BEIRUT: When visiting Bread Butiq, people would be surprised to know that behind the Parisian décor, the artisan-made bread and the flaky croissants is a Lebanese software developer whose main capital for this bakery was his passion for bread.
“When I first tried Bread Butiq, I felt nostalgic to eat once again preservative-free, crusty and craggy bread. However, when I heard Ralph’s story behind making it, it gave the bread a better taste,” said Marc Abi Haila, a regular customer at Bread Butiq.
Ralph Bitar was studying Computer Science in the U.S., and when he got sick and tired of the indigestible commercial bread there, he decided to make his own sourdough bread by reading books and contacting expert bakers on Facebook.
Sourdough bread is made by the fermentation of dough using naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast; it has a mildly sour taste not present in most types of bread, and it's made with baker's yeast, and it's also preserved better than other types of bread due to the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli. Most kinds of bread are made with commercial active yeast, but sourdough instead depends on Saccharomyces exiguous, a wild yeast.
To make sourdough, wild yeast is harvested and then added to flour and water to form a starter. As the wild yeast digests the flour and water, it begins to exude carbon dioxide, which is what gives the loaves their glorious airy consistency. Every time, part of the starter is kept, then, flour and water are added to it, and the yeasts and bacteria continue to thrive on the new fuel. As such, a single batch of sourdough can last for a long time.
“Just like a flower, the starter needs to be fed and cared for every day. At first, I just read to know how to make a loaf of bread, nevertheless, I ended up learning all the chemistry and physics behind bread. Through trial and failure, and with the help of the experts I contacted, I ended up making mouth-watering bread,” Bitar told Annahar.
After returning to Lebanon, he started his own software company and excelled in the field. Nevertheless, when he decided to take time off and delegate someone to run his business, he dedicated his time to baking sourdough.
What makes sourdough bread healthier is that it contains more minerals than commercial bread and promotes easier digestion. The acetic acid, which inhibits the growth of mold, is produced in its making. Hence, sourdough naturally preserves itself without the need for toxic preservatives. Further, the Lactic acid bacteria, commonly found in it, produce beneficial compounds: antioxidants, the cancer-preventive peptide lunasin, and anti-allergenic substances.
After learning its benefits and studying the market, Bitar discovered that he had an edge over major bakeries in Lebanon and wanted to introduce people to sourdough by opening Bread Butiq.
“If you want to get into this business, you can’t touch it in a shallow way; you will have lousy bread. I traveled to Spain and Sweden and met expert bakers there, and I visited mills outside Lebanon because I wanted to import high-quality flour. Today, I import flour from France and Italy and Bread Butiq is the first bakery in Lebanon to have its own stone mill too,” Bitar said.
In 2016, Bread Butiq was officially opened in Jal El Dib with only one employee, Bitar, and one product: bread, but, four types of it. The artisan-bakery gained reputation due to word of mouth and social media; and people came from all over Lebanon to taste the crunchy and chewy bread. Many dietitians recommended it to their clients due to its many benefits including its promotion of weight loss. Today, the bakery has a team of passionate bakers who are helping Bitar with his mission.
The bakery’s pastry selection is a work of art; 12 types of bread are offered including sesame, walnut, cranberry, rye and gluten-free and viennoiserie, such as croissants (with chocolate, cheese, thyme or almond) and pain brioche. Christmas gets an especially opulent treatment in Bread Butiq for it's famous for serving the Panettone: an Italian type of sweet bread loaf originally from Milan, which has a cupola shape and a delicious taste. All the products are made with a sourdough recipe and organic flour.
“It was very frustrating for me that the food industry now mostly offers bread lacking fiber, antioxidants and minerals, and loaded with added sugar, pesticide residues, and unhealthy fat. Gladly, I choose Bread Butiq since I know that they use organic ingredients with a top fermentation and practice a safe cooking temperature," Marwan Hitti, a physical instructor and a loyal customer at Bread Butiq, told Annahar.
A point of sale for Bread Butiq will open soon in Ashrafieh.
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