One day, almost two years ago now, I happened to be strolling through Borough Market. I wasn’t on the lookout for anything in particular, just taking in all the sights and smells of the surrounding foods, getting excited over so many new products to try (not that this was my first time at Borough Market, far from it, but it had been a while and there was so much more to discover). And suddenly there it was, Olivier’s Bakery.
A small-ish stand with some sweet baked goods and bread. Plenty of it. You could find pain de campagne, l’ancienne, le pain d’Olivier, and many more. My expectations were already high, given my particular affinity for French bread (somehow it strikes a chord with those taste buds of mine). I bought a couple of quarters from a selection of different breads, went back home, and over the course of the next week or two tried them all (try freezing to keep them fresh and handy when you need them).
And they did not disappoint me. Yet amongst all those loaves of goodness one stood out. It was Le Rustic, which was to become my go-to bread in London. Now while the price may seem like a whopper at first, keep in mind the size of the bread, with a whole one weighing just under 3kg (6.6lb). A quarter of a Rustic will be as big as a whole loaf of most other breads.
And of course you’re paying for artisan bread, which basically means that production line isn’t integrated and loaves will usually be formed by hand. A little tip on the side, if you arrive at the end of the market day, there is a chance you may be able to get the bread half price – that is, if there’s any left of it. As food historian William Rubel notes in his very informative book on bread, every aspect of a loaf of bread is in the control of the baker: its crust, the crumb’s density, its flavour, etc. Le Rustic as a part wholemeal, part white, part rye bread leavened with yeast certainly showcases its baker’s mastery.
Part wholemeal, part white, part rye. What exactly does it mean? White flour is in fact a derivative of wholemeal/whole grain/whole wheat flour (it comes with many names), much like white rice is of whole grain rice. During the milling process the outer layer (bran or roughage) and the germ (containing many nutrients) of a grain’s kernel are removed in order to increase the shelf life, but also in order for bakers to be able to achieve the desired gluten structure which gives bread its airy interior.
A high concentration of what is left of the kernel, its inner layer (endosperm or the “energy”), which contains the all-important proteins glutenin and gliadin, is the way to ensure the formation of gluten: strands that create a network of air chambers and thus a very distinctive crumb (interior) structure of bread. In other words, the airiness of a bread’s crumb is dependent on the amount of gluten in the flour which in turn depends on the whiteness of this flour (i.e. how much it has been processed/milled and thus how much the grain kernels have been reduced to only their protein-rich component).
Of course mixing in some wholemeal grains will change the texture of the bread to a less airy interior (Le Rustic in fact used to be slightly airier not very long ago – it seems only logical that they must have slightly reduced the amount of white flour in their recipe), but it also enhances the flavour and brings back some of those nutrients that we lost along the way. I say “but” as if a less airy/’light’ crumb were undesirable. It is of course a matter of taste and in some bread cultures (for example in Germany) they can be very much sought after – this often in conjunction with rye (think German Pumpernickel made with coarsely ground rye).
Although rye has the same gluten-forming proteins as wheat, the ratio isn’t comparable (rye only has ten percent the amount of glutenin), resulting in much denser breads. Again, in the case of Le Rustic, this rye addition to the bread probably makes it less airy, but it also adds a note of aromatic sweetness and thus flavour complexity. For me, Le Rustic’s texture and flavour combine beautifully to give me a bread that has its own distinct note (I love eating it fresh without adding anything at all), but that still blends well with other dishes without overwhelming their individual flavours.
Olivier’s Bakery started out in 2011 when a French Patissier, going by the name of Olivier, decided to open up his own business. Most products (including Le Rustic) use organic flour and are free from unessential ingredients. All the bread is baked in South London the evening before it is sold on one of their many market stalls across the city. Be sure to check their website for up-to-date information on where to find them.
Primrose Hill Market (Sat)
Borough Market (Wed-Sat)
Hammersmith Market (Thu & Fri)
Clapham Market (Sat)
London Farmers Market South Kensington (Sat)
London Farmers Market Pimlico Road (Sat)
London Farmers Market Parson’s Green (Sun)
London Farmers Market West Hill (Sun)
Richmond Market (Sun)
Kingston Market (Wed-Sun)
Rubel, W. 2011. Bread, A Global History. London: Reaktion Books Ltd.