This Baker Wants You to Stop Eating Bad Bread
We sat down with the one of the country's busiest bakers and got a few tips on how to start making our best bread yet.
Over the course of his career, Richie Manapat has made, easily, several thousand loaves of artisanal bread-and he's only been baking for 4 years. It may sound like an easy feat, when you picture the factory-like production of pandesal or sliced bread. It's because the process looks simple enough: mix flour and water together, knead, shape, and bake. But real, artisanal bread is more nuanced than that.
There are dozens of factors that go into making a successful loaf of bread, and Richie's style and approach to bread-making are attributions to his reputation as one of the country's most sought-after and well-respected bakers in such a short span of time.
As the man behind the (often) sourdough-based breads of Toyo Eatery, Nono's, Classic Confections, and some of Margarita Fores' restaurants, Richie can't say he had previously fostered any ambition to become a baker.
When asked if he knew when was the exact moment he decided to focus on bread-making, moving from being a classically-trained chef under First Gourmet Academy's culinary program, to churning out perfect loaves of crusty sourdough in the wee hours of the morning: "It was really an accident. I started baking for my chef friends, not because I wanted to do it, but because I had to. I made good money from that-and honestly, it started out just being about the money," he said, recounting the story.
"But whenever I do something, I always tend to fixate on things. So, I fixated on the process of making bread-doing it slowly, and not really rushing. After repeating the process every day for so many months, I started liking it even more, and that's when it became something I was really passionate about."
Richie also had initial drawbacks from taking on the job because of how bakers are often perceived-there was a lack of "dudeness" to it. But he built the job with purpose once he began how to understand real bread and how to utilize its ingredients.
"It is important for me that people know how to make bread, or at least how bread is made. You can start from nothing and eventually make dough from it," says Richie. "The fact that people are intimidated by real bread is the biggest reason I want to show people how easy, peasy it is."
Prepping a basic loaf of sourdough is an extraordinarily tactile process. While it does start out with a basic mix of flour, water, and salt, the technical process of properly facilitating fermentation and gluten development is what contributes to the elusive artisanal touch that supermarket yeast-based breads lack.
That's where Richie's biggest frustration comes into play-when the template bread in mainstream supermarkets is flat, sweet, and bulk-produced sliced bread, how do you re-establish and regrow the notion that real bread is the furthest thing from what consumers have grown accustomed to? When it comes to championing his cause for baking bread, Richie has been obsessively genuine in teaching people how to appreciate bread for what it is, and the purpose it serves.
"A good and proper loaf of bread should be properly fermented. Fermentation means good flavor development, an overall healthier loaf, and good structure. Bread should also have multiple textures: a crisp crust and a moist, slightly chewy inside. I also like to taste a mild sourness, but some people don't like that, and that's okay."
The process of making a loaf of bread is a slow one-2 days is the minimum when it comes to making sourdough, but the bulk if that is waiting. If you objectively plug in active time over that period, you'll only be handling the dough for at least 30 minutes or less. What is rewarding about the slowness of it all, however, is the large payoff once you see your finished product.
"I want people to know that it takes a lot of hard work to make really great bread. Sometimes, people get impatient with the process, and they want to see results right away. Focus, get a basic recipe right, and understand that getting a feel for handling the dough is really important. Nothing replaces experience."
Richie takes on many apprentices under his wing, and teaches them baking methods and practices that he's learned and developed over the years. He started by doing the same thing-tackling the most basic of bread recipes and gaining work experience under his belt to refine his craft. It takes long hours and a mind-boggling amount of repetition, but there is literally no other way around it.
"Change happens in small increments, you will hardly notice at first. I always tell home bakers or beginner bakers to focus, understand the fundamentals, and do the same basic recipes again and again. After a while, all those small changes will add up to one big upgrade. That's when you'll notice something big."
Because sourdough has sneaked its way to several mainstream menus in the Philippines, Richie has become confident that real bread is slowly on the rise locally. Taking on the challenge of showing consumers what non-commercial bread is has pushed Richie back into its very roots.
"Bread is the staff of life. It's rooted in many ancient civilizations, and even traditional Philippine fermented food. Puto and bibingka were traditionally made from sourdough. It's a basic human food that was meant to nourish."
It can be difficult to wrap your head around-after a long, hard day's work, what do you end up with? Pretty much a round loaf of golden, crusty bread. However, it's different when you understand the effort that goes into baking it properly, and that a certain amount of proclivity for craftsmanship is required to pull it off. Richie genuinely wants to engineer a change in the public's perception of bread, all while sticking to cultural and historical practices of using real, but simple ingredients.
"Simply appreciating bread and sharing this knowledge to other people, I think that's the rewarding thing about being a baker here in the Philippines."