English Baker In A Malaysian Village

English baker in a Malaysian Village

Artisan bakers have to be sought out as they don’t normally live in the cities. They bake in small quantities so they can preserve the quality. They care more for the art of baking than for profits.

As unusual as they come it does take the cake to see an English baker in a Malaysian village, surrounded by villagers who have probably never heard of the word “artisan” nor  “organic”.

Martin Prior’s most cherished memories are of baking with his grandmother at her B&B in the seaside town of Bournemouth, England from the tender age of eight.

Shoba Sadler at Whitebrickoven
Shoba Sadler with Martin and Mardia at their cafe and bakery

Martin left school at 14. After several odd jobs ended he up in the Navy and even worked with a non-governmental organization but never turned to professional baking until he retired to live in Malaysia with his Malaysian wife, Mardia.

“I didn’t think much of Malaysian bread and started to make my own. Relatives and neighbours who tried my bread loved them. So I started baking on a larger scale,” said Martin. “My big break came during Christmas. I was walking through the shopping mall with Mardia when a young woman pounced on me and pulled my beard and called me Santa Clause.

“Mardia and I entered her shop. She asked what we did for a living, so I said we were bakers. She made a face and then asked us to bake for her shop. I replied I would bring her some samples the following day. We have been baking for them for 10 years now.”

Martin uses only organic flour. Each batch of bread takes about two days to make.

Breadsticks with cheese, milk, butter, yeast, oregano
Breadsticks with cheese, milk, butter, yeast, oregano

“I use Levain made out of sourdough starter in my breads. As it is natural wild yeast you need to gradually build its potency. I feed it with fresh flour in two to three stages of about 8 hours each. This develops the great taste and strengthens the gluten for the best rise,” said Martin.

He and Mardia operate out of their village home making traditional sourdough breads with whole wheat, rye and spelt. They also make pastries, croissants and cakes specializing in vegan cakes. Most of their breads are vegan too.

Some of the specialities that can be ordered online are apple and oatmeal bread, 3-grain Miche, burger buns, tartine, soft pretzels, tea cakes and scones.

“Our organic grains are sourced locally but  grown in the USA, Turkey and Australia. We use no sugar in our core breads, less salt and absolutely no softeners or preservatives,” added Martin who sells mainly in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Penang through an organic chainstore, one leading supermarket and a few restaurants. He does also sell directly to the public if they order online through his website www.whitebrickoven.com.

To preserve quality, this English baker in a Malaysian village, grinds his own flour from these organic grains. He uses a stone mill specially made in the Tyrolean mountains of Austria that does not overheat so the healthiest part of the grains such as the germ and bran is preserved.

Martin proud of the woodfire oven he built himself
Martin proud of the woodfire oven he built himself

“Commercial milling using hammer and roller mills overheat the flour and that is the reason they have to artificially enhance the flour by adding back the vitamins they destroy in the process. Stone milled flour retains the important wheat germ which in the commercial form of milling is extracted and sold for animal feed. Yes the animals get the good bit,” he said.

Martin is a self-taught artisan baker. He has had no professional training but people flock to buy his bread as they are so good. He carefully looks into every aspect of taste and quality and even built his own wood fire oven in which to bake his breads.

Whitebrickoven in a Malaysian magazine
Whitebrickoven featured in a Malaysian magazine

According to Martin there are very few bakers in Malaysia who make natural bread as it requires long fermentation periods and cannot be mass produced. They are struggling to meet the overheads of running a business while staying true to their trade.

He finds Malaysians have yet to understand the importance of eating healthy and many are frightened off by the word “organic” and the cost of it.

“Malaysians need to think about spending more on their food to improve its quality. The country has a high rate of illnesses that are diet related,” Martin recalled while speaking from his home during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan last month. “During Ramadan thousands of stalls are set up to sell “delicacies”. A recent report I read claimed that half of these “delicacies” are not fit for consumption. Many of these purveyors are amateurs setting up only once a year to make a killing during the fasting month and have no skill in cooking nor nutrition. Mardia was so disappointed to find they were using ajinomoto in traditional foods such as keropok or crackers and colourings and flavourings that were never used by our forefathers. She is setting up a Facebook page to call on people to identify the real craftsmen of authentic, all natural food using traditional methods so consumers can support them and shun these other fake foods that are bad for their health.

Martin has a wide following of health conscious Malaysians who either buy direct from him or through the many stores he supplies. To keep up with all his orders he has recently upgraded his bakery by introducing a special software to better manage operations. With this software corporate customers can place and amend orders online. They can block out holiday dates to suspend regular deliveries during that time.

Pizza served at Whitebrickoven cafe
Pizza served at Whitebrickoven cafe

Individuals too will be able to see all the products available and their description and place their orders either for personal collection or to be mailed by express post.

To learn more about how to purchase Martin’s authentic bread, cakes and pastries go to www.whitebrickoven.com. They also have a special page for their scones which is a big hit among their customers.

You can also visit Martin and Mardia at their cafe which is situated right at their bakery and house in Sungai Buloh, Selangor, Malaysia. It is open to the public every Sunday from 9 am to 6 pm. You will get to drive through their quaint Malay village and if you stop to ask for directions you will probably be told to follow the aroma of freshly baked bread and you will get there. Being devout muslims they closed their bakery during the muslim fasting month of Ramadan and it is scheduled to be re-opened on the 2nd of August.

“Our bakery orders keep us very busy. So we don’t actually need a cafe, but the most satisfying aspect of my trade is meeting the people who support us. So many people forget that many of the customers come to see the owner. Not an ever changing employee. We enjoy talking to the people and finding out what they like and do not like. We get almost no feedback from the retail outlets. So come and have a chat with us on Sunday over tea and coffee, scones, pizza, fresh bread, cakes and pastries.”


Make Fermented Food Part Of Your Regular Diet

I’m enjoying Paper Dosa on banana leave in Malaysia. Dosa is now on the list of fermented superfoods
Aubergine chutney
My home-made aubergine chutney made with eggplant from a neighbouring farm



Fermented foods are found in all cultures around the world. Preserves, jams, pickles, chutneys, sourdough baking, Dosa from India, Kimchi from Korea, Kombucha from China, Moroccan preserved lemons, yoghurt in a variety of cultures and so on.

While our ancestors have been eating fermented foods for centuries, most people today include little or no fermented foods in their daily diets and they are paying the price with a poor digestive system. Why is it so important to have a healthy digestive system? As far as most of us are aware, it is the immune system that keeps our body in check.

According to Dr. Natalia Shulzhenko from Oregon State University people’s intestines contain more immune cells than the entire body.

“In a healthy person these microbes in the gut stimulate the immune system as needed, and it in turn talks back,” she said.

fermented food
fermented food maintains a healthy gut

“There’s an increasing disruption of these microbes from modern lifestyle, diet, overuse of antibiotics and other issues. With that disruption, the conversation is breaking down.”

This conversation takes place through the assistance of good bacteria living in our gut. The gut is home to 70 – 80% of our immune cells and with a healthy immune system your own body can ward off and fight any disease effectively.

Until 10 years ago biologists believed the human body was a physiological island capable of producing all the enzymes needed to break down food and absorb the nutrients.

Many illnesses and diseases later we are finding out that much of these nutrients are not even available to our bodies without the help of trillions of bacteria that live in a symbiotic relationship within our bodies to ensure our perfect homeostasis.








Fermented food does several things to promote this:

  • It introduces these healthy bacteria into our body. A person chronically deficient of these healthy bacteria would normally be advised to take probiotics but rather than take supplements it is better to take fermented foods which are rich in this. To maximize absorption of vitamins and minerals it is always best to take them in their most natural form.
  • Beneficial microflora or bacteria living in our gut is so complex and so rich in diversity with many different strains that it is hard to accept that Man can harvest and bottle them in a capsule to imitate the kind naturally occurring in our gut. Even the medical profession is not in one mind about widely prescribing probiotics. Pharmacies sell them under the label of a health supplement.
  • The good bacteria in fermented food releases natural chelators that latch on to toxins in our body and removes them and can even change them into less harmful substances.
  • The bacteria in fermented food has already broken down the sugar and starch of food and creates lactic acid that makes the living enzymes and vitamins in our food more digestible by the body
  • The good bacteria in fermented food cuts down the sugar content of food because it consumes the sugar to create lactic acid and this acidic environment it creates kills off disease-causing bad bacteria or pathogens.

Instead of nurturing and protecting these helpful bacteria, we have been destroying them through poor diet, antibiotics and in the process destroying ourselves.

Antoine Béchamp discovered and promoted this fact well over 125 years ago, but was ridiculed by the scientific community who favoured Louis Pasteur – who insisted that a “healthy” human body was completely sterile.

This opened the door for pharmaceutical companies to infiltrate the medical profession and today with pharmaceutical companies funding medical research, it will be hard to find the medical profession on the side of holistic healing as it will be in the interest of the pharmaceutical companies to keep people dependent on drugs rather than keeping them healthy.

So with this we entered the era of war against all bacteria and even today people see bacteria in a negative light. If you go to Wikipedia and look up Fruit Enzymes and Kombucha, popular among the health conscious, you will get information stating that there is no reliable evidence that these are beneficial to your body and even subtle warnings about such home prepared fermented food.

Fermented Food expert Sandor Katz describes this war against bacteria. “Beyond antibiotic drugs that individuals take, sometimes for important reasons (but typically overprescribed), we routinely feed antibiotics to livestock, chemically sterilize our water, and use antibacterial soaps marketed with seductive promises of killing 99.9 percent of bacteria. The problem with killing 99.9 percent of bacteria is that most of them protect us from the few that can make us sick. Continuous indiscriminate killing of bacteria in, on and around our bodies makes us more vulnerable to infection (disease) rather than less vulnerable.”

So rather than treating diseases head-on which is the conventional medical practice, it is better to strengthen the body to use its own immune system to find that perfect state of equilibrium again. Dr Thomas Lodi explained this best when he said “Disease is only an outcome required by the human body in response to internal and external stimuli to maintain homeostasis. The body never makes mistakes. We only perceive disease as a malfunction because we don’t truly understand its (the body’s) function.”

I have learned to incorporate fermentation into my cooking to ensure my family obtains the best nutrition from the food we eat.

Most of us take for granted that if we eat organic, we should no doubt be able to absorb all the wholesome goodness of that organic product. But if you use unnatural additives in the organic flour and cut down on the fermentation time, it makes no difference that the flour is organic. Your body is not able to extract the nutrients from that wheat in the flour.

This is why in our generation we are seeing more and more intolerance to gluten and people blame the wheat. Wheat is not the problem. The additives we put into it is what causes the problem. Wheat also has to be properly fermented before you consume it

For example I make bread every five days and add to that pastries and buns and cakes. I use only sourdough starter. This starter is nothing but bacteria and yeast, living organisms, existing in my fridge. In order for your body to be able to absorb the nutrition from the wheat, the dough or cake must be allowed to ferment for a few hours. Commercial bakeries take the short cut of factory cultivated yeast and skip the fermentation time because they are motivated by profit. Your health is not their priority. We have brought this practice of using commercial yeast and cutting down fermentation time into our homes by buying this commercial yeast and using it in our baking.

Yet this practice has only been around these last few decades. For hundreds of years people baked only with sourdough starter.

I’ve given dough from wheat as just one example of the multitude of different types of fermented food we should be exploring in our homes to strengthen our gut and gut bacteria so these good bacteria can continue to keep us healthy.

Watch how I use fermentation in my cooking




Shoalhaven Mushrooms World Class

Michele Aker White Mushrooms
Michele Aker White Mushrooms

When Michele and Gary Akers moved their mushroom farm from Queensland, they spent $80,000 to ship them in containers on trains and trucks to settle down in an obscure village of Termeil, New South Wales.

Gary had spent a year in tutelage under the wing of his friend who ran an organic mushroom farm before branching out on his own in Termeil.

Seven years later, Shoalhaven Mushrooms are winning awards for their chemical-free, super healthy mushrooms.

As mushrooms have no leaves, roots or seeds they don’t classify as a vegetable or fruit. However the U.S. Department of Agriculture recognizes a mushroom as a vegetable because it has as much nutritional value as vegetables.

The combination of A, B-Complex and C found in mushrooms strengthens the immune system. It’s also rare to find vegetables rich in both calcium and Vitamin D as the combination makes for better absorption by the body for strong teeth and bones. The good news for vegans and vegetarians is that it is also protein and iron rich and it can’t hurt that it also compensates for the taste of meat.

Mushrooms transcends cultures and is versatile enough to bring out the best in any international cuisine. It is delicious whether raw or cooked. It is the only source of B12 found in a non-animal fresh food.

Health benefits of mushrooms

As mushrooms contain natural insulin and enzymes that help break down sugar and starch in food, they are highly beneficial to diabetics too. The powerful antioxidant present in mushrooms called ergothioneine protects our bodies from free radicals while giving our immune system a boost. Find out all about how mushrooms benefit your health.

To ensure you get the best nutrition from your mushrooms always buy from reliable farmers and Gary and Michele are small farmers who meticulously watch over every stage of their mushrooms’ development.

“We had no idea our mushrooms would make a clean sweep of winning first prize in all three categories at the Sydney Royal 2015 show in April,” said Michele of her whites, flats and swiss browns.

Visiting Shoalhaven Mushrooms world class farm, it is clear to see why.  Michele and Gary Akers cut no corners in producing the healthiest and most delicious mushrooms.

To begin with the mushrooms are housed in state-of-the-art cool rooms and every stage of their development is temperature regulated. In these rooms the mushrooms sprout from specially imported peat from Holland and the best straw in the country.

“We find Australian peat too young. It encourages flies and this opens the door to infestations. We don’t use formaldehyde or any other chemicals to fight infestations or prolong the life of the mushrooms. We simply ensure our environment is always clean,” explained Michele giving a glimpse into many mushroom farms that have no qualms about using old stable straw, chook manure and chemicals to enhance their mushrooms.

Even their spent straw and peat are neatly tied up in packages waiting to be transported away to ensure they do not attract flies.

The temperature in the cool rooms vary according to the different stages of development of the mushrooms. And at certain periods the vents are also closed to introduce carbon dioxide. This encourages pinning which is when the mycelium that has germinated in the beds of peat and straw start producing tiny white pins that stick out from the bed. The exciting first signs of mushrooms forming!

Shoalhaven Mushrooms Swiss Browns
Shoalhaven Mushrooms Swiss Browns

Even then there is no guarantee that the pins will develop into fully grown mushrooms. Many will never mature and begin to discolour and turn dark and must be removed immediately.

It takes a very skilled mushroom grower to balance the right combination of carbon dioxide, temperature and humidity to produce perfect mushrooms.

“We have to work out how much compost produces how much carbon dioxide for the height and depth of each cool room and then control where the airflow goes,” said Michele who admits being frustrated when people don’t understand the health benefits they stand to gain from eating prime quality mushrooms over the cheaper ones in the market.

“Hold this,” she said, handing me a white mushroom and I was amazed at how heavy it was compared to the regular whites you find in the supermarket.

“People buy by price,” she continued when talking about the markets she and Gary supply at Canberra and Kiama.  “The only way I can convince them how much tastier organic mushrooms are is to cook them at the markets alongside ordinary ones and let them taste the difference for themselves.”

For a tasting session, Michele would make one of her famous stuffed mushrooms with cream cheese and ham. A vegetarian version would be with English spinach, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and cheese.

Shoalhaven Mushrooms Whites
Shoalhaven Mushrooms Whites

In adhering to quality in service, all mushrooms are picked on the very same day they are sold at the markets.

Michele and Gary have been supplying the markets in Canberra for eight years now. Their swiss brown mushrooms fetch $20 for a one kilogram box and the whites at $11.99 a kilo.

Apart from the markets, they also supply quality conscious restaurants such as Merry Street in Kiola, Bannisters and Tallwood at Mollymook. Others like Berry Sourdough in Berry take five boxes a week to put in their breads and pies.

The public know very little about effort and sincerity that goes into the production of Shoalhaven mushrooms. To deliver everything fresh, they commute regularly between the markets from here to Kiama, Singleton to Canberra and pay a hefty price on petrol. Petrol and electricity take up the biggest overheads they have.

When Shoalhaven Mushrooms world class mushrooms won the Sydney Royal 2015 show, they received a congratulatory letter from their MP, Ann Sudmalis on an official government letterhead bearing the image of the Australian coat of arms. This is what it said:

“Dear Mr and Mrs Aker

It is a wonderful pleasure to write and congratulate you both on your award -winning mushrooms. It was fantastic to read that you won every section you entered as well as taking out Best Mushroom in the Show with your Swiss Browns. These are incredible achievements and I wish you every success in your future endeavours.

Shoalhaven Mushrooms cool rooms
Shoalhaven Mushrooms cool rooms

Congratulations, you are a true inspiration.”

Michele and Gary feel they are only doing what any farmer should be doing that is producing the best food they can for Australians. Yet they fear that small farmers can be run out by large corporations who aren’t as concerned as they are about the standards in quality and health. With fuel and utility bills being so high it is also hard to compete with larger corporations and they would like to see the government give more incentives to small farmers in small towns.

By winning the Sydney Royal 2015, Shoalhaven Mushrooms world class mushrooms now qualify to contend at the Fine Food Awards in Hobart, Tasmania. If they win here they will go on to represent Australia on an international level.

As Michele carries her precious cargo of Swiss Browns and Whites on the plane to Tasmania she hopes to show Australians how important it is to support small farmers who can supply quality food for them and their families.




Shoalhaven Mushrooms Pinning
Shoalhaven Mushrooms Pinning
Shoalhaven Mushrooms Whites On Their Mycelium Bed
Shoalhaven Mushrooms Whites On Their Mycelium Bed
Michele Akers Stuffed Mushrooms
Michele Akers Stuffed Mushrooms
Shoalhaven Mushrooms Pickled
Mushrooms pickled and sold at the markets

Did you know exposing mushrooms to sunlight can increase vitamin D