If you’ve been ordering toast in any trendy cafés – particuarly the kinds that use words like ‘whole’ and ‘superfood’ on the menu – you may have noticed the bread has been looking a little ‘unbreadlike’ recently. Where thick slabs of white ciabatta (served with a pat of butter and jam on the side) were once the norm, the health food movement has given rise to a new breed of loaves: dense, often flour-free and crammed with nutrient-rich sprouted grains, seeds and nuts.
Yeshe Dawa, aka The Midnight Baker, is making a name for herself selling her signature product, The Freedom Loaf, to cafés around Auckland and online.
So called because of all the things it’s free from – wheat, yeast, sugar, dairy, eggs and preservatives – it’s the things the Freedom Loaf does contain that make it interesting.
Packed with sunflower, pumpkin and chia seeds, almonds and oats (or buckwheat flour for a coeliac-friendly version), it has a wonderfully nutty flavour, texture and satisfying crunch when toasted.
“It’s made with whole rather than processed ingredients, so you can get the maximum amount of nutrition and benefit from them,” says Yeshe. “I have a lot of customers who don’t have any dietary requirements but say they feel better when they eat that bread, and really enjoy the taste and flavour.”
Yeshe, who decided to go gluten- and dairy-free three years ago as a way to combat eczema, started making the Freedom Loaf for herself when she couldn’t find a good wheat-free bread substitute.
“It’s a lot better now, but at the time all the options were really stodgy and just… not good. I found myself wanting. So I did some research, found some good recipes and started making this really densely packed nut and seed loaf for myself.”
At the time Yeshe worked at local jewellery company Meadowlark, where her co-workers became intrigued with the bread she brought in for lunch each day.
“I’d toast it at work and they’d be like, ‘What is that smell?’ They couldn’t believe I was just making toast. So I started making it for them and then for friends, and people just passed the word on.”
Nowadays, Yeshe works full-time as The Midnight Baker – an apt name considering her unusual schedule. Three or four evenings a week she heads out to Welcome Eatery in Grafton, where she uses their commercial kitchen after hours to bake.
“I didn’t get any sleep at all last night,” she confesses. “Usually I try to start around 5pm and stop at 10pm, but when I’m really busy I’ll work right through until 6am when the kitchen opens.”
Thanks to Yeshe’s late night exertions Aucklanders can find her Freedom Loaf on the menu at cafés Catroux, Odettes Eatery, Dear Jervois, Sip Kitchen, The Shelter’s café Eat, and The Strand.
It can also be ordered from anywhere around New Zealand through her website (“I have one ardent customer in Balclutha who orders regularly,” she says), and is available in three different flavours: Original, Herb, and Cinnahon (made with cinnamon and honey).
“I’m happy to customise orders,” she says. “If someone can’t eat nuts I’ll take them out, or if they’re vegan I’ll substitute the honey for rice syrup. I just want as many people to be able to enjoy it as possible.”