Everything began with bread
Photography: Noemí Elías
We´re off this time to visit Pau Massana, a freelance baker by profession. Pau lives in a cottage in the middle of the countryside, next to Dosrius, near Argentona.
We pick up Noemi on the way. She´s today´s photographer, and shows up dressed in an all-black look. “We´re warning you, there´ll be a lot a flour where we´re going!”
We arrive at Pau´s house after a few kilometres passing between fields and under trees that shade the road, taking in the silence.
Pau and Marcela moved here seven years ago, fleeing from the city and its materialist desires. In exchange for an affordable rent they began to organise and decorate the house. They´re still doing it, even now.
The porch and the bread
The sun turns the porch into a centre of operations to plan the day while we breakfast on Pau´s bread with cheese and tea.
“Ten years ago I bought a book about how to make bread and that´s how I started.”
The book was called ‘The Baker´s Apprentice”. Pau points out the recipe of a woman in the U.S. which was the foundation of his learning.
“Rosemary Rowson is my guru“
And he laughs. The word guru coming out of Pau´s mouth makes us all laugh because Pau doesn´t seem to follow anyone but himself. We insist he should write to her to tell her what he´s managed to do thanks to her.
Pau has been making a name for himself in the ecological fairs of the villages where he goes to sell his bread each weekend. ‘Papau’ is his brand name. And his classic products are white bread, wholemeal, bread made with nuts and with olives.
Most of the work is done on Fridays, when he makes the two hundred loaves for the weekend. On the other days he chops wood for the oven, sits with tea and roll cigarettes, cleans and decorates the house, takes the kids to school and tends to the vegetable garden.
In the house, next to the dining table is the bakery
“In winter mornings in here the temperature’s at four degrees.“
We start preparing the cast iron wood burning oven that Pau bought second hand. It came from Italy. An oven like that needs a lot of time to reach the right temperature.
Today we won´t make bread with the mother dough. We´d need to wait until the next day. “The mother dough is living, fermented dough. The way our ancestors made bread, because they didn´t have yeast”.
We weigh 5 kilos of flour and in a deep tray we mix it with salt, sugar (yeast??) and we go along adding water bit by bit.
Joan had to deal with the most difficult part. The dough is sticky and messy, a long way from being the friendly and soft form that we had in mind. He gets his hands in there to touch, knead, lift, turn... and a little bit more water.
We put a bit too much water in but “everything can be fixed” Pau assures us.
When the dough is more compact we pass it onto the table to work on it some more. It’s still very sticky and in order to knead it we have to add flour every once in a while.
Stretching the dough forward, folding it back towards you, turning it on the block leaving the fold perpendicular to your body. The aim is to empty it of air, leave it smooth and elastic, without lumps.
The dough begins to take on a life of its own.
“I´m convinced that the world began with bread. If you leave this here a few days you´ll see, little insects come out of it. And who know, everything could come from here!”
We leave Pau to give it the last turns and blows. Only by touching it does he know if it’s ready or not. By instinct.
One last fatal blow on the table. And it’s ready. We leave it to rest for an hour and go to cut firewood. Pau explains that the wood must be cut down under a waning moon. The sap contracts and it’s easier to cut and dry properly.
A moment on the porch in the sun, vermouth and waiting
The dough has risen.
We stretch the dough and cut it lengthways, trying to tear it as little as possible. With each strip we cut smaller pieces that we weigh on the scales. We will make half kilo loaves in moulds and also round country loaves.
Apart from the white bread we are also making cherry and nut bread. Noemi has brought almonds from Galicia. And Dani and Joan are enthusiastic with the chocolate chips. Lots of chips
Each loaf is kneaded again, in the attempt to close the dough over itself, without cracks or air bubbles, compact.
Second moment for waiting.
The Italian oven
Before putting them in the oven, we sprinkle the loaves with water and a little more flour.
In total it will take more or less half an hour, with several changes of trays. Those above will go below and those at the front will be put towards the back of the oven. This is because in a wood burning oven the heat isn´t evenly distributed.
“Ana , how´s the fire doing?
Pau surprises me. Sometime we forget we have to be on top of what´s happening with the oven´s fire. “I was just going to check on it right now” I say with conviction.
The bread is coming out golden brown with a crunchy crust. None of the loaves have gone down and the look irresistible. Twenty-two beautiful loaves of bread.
Bread is happiness.
Bread, pizza and memories
The hamburger meat we´ve brought to do a barbecue are recycled into something much better. We have leftover dough and a tin of stewed tomatoes from Pau´s vegetable garden.
What could be better than sitting here on this porch, eating homemade pizza and knowing that you´ll be returning to Barcelona with a carful of steaming bread?
I remember Pau years ago, making bread in the basement of the design studio that he had with his best friend. He was already starting to develop his new life. First of all it was the boat on which he lived in Port Olimpic, the Polaris, and then the bakery.
Pau and his world are the same as the bread. Simple and authentic, made of raw material, friendly and warm . Origin and end. I´m convinced. Everything began with bread.