Bread turns canvas as home bakers use the luxury of extra time in the lockdown to create edible art
A slice of bread with floral motifs? Or dancing girls? Jeemol Koruth Varghese’s bread art mixes baking with art. The self-taught baker, who established Eva’s Healthy Bakes in 2016, in Kochi, says, “Bread has character and life. It should fill your stomach and also your heart.”
Apart from conducting baking workshops, Jeemol used the lockdown to reflect on the meaning of life and her own life vis-à-vis the pandemic. Bread became her medium to express gratitude and relive memories. She used the mother-and-child motif as a tribute to her mother, flowers and leaves to show her love for farming and the dancing girls as a symbol of a beautiful life. Her latest creation, a moustache, was sparked by the memory of her father bidding her goodbye when she lived in a hostel in Bengaluru.
What does it take to create such designs in dough? It is complicated, admits Jeemol, adding, “It takes time and needs experience.”
She adds that one needs to understand technicalities like the time and temperature required for the dough to rise. There are also other nuances: for example, the addition of cocoa makes the texture dense and so it doesn’t expand as much; whereas vegetable purée provides more hydration and enables the dough to stretch more.
Her dough is made with soaked wheat suji and colours come from pure cocoa, edible bamboo charcoal, vegetable purées and marigold extract. She makes patterns using dough threads, ensuring that there are no anomalies. “The feet should not be bigger than the head,” she laughs.
Slices of her artisanal loaf disappear as soon as they are made thanks to her kids. Though her friends are encouraging her to go commercial, Jeemol has resisted this, as she says her connect with the dough right now is emotional.
The more Chennai-based baker Harini Sankaranaryan delved into the fermenting dough, the more she found bread turning into a canvas.
“That’s how my bread art became more creative,” says Harini who has dabbled in theatre, media and hospitality, before becoming a full-time home baker. Most of her design inspirations come from the scenes outside her kitchen window. “A nice leaf can trigger a motif but sometimes it can be chaotic too,” she says.
Harini has been working with sour dough for six years and says she loves the medium. She adds that her art is work in progress.
The COVID-19 lockdown not only gave Chennai -based Nandi Shah, baker, food artist and photographer, time to experiment but also to look at everything positively through food.
“Food is art,” says Nandi, whose lockdown creations range from aesthetic experiments with sour dough, focaccia, pull-apart bread, milk loaves and waffles to a Buddha bowl. “We eat with our eyes first. The first look at food should give joy and satisfaction. It should be beautiful,” says Nandi.
Explaining why she serves meals in bowls, to control quantity and quality, she says “I like the bowl to look colourful; it should have all the seven colours of the rainbow. A mix of colourful foods makes it healthy too.”
Nandi cites the colours and layout of the Indian thali as an example of food art. Her Buddha bowls come in variations of South Indian food, Mexican, and Asian. A brunch bowl, Shahshuka, a play with her surname, is made with eggs done Turkish style. Nandi’s food art and photography are inspired by her affinity for a “dark and moody” look and her food frames were featured at the India Design (ID) exhibition held in New Delhi in January 2020.
Kochi-based baker, artist and gardener Prithi Vadakkath says the lockdown has allowed her the time to luxuriate in her hobbies and experiment with food art. She has created cakes and cookies dressed with a tapestry of edible flowers and leaves.
“I am very involved with plants, especially flowering ones, and have been using them to dress up confections,” says Prithi. Her first attempt was shortbread cookies baked with pressed pink rose and ink-blue cow pea petals. Her next was an arrangement of petals and leaves on a vanilla sponge cake. On the butter cream frosting, she pressed down blue petals of Asian pigeon wings or shankhpushpam, the Sri Lankan Tagar jasmine, along with herbs from her garden.
“The idea is to forage for these flowers and then create an arrangement, not purchase them from a florist,” says Prithi, stressing that she ensures that the herbs and flowers she uses have a mild flavour and do not clash with the cake’s taste.