Auroville, located 10 kms from Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu, is an international-universal city where residents from nearly fifty countries live and work to realise the vision of human unity as envisaged by philosopher-yogi Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual collaborator, Mira Alfassa, known as The Mother.
An indigo-blue wall-painted sign in four languages indicates that we are at the Auroville Bakery. Originally located in Kottakarai, it moved to its current location in the Douceur Settlement in 1991. Since then the capacity has been increased from baking 200 bread loaves a day to 600. The bakery is an extension of the ethos of the community and functions primarily for residents, so it does not pander to the service standards that a casual visitor may expect. Nor does it vie to fulfil one’s fantasies of melt-in-the-mouth confections from bakeries with tenuous links to France.
However, here’s what the Auroville Bakery has going for it - wholesome, filling and - if I may use the word in a complimentary way - ‘rustic’ range of breads, savoury items and cakes. Catering to a large international population, the bakery has been, for years, making the kind of breads that have since come to be known as ‘artisanal’. The items are vegetarian with the exception of egg, but in 2011, the bakery also began making vegan cakes.
A sweeping design element of red brick forms the backdrop for a cane shelf, wooden racks and glass-fronted displays that hold the items for sale. There is no price list and few items are labelled. Besides, there is no place to eat here near the display, with easy access to second helpings.
I carry an assortment of baked items in their paper wrapper to the modest cafe in the backyard where the resident cat sidles up, hoping to get fed. A larger cafe is scheduled to open soon with a menu that will include breakfast, lunch, dinner.
The breads come in varieties like multigrain, ragi, corn, raisin and sourdough. They even have pumpernickel and baguettes. One of the customers tells me that she usually picks up a loaf of bread and freezes it. When required, she simply pops a slice directly from the freezer into the toaster.
I give the breads a miss, and being too early for the first batch of cake, dive straight into a self-assembled platter of croissants. All the varieties are, without exception fluffy and yield easily to the touch. They are kneaded in an air-conditioned room where blocks of butter are compressed to sheets to be better incorporated into the dough. The Cheese Croissant has amazing depth of flavour from the grated cheese encrusted on the outer folds. The filling seems too little for me, but then again, one can never have enough of cheese in one’s croissant. I bring back a Chocolate Croissant and reheat it to find that the hard bits of chocolate have melted to a lovely gooey consistency spilling out of the encasing pastry. The apple croissant has too little apple.
The only way to taste the Spinach Pie is when it’s warm. Sadly, the bakery does not reheat items. The filling is moist without being eggy and the base is just firm. Since there is no cutlery and I have to eat the pie off the wrapper, it’s a messy experience.
The disk-like RiniAmericans are more biscuit than sweet pie. The blend of flavours - the sourness of the lemon curd icing with the cinnamon - is a revelation. I especially liked the flavour best on the thin outer edges that are slightly more browned than the middle.
The muffin is a hefty chunk and I tear off bits and eat it all day, making it an endless treat. The crust tastes nutty and the centre is dense and soft, with streaks of chocolate. After tasting this wholesome version, I’m never going back to demure muffins in frilled paper.
The vegan brownie is less moist than a regular one, but it is crumbly and less sweet, making chocolate the dominant flavour.
The bakery also retails peanut butter, cashew butter and jams in flavours like pineapple, grape and apple, but these are sourced.
WHAT TO DRINK: The cafe serves coffee and tea dispensed from containers. We try a hibiscus flower beverage, also called Power Syrup locally, which I find refreshing in the humidity.
Items fly off the shelves even as they are being stacked, so turn up for savoury bakes at 8 a.m., breads at 10.30 a.m. and cakes at noon. The optimum time is between 11 a.m. and noon. Also, the items can be very filling and it makes sense to take away some for later.
Undoubtedly, the croissants.
Auroville Bakery, Douceur, Auroville – 606101. Ph : 0413 2622159
Timings - 6.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. Mon – Sat.
Pies and Croissants from Rs. 30, Riniamericans – Rs. 25, Muffins – Rs. 20, Hibiscus Juice – Rs. 25.
CHOICE (How many varieties are there on the menu?) 7/10*
*depends on time of day
(An edited version of this article was published in the December 2014 Issue of Good Food Magazine India)