It was 2002 when the small bakery Tartine opened at 600 Guerrero Street in San Francisco, offering French pastries, tarts with imaginative fruit fillings, pies (inspired by the American South but made with French techniques), cakes, wonderful croissants and, perhaps most importantly, breads made with excellent quality flour and natural leaven.
It was a tribute to the tradition of handmade bread and an obvious and deliberate move away from the practices of the large-scale bakery industry that plague America (and, by extension, the rest of the world).
Tartine’s reputation soon transcended the city’s borders and many copycat new bakeries began opening on the West Coast. Bread made with artisanal sourdough became not only fashionable but indispensable in nearly all fine dining restaurants. This new wave did not take long to reach the gastronomically developed countries of Europe.
In restaurants across the continent, pastry chefs began producing fine products with carefully selected ingredients, each bread with its own identity drawing on tradition and carrying the added value of being handmade onsite.
London was one of the first cities to welcome bakeries producing artisanal sourdough bread. In Paris, following in the footsteps of boutique patisseries, bakeries became hotspots for tourists who discovered anew the European mecca of baking, the fragrant boulangerie. Alongside buttery croissants and slender baguettes, the rustic sourdough breads of the French countryside took their place.
For Greece, sourdough bread has a long and valued history. In Athens, however, for many years only a handful of bakeries persisted in flying the flag for quality bread. Following tradition, these proud exceptions refused to use the raising agents, ready-made flour mixtures, texture enhancers and other ”conveniences” the large-scale bread manufacturers had introduced into the baking industry.
Takis’ Bakery in Koukaki is one of those few, as is Pnyka, which even operates its own flour mill. Sekka Bakery in Piraeus uses a sourdough starter that has been handed down from generation to generation. Elisabeth Koulouris of Betty’s Bakery started distributing her delicious natural starter bread by bicycle four years ago; today today you’ll find her loaves in many good grocery stores.
For the past four years, wonderful breads and French-style baked goods, including well-made croissants with fillings, have established the world-class bakery Queen Bee, a favorite Kolonaki hangout, one which brought a touch of New York’s Soho to the Greek capital.
Elswhere, two good friends, Christos Pappas and Stefanos Livanios, decided to make a career change and went to study at Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu and École Grégoire-Ferrandi respectively. They happened to get their hands on two sourdough starters, one that’s now 50 years old and another that’s been around for 100 years, and they started making bread for their personal consumption.
As soon as the lockdown was lifted this spring, they opened a bakery, the already successful Tromero Paidi in Ilisia, which has gained great popularity in the space of only a few months. With Greek flour from Karditsa and the old sourdough cultures, they produce wonderful bread, including eight different kinds of slow-rise sourdough bread, as well as sourdough French baguettes. Their 100% rye loaf, with large holes and a lightly sour taste, is well worth trying.
The city has had its own briocherie for almost a year. The Metayer brothers, Jean-Charles and Sebastien, a chef and a baker respectively, are originally from the Loire region of France. Chef Jean-Charles has worked in haute cuisine restaurants in Greece for years. He joined his brother Sebastien to work together on making brioche, the buttery French bread that was always on their table at home.
In Brio, their Neo Psychiko shop, they offer the classic brioche and a number of variations on it that include savory brioches with spinach and egg as well as the unique “briossant,” a combination of brioche and croissant.
Speaking of croissants, in a few weeks a croissanterie is expected to open in the Syntagma area. Three friends, Giannis Kikiras, Alkiviadis Zervas and Spyros Pappas, all professional pastry chefs, are the creators of Overoll Croissanterie.
“The croissant offers us more comfort in our creativity, a more everyday experience than a cake or a pastry,” says Kikiras, although he also points out that it takes three whole days to complete the process of making a croissant using a liquid starter culture. Their customers will be able to see the fifteen types of croissants as they are being made. Using carob or wholemeal dough, and with Greek fillings such as spinach and cheese (like a spinach pie), they promise to bring this symbol of France into the everyday lives of Athenians and visitors alike.
Back in 2018, the young baker Ianthi Michalaki was having a hard time finding accommodations in order to extend her stay in Denmark, where she’d been working at Copenhagen’s famous restaurant 108. For this and other reasons, she decided to return to Greece, where she was immediately welcomed; various cafes and bakeries wanted to work with her, knowing she was bringing back something new to the city’s baking scene.
Around the same time, in London, Maria Alafouzou, a manager at a modern bakery, decided to return to Athens with the idea of setting up her own business here. Perhaps a bakery, she thought, because although the subject of her studies had been journalism, she had always been involved with food in some way as well.
“At university, I wrote about dining out options for the newspaper. Later, I had my own food-focused website and while I was in London I also bought a share in the bakery Little Bread Pedlar,” Alafouzou says. A mutual acquaintance introduced her to Michalaki, and that launched what has been a happy collaboration.
They have spent the last two years making plans for Kora bakery , which opened its doors in December at 44 Anagnostopoulou Street. In the bakery, thanks to the open preparation area, you’ll be able to see everything that comes with baking, including flour-sprinkled worktops, butter melting in pots, and sugary glazes being smeared over pastries.
All the bread here is made with natural starters and with different types of Greek flours, and you’ll also find several kinds of viennoiseries, fresh croissants and puff pastries, some savory options and high-quality sandwiches.
Michalaki studied cooking and pastry making in Switzerland, worked in France, and learned the secrets of baking bread in Denmark; she promises to bring to the business everything she admired in the way people work abroad, and her partner shares her vision. “We want to offer a new interpretation of what an Athenian bakery is. We want to give jobs and make fertile partnerships, to develop, to bring favorable changes and new initiatives, to have a zero carbon footprint and be an exemplary bakery. It may sound very ambitious for a bakery, but that’s what we’ll try to do,” explains Alafouzou.
Due to COVID, the bakery will initially offer only take-out service in order to protect both patrons and staff, but it’s hoped that the original plan, where customers can be served at tables inside as well, will become viable in the future.
This article first appeared in the print issue Greece Is Athens Winter 2020-2021 with the title “3rd Wave Bakeries”. The magazine, along with other past issues, is available for order at our eshop.