Around the world in seven breads

From Polish bagels to French croutons, go on a baking adventure across the globe.
Floating sesame loaf from cookbook author Maria Speck.
Floating sesame loaf from cookbook author Maria Speck.PHOTOS: MARIA SPECK, SOMERBY JONES
Irish soda bread from cookbook author Maria Speck.
Irish soda bread from cookbook author Maria Speck.PHOTOS: MARIA SPECK, SOMERBY JONES
Whole grain pizza from cookbook author Maria Speck.
Whole grain pizza from cookbook author Maria Speck.PHOTOS: MARIA SPECK, SOMERBY JONES
Ms Sandra Gutierrez enjoys making flour tortillas (above) and empanadas stuffed with different fillings.
Ms Sandra Gutierrez enjoys making flour tortillas (above) and empanadas stuffed with different fillings. PHOTOS: SANDRA GUTIERREZ
Ms Sandra Gutierrez enjoys making flour tortillas and empanadas (above) stuffed with different fillings.
Ms Sandra Gutierrez enjoys making flour tortillas and empanadas (above) stuffed with different fillings.PHOTOS: SANDRA GUTIERREZ
Ensaymada (above), which is brioche filled with cheese and dusted with sugar and grated cheese, and Pan de Sal (above) are Filipino favourites.
Ensaymada (above), which is brioche filled with cheese and dusted with sugar and grated cheese, and Pan de Sal (above) are Filipino favourites. PHOTOS: ELIZABETH ANN BESA-QURINO
Ensaymada, which is brioche filled with cheese and dusted with sugar and grated cheese, and Pan de Sal (above) are Filipino favourites.
Ensaymada, which is brioche filled with cheese and dusted with sugar and grated cheese, and Pan de Sal (above) are Filipino favourites.PHOTOS: ELIZABETH ANN BESA-QURINO

Three women bake bread from around the world to feel right at home during the lockdown

If you yearn to travel during Singapore's circuit breaker, why not soothe the wanderlust by experimenting with bread recipes from around the world instead? Then surprise mum with your fresh and fragrant creations.

Amid the plethora of sourdough bread posts on my Facebook feed, three friends really stood out with their baked delicacies from their home countries.

More than home bakers, they are also authors of cookbooks. Here are seven of their favourites that will bring therapeutic joy during this stay-home period.

Ancient grains and European breads with Maria Speck

The author of two cookbooks, Ancient Grains For Modern Meals and Simply Ancient Grains, Ms Maria Speck is unfazed by the flour shortage in the United States. Sheltered in the Boston area with her husband, she is an advocate of cooking with ancient grains such as spelt.

With a German father and a Greek mother, she is rooted in two culinary traditions of bread making.

Supporting the local grain farmers, she has spelt, rye, Sonora wheat, Flint corn and various whole wheat grains stored in her basement.

"I mill the flour, so it's super fresh and aromatic,'' she says. "When you bake with freshly milled whole wheat flour, it is naturally sweet and so intensely nutty."

Floating sesame loaf is the first bread she has ever baked. She based it on an easy German recipe, which she has reworked and updated.

But in a pandemic, she recommends making Irish soda bread, since yeast may not be easily found now and this recipe uses baking soda.

"I like to make it last minute. You can bring it to the table in no time. If you have soup and some vegetables, it's a super easy dinner and nourishing,'' says Ms Speck, who is now writing a new cookbook, Modern Baking With Heirloom Grains.

During the lockdown, she has so far made spelt cookies, whole grain pizza and many loaves of bread.

You can find her recipe on floating sesame loaf here. 

For her recipe on Irish soda bread, go to this website.  

Tortillas and empanadas with Sandra Gutierrez

Sheltering with her husband Luis in their American home in North Carolina, Ms Sandra Gutierrez is baking more than ever.

"Baking seems to be therapeutic during these times, helping me relax and giving me a sense of purpose throughout the day as I tend to a growing loaf," she says.

This author of four cookbooks on Latin American cooking is an expert baker.

"I have been baking all of my life and have a sourdough starter for almost seven years now, which means I bake at least once weekly."

 

Her bread repertoire includes brioches, sourdough loaves for sandwiches, flour tortillas, hamburger buns, English muffins, bagels and more.

"I also love to bake empanadas, which I then freeze for easy re-heated meals that taste fresh.''

Her family is from Guatemala, but she has mastered making empanadas or stuffed pastries from all over Latin America.

Her book, Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies Of Latin America, offers many easy recipes for simple dough that may be stuffed with fresh fillings such as beef, cheese or vegetables. They can also be filled with leftover stew, or bits and pieces from other meals.

Growing up with corn tortillas, she also enjoys innovating with these wraps. She has made sourdough tortillas, for instance.

Baking not only lowers her grocery bills, but it also distracts her from thinking about the pandemic.

"You have to tend to the bread,'' she says. "It's like a child that needs gentle care.''

Bread is not wasted in her two-person household. She uses leftovers to make croutons for soup and salads; breadcrumbs for coating vegetables or meats and for stretching ground meat in meatballs or loaves; and her favourite bread pudding.

"If I bake too much, I will pack and leave it on my friend's doorstep as a gift." Of course, she practises no contact drop-offs.

Her recipes can be found on sandraskitchenstudio.com

Ensaymada and Pan de Sal with Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino

For Filipino-American cookbook writer Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino, her lockdown is in Flanders, New Jersey.

Having moved to the United States 27 years ago, she has learnt to recreate flavours of her mother's cooking for her husband and two sons.

Filipinos love ensaymada, which is brioche filled with cheese and dusted with sugar and grated cheese. This bread is traditionally eaten with a thick cup of local tsokolate (hot chocolate) and Queso de Bola (sharp cheddar) during the Christmas holidays.

Making ensaymada is a laborious process and requires lots of eggs and butter. During this quarantine, she created ensaymada using only eight eggs instead of the usual 12 or more, mindful about conserving resources.

"I wanted to find a less costly way to make ensaymada. I knew we would have a shortage." True enough, the US is now experiencing a flour shortage.

To make ensaymada, she begins at 9am and finishes around 6pm, as the dough has to be proofed three times. It also requires the foresight to prepare dinner the night before, so nothing distracts her from making the perfect ensaymada.

"If it over-rises, it tastes yeasty,'' she explains.

Breakfast for her is usually Pan de Sal with two slices of cheese. A staple at the Filipino breakfast table, these small buns are available in bakeries all over the Philippines.

While some Asian stores and Filipino groceries in the US sell Pan de Sal, she has no access to them during this pandemic.

These days, she makes a batch of them and stores the rest in her freezer.

If flour was not scarce, she would make Pan de Coco (soft buns filled with desiccated coconut) and Spanish bread (bread with a sweet buttery filling) as well.

For the ensaymada recipe, go to bit.ly/3fs3JSO

For the Pan de Sal recipe, go to bit.ly/35Ew6bV

• Maida Pineda is a food, travel and wellness writer now social distancing in her home in Melbourne.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 10, 2020, with the headline 'Around the world in seven breads'. Print Edition | Subscribe