Sleep deprivation from a 3 month old baby combined with looking after a 4 year old did not stop Anna Bellsolà, owner of Barceloneta’s Baluard bakery, warmly welcoming me to her bustling shop with a beaming smile and enthusiastic conversation.
As we passed through the main baking area to her office, careful not to slip on the flour-dusted floor and inhaling the comforting smell of baking loaves , two male bakers were busy shaping dough and loading the wood fired oven that bakes all their bread.
The coastal barri of Barceloneta has been home to Baluard for close to four years, but breadmaking runs through Anna’s DNA. Her father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all bakers in their hometown of Girona, her father expanding the family business dramatically into the industrial sector before selling it a few years ago. Anna tried to make a break, studying other subjects and travelling in Germany, the USA, Italy and France, but always had one eye on bread production in these countries and admits that in the end “she always came back to flour”.
Her decision to open an artesan bakery in Barcelona involved a long search for suitable premises and eight months of renovations before the local was transformed into what we know as Baluard today. The petit street level shop deceptively hides the size of the premises and the 8am opening time masks the behind the scenes work, beginning at 1am with the first doughs being prepared by some of the shops seven bakers.
There is no rushing the process here, with the exception of a small few, doughs are prepared using a sourdough ‘starter’ which they’ve maintained for over three years (a starter in basic terms being a mixture of flour and water which naturally ferments from the airborne yeasts and is ‘fed’ at least daily with additional flour and water), the doughs are then left to ferment in a cold store for between 12-18 hours.
Baluard’s also give careful consideration to their flours, the majority of which are stoneground and sourced from a mill in Montpellier in the South of France.
When the combined ingredients have worked their magic they are rewarded by being lovingly baked in the wood fired oven which burns 1200kg of logs a week and is fired continuously.
Logs for wood fired oven
They are lifted from cloths, which retain the doughs’ moisture but also means the uncooked loaf sits directly on the stone base of the oven rather than on a tray, adding to the flavour and even cooking of the baked goods. Anna firmly believes the wood oven improves the bread’s crust and gives the products an initial injection of high heat to set the loaves. Tried and tested recipes from the family business, Baluard’s own creations, Anna’s travels and those shared by other bakers make up the enticing selection. Each day there will be one variety only sold on that specific day and Saturday will always feature a ‘bread of the day’.It is almost impossible to make up your mind at Baluard. Baskets of loaves, cooled and fresh from the oven, are then piled high in a tempting display. Baguettes, organic loaves, olive breads, a salt-free variety, sweet breads with butter and sugar or dried fruit to name a few and my personal favourite, the breads with seeds and cereals.
As you queue, which you invariably have to, the sweet delights will be vying for your attention in the glass cabinet. You can try to ignore them but I doubt you will succeed.
Going to Baluard has always meant making a special trip for me as I don’t live in the Barceloneta barri, however, it’s now possible to enjoy Baluard without having to go to the seafront as a recently opened ‘point of sale’ is located in the Woki Organic Market on Ronda Universitat with Plaça Catalunya. Fantastic news for me as this is much closer to home and their selection, though limited, is just as inviting and my brief wander round the organic market will draw me back for another look and a bite to eat sometime.
2010 saw some of the secrets of Baluard and Anna’s story revealed in a book co-written with Ana Garcia Navoa. ‘Pan en casa – del horno a corazon’ (Home made bread – from oven to heart) is the culmination of a year’s work and is a collection of writing about breads from around the world, recipes, tips on dough making and secrets from some of the best bakers, as well as detail of Anna’s journey from the family bakery to Baluard. Anna states firmly that she is a baker not a writer and the book’s conception was a result of a request from Barcelona publishers Oceano Ambar and assistance from the writer García Navoa. It is a fine piece of work, at present only available in Spanish, but breadmaking and language learning seems a good combination to me.Before I freed up Anna’s time to return to her work, I couldn’t resist asking her for her thoughts on the current state of industrial bread production. Expecting her to be scathing I was shocked by her measured and positive response. Her long career despite her youth, her father’s former business and global travelling to manufacturers, artesan or otherwise, have shown her all facets of the industry and she says she has seen good and bad methods used by all producers. She has witnessed fantastic industrial production lines in places such as Verona in Italy that are making wonderful bread by slow fermentation but efficient production and sees an industry that in many places is working more and more to improve the quality of their loaves. On the other hand, she has observed so called ‘artesan’ bakers using excessive yeasts to speed up the process rapidly and producing poor quality loaves. Frozen bread that’s then cooked in a store or bakery, she enlightened me, is also not always a bad thing if the original dough was good quality and it is not allowed to get freezer burnt from being stored for too long.
I bid Anna a grateful farewell and headed to Ronda Universitat for a loaf and some photos. I was still dusting flour off my clothes and boots as I landed home, a sliced pa de cereals pulled straight out of it’s thick paper bag and a dribble of olive oil on one of those lovely slices went straight in my mouth. Chewy, full of flavour from the bread, the seeds and oats and the holey texture holding little puddles of the oil. Well, maybe I had just one more slice.
Baluard 38-40 bajos, Barceloneta
Baluard (point of sale), Woki Organic Market, Ronda Universitat 20, Plaça de Catalunya.
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