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Spain has not traditionally been known as a country of great bread, although there are some exceptional old tahonas (bakeries) scattered around here and there. But after long decades of eating poor-quality breads, typically white or light bread with excessive additives, Spaniards are finally developing their taste for the staple. In fact, the culture of bread in Spain is in full fermentation right now.

More and more, people are seeing the value of traditional bakeries and of natural and organic cereals and other ingredients; at the same time, foreign varieties of bread that are much more elaborate are being incorporated into the local eating culture. In addition, the rise of a sophisticated culinary sector in Spain is stimulating young professional bakers to approach their product – a simple piece of bread – with much greater audacity, resulting in the opening of some innovative new bakeries that really take themselves seriously.

In Barcelona, one of these new-minded bakers is Anna Bellsolà, the owner (and soul) of Forn Baluard. Located near La Barceloneta market and just a few minutes from the beach, Baluard produces some of the best bread in the city and sells it at prices to suit all budgets. At certain times of the day it is easy to spot the venue from quite a distance, thanks to the long lines of customers, some from the neighborhood and others who come from farther away.

Anna grew up amongst ovens and kneading machines, sliding around as a child in flour spilled on the ground, slicing open bread loaves and smelling the flavors inside. When she speaks about bread she does it with the passion, respect and the authority that comes from being the fourth generation in a family of bakers. From her great-grandparents down to her parents and herself, the family has racked up countless hours of experience and wisdom regarding types of flour, ovens and fermentation times, and, as Anna puts it, doing things the “right way.”

At Baluard, she offers about 40 varieties of bread, from simple baguettes and light loaves of white bread to dense rye; ingredients vary from organic flour, whole-wheat flour and toasted grains to stone-milled flour and spelt. Some of the more elaborate breads contain olives, dried fruit or, for a real Mediterranean flavor, tomato and Provençal herbs. The bakery’s breads are made with additive-free flour, some of it organic, and using only natural sourdough starter. Fermentations last from 15 to 18 hours, breads are shaped by hand, and the finishing touch (offering more flavor and better crust) comes from the powerful heat shock of the stone oven, which is fed with firewood.

Each variety of bread has its own type of flour, preparation process, rising times, proofing method and baking conditions. For example, to make the “Pilar baguette” (named in honor of Anna’s grandmother Pilar) the dough is made with a very pure French flour, then left to rest overnight in a barrel; the next day, each piece is molded by hand, with many interruptions during the process. Others, like the “baguette Baluard,” sleep through the night already formed, while the “Pan de Pagès” is made with sourdough and stone-milled flour and rises in proofing baskets called bannetons.

Anna and her team at the bakery are happy to offer tips and inspiration to create pairings, whether for a simple toast or for putting the finishing touch on a seafood menu (their recommendation: bread with a hint of lemon). The bread with nuts and dried fruits (including almonds, hazelnuts, dates and apricots) is an ideal partner for aged cheeses. The olive oil ciabatta and the rye bread are amazing when slightly toasted and topped with butter and honey. If you want to make the typical pan tumaca (bread rubbed with tomato), the “Barceloneta” or the rustic “Pan de Pagès” are perfect. With so many options, we’ve found that the way to get a handle on Baluard’s offerings is to do what the bakery’s regulars do: come here as often as possible.

Published on January 16, 2013

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