREAD & HEARTH

Started by baking enthusiast Henry Ng, who worked in the oil and gas industry, this nine-month-old bakery offers about 40 varieties of breads and pastries.

The breads contain mostly French ingredients, such as Flechard butter from Normandy and unbleached French flour from Moulins Waast, and undergo an eight-hour fermentation process. Popular picks include the Olive Fougasse ($4), Pain de Campagne ($10, right) and baguette ($3).

Where: 18 Keong Saik Road, open: 8am to 8.30pm daily

Info: Call 6534-7800 or go to breadandhearth.com


DO.MAIN BAKERY

Owner Frederic Deshayes starts baking his 12 types of rustic French-style breads at 6am daily.

The breads are made from all-purpose flour from Grand Moulin de Paris and French-imported butter, cream and milk. They undergo long fermentation periods from three to 48 hours, while some of them are made with a four-month-old sourdough starter. Its bestsellers are the Cereal Loaf ($7), sourdough loaf ($6) and multi-grain loaf ($8).

Where: 226 Tanjong Katong Road, open: 8am to 9pm, Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday; 8am to 10.30pm, Friday & Saturday; closed on Monday

Info: Call 6348-1406 or go to www.do-mainbakery.com


MOONSTONE BAKERY

This neighbourhood bakery's "Euro Series" are made from a blend of wheat, multi-grain and wholemeal flours, and undergo a six-hour production process.

Interesting bread including a tangy Sun-dried Tomato Veggie loaf ($4.80), which features sun-dried tomatoes soaked in olive oil, a cranberry flaxseed loaf ($4.20) and a wholemeal walnut raisin ($4.80, left). It also has three types of "Euro Soft" buns that include Matcha Red Bean and Pumpkin (both $2.20).

Where: 01-71, Block 443, Clementi Avenue 3, open: 8am to 10pm, weekday; 9am to 10pm, weekend. Closed on public holiday

Info: Call 6778-1782 or go to www.facebook.com/xmsbakeryx