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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.”