Passion fermented to perfection—that is Bengaluru-based chef Aditi Handa’s story in a nutshell. From falling in love with sourdough to selling over a million loaves since the inception of The Baker’s Dozen (TBD) in 2013, she helmed the ethnic sourdough explosion. For it, she used sprouted, roasted, and pounded moong dal. She also made one with intrinsic Indian ‘kadha’ flavours, and another in the ‘laadi’ pao style, not to mention the masala pao style sourdough—all new improvisations.
Handa believes she drew sourdough out of the elitist closet. “Sourdough is the gentlest on the gut, the most fulfilling in taste. I was born to bake it. I still get very upset when people think of sourdough as gourmet bread saved for special occasions,” she shares, now having brought in variations in fourgrain, blue berry, cranberry, walnut raisin, chilli cheese to her sourdough kitty. Handa’s first dalliance with the culinary world came when she began training in a Lebanese kitchen in the US (to perfect the hummus), and then baking bread in Bengaluru— “Where all my friends said they loved the kinds of bread I baked, but everything tasted the same! I realised that since bread wasn’t birthed here, I had to learn from the best hands to get that expertise home.” She soon left to pursue a Diploma in International Bread Baking from International Culinary Institute (New York), followed by a Diploma in Patisserie from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, to power her own.
Today, Handa’s artisan breads, fitkneads (gluten-free, high protein cakes and breads) flavoured butters, cookies, crackers, cupcakes, lemon cupcakes, and more are zooming into shopping carts across the country, forming an oasis of fresh, flaky goodness. “I offer honest dough, free of preservatives,” says Handa. “There is a completely transparent approach: everything baked by us is safe for regular consumption by children too, a free tour of our factory is possible for everyone. It has been fun, but a challenging ride, fighting our Indian fixation with the traditional white bread pumped with chemical additives and emulsifiers. But I have set my own narrative, conditioning consumers slowly over the years, giving out tasting samples of sourdough; adhering to my rendition of the slightly hard and chewy bagel (unlike a brioche). I have created my own recipes from scratch.”
There have been hits and misses. As the walnut raisin sourdough didn’t take off, Handa discontinued its production. She tried her hand at butter variants and has struck gold in flavours, including almond, cookie, cinnamon, nutmeg. “You can pour atop any cake, it tastes decadent,” she smiles. A sharp business acumen (in combination with her IIM alumnus husband Sneh Jain) has led to her foray into the Betty Crocker world of premixes. “Our offerings are evenly priced. Following the success of Belgian chocolate and vanilla classic cake premixes, comes my pancake mix that lets you flip the fluffiest pancakes with ease at home,” she says. An untapped market, yet again.
The magic is evident in her hands as she shapes the dough at the new rambling factory in Ahmedabad where TBD has centralised operations since last year. With the pandemic setting in, and bread being an essential item, Handa benefitted from the switch to the German tech-powered ‘FreshLock’ packaging to beat humidity and temperature fluctuations. “The plastic packaging is more expensive, but controls humidity fluctuations, lending a longer shelf life. We are working to improve upon our carbon credits by recycling paper, egg shells etc,” she shares. The 200-member team is now eyeing a rake-in of `30 crore in 2020-21. Handa is focused on setting up dark stores in tier II and III cities. That’s a lot in the oven.