Health is uppermost in the mind of master baker Don Yong.
MALAYSIAN Institute of Baking (MIB) chairman Don Yong would be happy if more people switched to wholemeal and multigrain breads, but he knows that it’s not realistic to expect everyone to give up white sliced bread.
“White sandwich bread is cheap, and that is the No.1 reason anyone chooses anything. Wholemeal bread is more expensive and for a family of 10, that is a big expense,” he says.
The current trend towards healthier breads, however, is one Yong hopes will continue.
“People are more well-travelled and have become aware of the types of bread out there. They also know more about nutrition and want the best for their families so they would choose wholemeal as opposed to the traditional white sandwich loaf.
“Thirty years ago, no one would eat wholemeal bread; people said it was so rough. Nowadays, people know the benefits of eating bread with various bran cereals and seeds,” he says, adding that the increase in cases of diabetes and cancer has also prompted consumers to be more discerning about what they eat.
More people are also showing a desire to make their own breads at home.
“A lot of people tell me they wanted to be bakers when they were young, but because their parents wanted doctors and lawyers, they put their ambitions on hold.
“And then, when they hit their 40s and 50s, they attend baking classes because they have always wanted to bake,” he enthuses.
Making one’s own baked goods at home certainly allows for the inclusion of healthier ingredients. Yong points to the natural and chemical-free products that are now available in the market.
“You have a choice of what ingredients you want to put in and how much of each. And the end result need not be more costly than the product you buy,” he says.
When Yong started MIB – formerly called English Hotbreads School of Baking – with his brother in 1986, it was to fill a demand for baking courses from people hoping to migrate, especially to Australia which listed the skill as one of its desired professions.
But apart from that, few people could see the need to make bread at home since a loaf was so cheap then. “You know, the Sunshine (brand) bread that was wrapped in waxed paper,” he recalls.
Yong may, as he says, have been in the right place at the right time, but the classes grew from there and today, 80 to 100 youngsters graduate from MIB’s full-time courses every year. The part-time and one-off baking classes (like Kuali.com’s “Bake with Kuali” workshops) are also packed, and weekend classes were started a couple of years ago to cater for the demand.
Through teaching, Yong has found that a lot of people are looking for more than recipes and instructions – they are also interested in finding out what bread making is all about.
“Most have never baked before, some have tried and failed. If you spend half a day making bread and the results are not what you want, that is very disappointing. After a few times, you just give up and say it’s too difficult.
“But after sharing with them the basics of bread making, the ingredients and process, and emphasising not only how to bake, but why something is done a certain way, they realise that it’s not so difficult,” he says.
While Yong finds bakeries focusing on artisan-type breads encouraging, he is aware that consumer tastes still veer towards sweet, butter-rich loaves and buns.
“In Malaysia, the development of artisan-type breads is slow because the majority of people still don’t understand their health benefits. They still go for soft sweet buns. This type of bread is loaded with sugar and fat,” he says.
Artisan breads, especially sourdough, have been made for hundreds of years, and there are bakeries in other countries that have been cultivating their mother dough for as long.
“Sourdough gives bread a taste that is quite different from using yeast,” he says, citing bread made in France and those produced at the Boudin Bakery in San Francisco as some of the best he has tasted.
He knows, however, that keeping sourdough leaven (which is produced with air-borne yeast and not commercial yeast) going is not practical for most home bakers since they may not make bread every day.
Yong observes that another new trend emerging in Malaysia is the in-store bakery, like the ones in hypermarkets, where customers can get freshly baked breads. While the breads are made using commercial frozen dough and so are not really “artisan breads”, such outlets do create awareness for consumers.
If France is famous for its rustic pain de campagne (country loaves), Italy its ciabatta and Germany its pumpernickel, what would the signature bread of Malaysia be?
Yong didn’t have much time to ponder over this question but came up with something we would no doubt be proud to call our own.
“Malaysia is famous for its nasi lemak and rendang, so maybe a bun with a beautiful filling of rendang, either chicken or beef. It must be something sumptuous, without too much sauce because that would be messy.
“It won’t be very healthy, but sometimes for a treat, why not?” asks Yong, who is “99% vegetarian” (he still eats fish). “We can’t be eating everything that’s all pure and oil-free only. That is not life.
“We must be able to really taste the santan and all the spices (in the bun). I think I would desire for something like that.”
High demand for artisanal breads