Masa Bambini Bread Bakery, in Seville

Seville bread in Spain

Spain isn’t quite known for its breads. It’s probably because bread is more used as a vehicle for eating other foods – like pan con tomate (toasted bread with olive oil, then rubbed with fresh tomato and a bit of salt) or as a resting place for marinated sardines, or another tapas, rather than enjoyed on its own.

olive oil on bread

To make a little confession; when I came to Spain, I brought a little loaf of bread from France with me to have for breakfast. Because as much as I like pan con tomate (which is often eaten for breakfast), I didn’t think I would have the time, or the inclination, to gather all the ingredients and prepare them in the kitchen of my apartment. And I’m a creature of habit and the morning isn’t exactly the time of day when I’m looking forward to any surprises.

Seville bread bakery

So I was excited the first day when I met Juan Gomez, the owner of La Azotea, and he invited me to come along the following morning to visit the baker who makes the bread for his restaurants. What I wasn’t so excited about was waking up at 6:15am, so I would be all set to go (ie: already coffee’d up) when he would ring me up to meet.

juan gomezSeville street
baking formula for ovenloaves of bread

Fortunately Spaniards seem to be pretty laid back in the morning and Juan took me to La Campana for my 47th café cortado in twenty-four hours and some pastries, including a tasty flat, crisp bread known as torta de aceite, a local specialty made with lots of olive oil, sesame, and usually a touch of anise – although I did have one version with candied Seville (sour) oranges that blew my calcetínes off*.

cranberry bread

We arrived and owner-baker Fidel Pernía was running around, forehead beading with sweat, kneading, shaping, rubbing the dough with unfiltered olive oil, and pulling breads out of the oven. Although Juan speaks excellent English, Fidel spoke so fast it was hard to translate. He’s a busy man and wastes no time – and also, has a lot to say.

bread bakery in Seville

Fidel was formerly a mathematician and has a rather analytic approach to breadmaking. Which he told me.

bread and formula

Rather, which he showed me.

baking formula

He was going to fast for me to understand (kind of like my math teacher in 7th grade…) but the gist of this graph was the cultures in the bread on the left, and the baking time on the bottom.

baking formula

And somewhere, they meet in the middle, to make just the right loaf.

Breads in Masa Bambini bakery are made to accompany certain Spanish dishes. So large loaves may have a dense or compact crumb, to absorb tomato juices or olive oil. Smaller breads might be oval-shaped, to grill, then top with the famed Iberian pata negra ham from the region, which is another popular breakfast. And with me, it was a popular lunch, and dinner, too – daily.

pistachio bread

Pan “tortilla de papas” was an earthy bread with potatoes and chiles, and there were sesame-topped rolls made with ground pistachios. I kept thinking how good they’d be with pork burgers in them, made from the local pigs.

bakery salt

One of the things that I really liked was the salt, which he said was harvested in Spain. He made me stick my hand in the bag, and when I pulled it out, the humid crystals encrusted my scrupulously clean fingers. I took a lick (don’t worry, I didn’t stick my hand back in..) and it was delicious. Some of the best salt I’ve ever had. I dropped a few hints, inquiring where I could – um – get some? But he just told me it wasn’t available locally. And while he put the bag back on the shelf, I rinsed my hand (although I should have shoved it in my pocket and saved those precious crystals), I eyed the bag longingly on the shelf.

When the breads were pulled from the oven with the wooden peel, they were transferred to cooling racks and set just next to the door, where the gentle Andalusian breeze blowing down the scenic, narrow street cooled them. They also seemed to beckon the neighbors, who didn’t just come for a chat (with most of them did – although a few just shouted a word of hello into the bakery as they were passing), but also to pick up a loaf of bread. Juan picked up a few breads and gave them a good sniff, then talked to Fidel about making some crusty, light sandwich breads for his restaurant.

As I was leaving, a customer came in and grabbed a few loaves off the shelves and put them on the counter, which Fidel wrapped up for her.

bread on rack

When I remarked about what a friendly, neighborhood place the bakery was, and how great it was that he let customers pick out their own loaf of bread. He said, “That’s my wife” which I guess gives her special privileges. So if you go, don’t help yourself – no matter how tempting.

Seville bread

Masa Bambini
Calle Huelva 6A
Seville, Spain
Tel: 954906477



*The tortas de aceite I had were the Upita brand, which are available in the US at La Tienda and on Amazon. Another popular brand is Ines Rosales. They’re not inexpensive to buy internationally, unfortunately, but they are rather inexpensive in Spain. (I think they cost less than €2, or about $2.70, for a pack of six.) Unfortunately (as well), I didn’t stock up on any – and didn’t think about it – until I was leaving. But didn’t want to pay four times the price at the airport gift shop. Now that I’m home, of course, I’m dreaming about them and I’d pay eight times the price for one. In fact, I probably will.

46 comments

  • oh when i see a post like this, it’s so nice to think: it’s a beautiful world!

    how is it that just bread and salt can make a person so happy? and yes, love those ines rosales fennel-ey tortas.

  • I am loving the normal distribution and control limits drawn in the flour – I just wrote about process capability and doing dishes last week! Quality principles are applicable to everything!

    • The whole thing was w-a-a-ay over my tiny head, but it was interesting to watch him draw all those lines. What he’s writing on the pad is a ‘formula’ for the pleasure you get from bread. If it wasn’t so early in the morning, I probably would have understood it (slightly) better. But I was happy just to watch them bake! : )

  • Love this- that salt looks incredible! The picture of the huge, ridiculously massive pile of oiled bread dough is my favorite- or maybe the mathematical equations written in flour? How else would a baker describe his way of thinking? Great post, wish I had a slice of that bread in hand as we speak.

  • Wow. I had never thought much about Spanish bread, but now I’m interested in all these varieties. Also-that man can draw extremely straight lines without a ruler. Ha!

  • But, did you like the bread? Was it ordinary milled flour? Tortas de aceite really are fantastic–but you could probably make them every bit as good. By the way, there is another kind of torta de aceite, same ingredients, but it turns out a soft “cookie” rather than crisp and flaky. It is made by bread bakers, kneading olive oil and spices into risen bread dough, plus a little baking soda. I’ve enjoyed your blogs about foods in Spain.

    • I saw a few recipes online but wasn’t sure if I should give one a try (plus I’m swamped at the moment with other work, and Seville oranges aren’t in season for another couple of months – and even when they are, they’re a bit hard to find here…) but the packet said they were “24% olive oil” which sounded like a somewhat tricky dough to get right. So I either need to go back to Spain, or give them a try.

      The bread was good – better than most of the bread I had in Spain. He had 4 starters going and used those. I am not sure what flour he used because he was moving very (very) fast, and I was trying to taste, eat, and listen (in Spanish!)

  • Do you have a transcript of the math and explanations? Semi-legible notes, even? I’d love to hear the formula for enjoyment of bread (particularly if it verifies my belief that the pleasure of eating bread hot out of the oven outweighs the benefit of letting it cool down first).
    Sad, though: I was hoping the story would end with his giving you a bag of the salt.

  • Didn´t you try “cortadillo de cidra”? Upita and Ines Rosales make them, and they are incredibly good. I never buy them, because I eat the whole bag in minutes.

  • Loving your Seville trip.
    Big fan of the orange Ines Rosales, which we pay a whopping $12 Aus for six!

  • I believe I could live on bread with salted butter! I get the orange Ines Rosales at Central Market here in Austin. I believe it’s about $6 for the package of 6. Well worth the price. As always, I wish my computer had smell-o-vision because your pictures are diviine!

    • Lucky you! At the airport in Spain, they were about €4 ($6.25, about) a pack, which was kind of outrageous.

  • Crazy how the simplest things like good bread with good butter (or olive oil) can be equally as satisfying as a plate of short ribs and polenta with a glass of wine.

  • I moved to Cleveland about 2 years ago from a small town and was amazed at all the variety in Cleveland grocery stores. During the holidays they have huge displays of the Ines Rosales breads. I had never heard of them and of course had to try them. They are good, but not really that expensive here in Cleveland. Not a large Spanish culture here, but lots of Italians. Guess Italians like them too. Me too. Always interesting, David.

  • Hi,

    Maybe, you can give this recipe a try:

    http://invitadoinviernoeng.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/tortas-de-aceite-or-sweet-olive-oil.html

    I think that blog is a truthful and delicious source :)
    I’m sharing this recipe with a few people here in England too. It seems tortas de aceite are on fire!

  • So interesting to think about the design of bread… whether it’s for eating on its own, or with particular accompaniments in mind. We often think of bread having the opposite relationship to accompaniments in the states… what goes well on this bread rather than what bread can we make to go well with this dish.

    Also, I LOVE those tortas de aceite, especially the anise and orange ones. They make a great snack, and there’s something wonderful about the wax paper packaging. I’d love to find out how to make them, but maybe it’s one of the things that tastes better when you buy…

  • There is nothing like good bread. Nothing. I used to be a baker at a cafe where we made all of our bread for sandwiches and everything else. Nothing beats it!

  • I live in Spain, and there are good breads to be had, but you are right about most bread being a vehicle for other things. Fortunately, there seem to be more and more shops like this one.

    My favorite bread is “pan de pueblo”, village bread, which is round and like half a sphere. (You can see it here: http://bit.ly/GLPBmv)

  • That baker should totally use one of those diagram’s on his wrapping paper or other marketing – it is such a perfect expression of the love he puts into his work. I love the otaku-ness of it!

  • David, I live half an hour or so away from one of the places where they harvest the salt. They flood large areas with sea water and let it evaporate. Some days you can go past and the water looks pink. Indeed, there are often flocks of flamingos standing around in it. The water almost reaches the main road and on one side you can see the salt mountains. If you go on Google maps street view I suspect you could see it. Look in the Alicante region between Santa Pola and La Marina.

  • This makes me want to hop on a plane to Seville now!

    And the mathematical nerdy angle is just the icing on the “pan”!

  • So David–what ARE your calcetines, or shouldn’t one ask? Asterisk to nowhere!

  • If you are still in southern Spain, get yourself to Antequera! At the moment I am blocking on the name of the amazingly delicious small round breads they make for breakfast only. When I worked at the hospital in Malaga (long ago!) we would beg our doctor friend from Antequera to bring some back when he visited home. When I had occasion to visit his home, these breads were even more amazing right out of the oven. If you get a chance to visit be sure to also get a chance to see the prehistoric caves with carvings and the great park, Torcal de Antequera. The mountain sides are filled with wild aromatic herbs (thyme) and wild blue iris in springtime.

  • Ines Rosales at Central Market — I’m on my way!

  • As always a fantastic post. You have a penchant for great food/pastry/bread made by handsome men. ;-)

  • Calcetines=socks! (What were you thinking? :-D )

    We were in Sevilla when the oranges were falling off the trees everywhere we went. One was on our patio, and I SE tinned it. Took one bite, and it was so bitter! Later we learned most of the orange crop there is exported to UK for the making of marmalade.

    Now we’re back in Paris scarfing up the baguettes topped with bearer avec sel de mer and those lovely elongated sweet radishes.

  • If I had my way, I would live on bread and butter (never mind the pasta). Nothing beats a great crusty loaf or tasty roll, especially when you see how the passion for and dedication to this craft. Great post!

  • I am so happy that Torta De Aceite can be bought in my local Waitrose. Beautiful stuff it is. I eat it with a liquorice ice cream we make at home- sounds odd but the orange scented Torta really goes with it!

  • I’ve heard good things about it, but now I have to go to Seville. Thanks!

  • Molletes!!! The best are from Antequera. Like a fabulously crusty gourmet English muffin.

  • Nice this post about spanish bread and “pan con tomate” and “jamón ibérico”. I love baking breads. I didn´t know this bakery, but sure, nex time I visit Seville, I won´t forgot to go around, and take some olive oil breads.

    By the way this weekend I have two bakery classes with Ivan Yarza en Bilbao. I dont know if you know who he is….. But It would be great to see you over here to offer some classes about baking. Do you have teaching cooking clases? By the way the people who is bringing Ivan Yarza to Bilbao, brought Dan Lepard last year to San Sebastian, and I´ll be glad to see too. You are one of my favorite cookers¡¡¡

    Great all your post about Spain.

    Virginia “sweet and sour”

  • Thank goodness you don’t have to be a mathematician to be a baker or pastry chef…I would have gotten kicked out of class on the first day! Beautiful breads and that salt does look amazing…too bad he didn’t get your subtle hint!

  • Hi Dave, big fan of yours,
    Welcome to Spain,
    I live there so I really enjoyed your bread writing.
    Your recomendation is over the top!
    I Can live on bread, olive oil and cheese since we have a myriad of varieties, from pan Gallego to Mollete, with hundreds in between.
    Your recomendation is a gift, must stop there since 2,1/2 hours away.
    Thanx again, can’t live without your articles and recepies!

  • Penelope Casas has a recipe for torta de aceite in her book La Cocina de Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain cookbook. The Ines Rosales from Central Market in San Antonio was as good as you could expect a bread to be after it was flown around the world and sat for a few weeks on a grocery store shelf. I can imagine it would be fabulous if it had been baked fresh.

  • That salt looks amazing- I could almost taste it. It appears much like a bag of salt my husband & I bought years ago from a salt farm near Guerande ( in France)- perhaps that would work. Otherwise we just have to go on a salt quest.

  • Ante todo quisiera darte las gracias por haber escrito de mí y de mí pan, frases con tantos sentimientos.

    El verdadero secreto para hacer un buen pan es poder transmitir a la masa que haces, todo el cariño del mundo.
    Comprendí que el pan no sigue ninguna regla matemática, hay tantas variable que influye en la levadura que al final te das por vencido.
    En el mundo de la levadura, 2+2 no son 4.

    Un fuerte abrazo.

  • Hi David..loved your post..I live in Southern Spain in Estepona…and can send you some Ines Rosales’ Tortas de Aceite’ if you want?…I dont know however if they would arrive all in one piece !!

  • Hi Dave!
    Love your blog! I’m leaving for France on Sat with my husband and a small group of friends.. We’re going on a Rhone cruise. I ‘ll be in Paris the 13th & 14th before the cruise. I’ve lived in France (Poitiers), have friends in Paris, in Bordeaux, and down by the Mediterranean. It’s always a joy to come to France. Your blog is so fun. I can almost taste the food! I’m now retired, but I was a high school French teacher for 30 years. So, if you ever need some help with your French, you can email me. :-) Thank you so much for your wonderful blog. Bises, Diane Stanley

  • The life of a person with celiac disease is just sad, that is a life without all beautiful breads. And no, gluten free bread doesn’t begin to be close. No.

  • Hi Dave… off topic but I saw you on “The Getaway” last night @ Bistrot Paul Bert..
    It was a thrill…really !! That steak looked awesome……

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this post, your descriptive words and exquisite detail made me feel as if I were in the bakery with you, and your personal thoughts and opinions were like being with an old friend. Well done.

  • Not sure if I liked the bread photos or pics of M. Pernia better in this post!

    Also, I thought you might enjoy this link, on a “no fail” pastry made with sour cream instead of water:
    http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/no_fail_flakey_pastry_crust/

  • Haha! I enjoyed reading this. So funny! That baker former mathematician that you met was unbelievable too.

  • You’re such a good story teller, David. I really enjoyed reading your blog.