My name is Renu
I was born in Jaipur, the Pink City of India, in a working class family of 10 members which included myself, 3 siblings, parents, paternal grandparents, a help (who was like a family member) and a puppy (my father’s darling and much more than a family member). My mother was a very hardworking woman who managed us all alongside her office (in those days working women were few in our country). My father who was a school principal was always assisting her in all the household chores, so ‘dignity of labour’ was my childhood learning and has stayed with me till date.
I was a good student (as per my report cards!) and also a national level basketball player during my school and college years. I participated in the 1982 Pre-Asian Games as well. I must have played in 11 national level tournaments and was also the captain of the Rajasthan State team and my university team.
Those were ohh so carefree days when my life revolved around my sole passion of basketball: my practice sessions, matches, teammates, victories, defeats… I just cannot thank my parents enough for letting me follow my passion and allowing me to be away from home for basketball camps and tournaments for months at a stretch. In those days — about 40 years back — girls of working class families in India were not expected to be away from home unchaperoned for long, that too for sports. But my parents did it with only one precondition that I should also excel in my exams, else the basketball stops. I did not disappoint them as I got merit position in the Board exams, won the NTSE scholarship and so on. Later I was selected in Rajasthan Accounts Service and then went on to join the Indian Revenue Service after completing my Masters in English Literature from Rajasthan University. Today, I serve as Principal Commissioner in the Income Tax Department with the Government of India.
My baking story
This is a long one, and you all will get to hear it now and then as we ‘bake along’. So here it goes.
Many Indian parents would know the struggle their children (and the family members) go through while preparing for college entrance examinations. I took childcare leave from office to support my second son, Divyam, as he prepared for his exams. He just loves breads. One day we ran out of our store-bought bread stock. We were buying breads from one of the larger stores in R. K Puram, New Delhi which supposedly made fresh healthy breads. My son said something to the effect that people have been baking bread at their homes for thousands of years, so why can’t we?
It was in jest of course, but his words left an impression on me. It was a challenge that I took upon myself as this was one area where neither had I dared to venture till date nor had I ever thought about doing so. Soon after, with the encouragement of my family, especially Divyam, I started experimenting with baking breads. I was also determined to bake pizzas for Priyam, my elder son, who relishes them. I was also keen to give my breads and pizzas a healthy twist — the jugaad mindset to somehow make the food ‘healthy’ that never rests.
Healthy eating and nutrition have been deeply ingrained in my psyche since I became a mother. During my childhood, I recall, we would just gorge anything from anywhere: “chuski” and “paani-puri” from street vendors, deep fried “kachori” from road side “thellas”, water from the small huts on the pavements in Jaipur (the “pyaaus” with earthern ‘matkas’), all the while being proud of our ‘good immunity’. But as soon as my boys were born, thanks to the ubiquitous books on good parenting, nutrition journals and the endless healthy eating write-ups on the web, we steadily got cautious and decided to not take any chances.
My kids will tell you that they have grown up hearing the same nagging dialogues about food: “Please eat this or that, for it is healthy for body and mind”. I’m sure you too must have found yourself saying something similar to your kids now and then. One day, they revolted and gave notice: “Pleeeaase iss Sunday ko kuch bhi nutritious mat dena”. Sounds familiar, right? 🙂
Manu, my dear husband and also the biggest fan of my baking skills, always tells our boys “Hey! There’s an old jungle saying: never underestimate your Mom!”. And guess what Mom did next!
It was April 2016, and I was all set to bake that ‘quintessential’ loaf! Unfortunately, enthusiasm was no substitute for proper equipment, ingredients and skill. The first few batches of bread were terrible. My son fondly called these “kauwa” (crow) bread, as the particularly bad ones from the lot were fit to be fed to only crows (but maybe one needed to ASK THE CROWS first if they were game!!). Nevertheless, Divyam kept encouraging me to experiment, and with practice my breads gradually became palatable (my son’s words, not mine!!).
The BreadBakers community
I am a teacher’s daughter and a teacher at heart. So after a few months of baking, I felt the urge to teach this to my community, my friends and family. This led to some very simple and minimalistic recipes for the new bakers. I wanted to ensure that they did not make as many mistakes as I did, and did not get intimidated by the process. I started with a session for three friends who were my Yoga class mates, at my home and in 2 hours could guide them to start baking pizzas and breads at home.
After that first session, there was no looking back. The aroma of fresh homemade breads was almost always all over my home, and the word soon spread outside likewise. I found myself teaching a large, strongly-knit community of women and children. What started as a small group, has now expanded to over 600 people and counting. In the past 5 years, I have done live demonstrations on healthy bread baking in different cities on multiple occasions, reaching out to enthusiastic bread bakers through our Whatsapp groups.
I would take sessions wherever I would travel to — Jaipur, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Goa, Rohtak — and we would organise these sessions at a short notice of a day or two, sometimes in the living room of any of my fellow bakers or in a guest house. All were welcome to join – and I never charged anyone anything . Later, we did healthy baking sessions in schools for children and their home science teachers, for the fellow officers in the government and their families, for residents of several communities through their RWAs, and at times even when I had gone holidaying to resorts with the help of their chefs!
For my well wishers, I am happy to share that there is no cure for those bitten by the baking BUG!! This addiction — Bakeddiction — is not easy to get rid of!!
In November 2019, I went to Germany to learn from the Master Bakers at Akademie Deutsches Bäckerhandwerk in Weinheim to further hone my craft. There, I had an opportunity to bake and break bread with people from all over the world: from Africa to Japan – who all got their respective culinary, cultural and social influences to bread baking. And I am still in touch with these amazing bakers, sharing tips and bakes regularly.
About the website
Friends, till now we were connected through Whatsapp groups — I have about 7 different groups for sharing our bakes, baking tips and recipes. These groups are often difficult to manage in real time. From now on, I shall be focusing more on this website which will be the one stop shop for my recipes, videos, tips and help for all your bread baking endeavours. We’ll still be communicating through the WhatsApp groups, but I think these groups, as we know, are best for sharing our immediate moments, wins, successes and emotions. The longer discussions and recipes will be archived here on this website.
You will hear from me on Wednesday and Friday. Additionally, once a week, I will get a guest baker from our group to share her bakes, recipes and tips. I welcome you to engage with the baking community. Share your experiences in the comments section on every page, or on the Whatsapp groups. Let me know how the recipes worked for you, and tell me what you’d like to see next, or what you’d like to know more about. I plan to have some live sessions and interactions too. I also intend to teach how to bake sourdough breads. I learnt some excellent tricks from German Master Bakers when I went to one of their oldest baking academies in Weinheim and would like to share those learnings too.
We will talk, we will bake, we will meditate (meditation/ Pranic healing style) and we will enjoy this wonderful baking journey together.
Thanks for being here and thanks for your wishes and support always!
Do check the Blog every week on this website for new posts and updates!