From the outside, a baguette is a simply mixture with a few ingredients. But, as you and I both know, it’s a little more complicated. Indeed, a good baguette is one of the hallmarks of a skilled baker. With this in mind, we spoke to Magnus Ericsson to find out about his artisan bakery, Viking Bageri, and his vision to bake the finest French baguettes in Dubai.
Education UAE: Can you explain how Viking came about; I understand we have the pandemic to thank for it?
Magnus: Yes. In my day to day job, I work as an executive in the management team for a group of hospitals, and during the first waves of the Covid pandemic, we were, of course, crazy busy. I had little time off, and I wanted to let my mind focus on something else than just work once I was home.
“When I grew up, my dad used to bake bread – almost every weekend, I would wake up to the smell of freshly baked bread (and however nice that sounds, as a kid you get spoiled with this, often complaining, “Oh no, I don’t like poppy seeds!”, or “Rye bread again?!”). So I said to myself that why don’t I give it a shot? Now, the one bread that my dad never baked was French baguettes, the kind with a crispy golden crust and an open crumb with big air bubbles. That, in combination with the fact that I think that the bread scene in Dubai is quite appalling, made me come to the (fatal) conclusion: “How hard can it be?”
I quite soon realised three things:
- It is quite damn hard.
- It is both rewarding and therapeutic once you get it right.
- I wanted to perfect it – bake the best baguette Dubai has ever seen.
I started trying out different recipes, found one to my liking and then made use of my engineering skills. I began trying out all the different flours I could get my hands on, tried the different yeasts available, bought more than ten different kinds of salt, and kept a book on what the difference was from the last batch. From there, it just continued – what happens if I use water that’s 18 degrees instead of 24 degrees? What happens to the dough if I proof it for 48 hours instead of 14? Yeah, you get the picture.
This led me to understand bread in a way that I assume our ancestors first did before they could consult Google about gluten strands, humidity levels, and oven temperatures. It also had me baking a lot of bread. And I mean a LOT. Soon our neighbours were being fed freshly baked baguettes every week, and then friends of neighbours and neighbours of neighbours started asking for bread. The circus had begun.
During last summer, my wife (Mrs Viking) and kids left for Sweden for a short vacation (I wasn’t allowed to leave the country due to the pandemic), and I pledged myself to bake every day during their absence. I did, and I started sending bread all over Dubai to people who had heard about it.
During that period, one of our neighbours invited me over because she had been playing around a bit with a logotype and branding. That night Viking Bageri in its current form was born. Our neighbour and friend, Jen Bereza, has a Midas touch to everything she does – photography, graphical design, branding, packaging – and she presented the branding guidelines for Viking Bageri, complete with logotype, mood board and font package.
So when my family came back from Sweden, I said that “…people are trying to order our bread, and I’m not sure how to handle the requests. And also, someone called Helen Farmer wants me to be on the radio next week.” So, being a very pragmatic and energetic person with excellent marketing skills, my wife immediately created a website that people could use to order our bread and prepped me for my spot on Helen Farmer’s show.
Oh, and the name by the way – Viking Bageri – it comes from the fact that when moving into our compound, our neighbours quite quickly thought it fitting to call me ‘The Viking’, given my Swedish heritage and the fact that I’m 6” 4’ (194 cm), and ‘bageri’ means bakery in Swedish.
This led me to understand bread in a way that I assume our ancestors first did before they could consult Google about gluten strands, humidity levels, and oven temperatures
EDUAE: Where do you now operate from? How quickly has the business grown?
Magnus: We now have our bakery in Dubai Marina, where we are using facilities owned by our business partner, KRUSH brands.
The business growth has so far been purely organic, and given that both myself and my wife (whose name is Maria – Maria Svedenhov, to be precise) have other daytime jobs, we’ve taken things slowly rather than trying to maximise the growth. Also, our initial thought of baking the best baguette in Dubai still stands, and any growth will have to take that into consideration.
To put it another way, initially, I was baking baguettes in my home oven. I could do three baguettes per hour (long story on why – but it has to do with the fact that the baking process is in two different temperatures, and it takes time to reheat the oven between the sessions). Now we have our own three-deck oven with stone floor, steam injectors, and dough proofers, and me and our bakers are pushing out around 200+ baguettes per day when we are busy.
EDUAE: Is it purely a delivery service, or do you supply selected retailers?
Magnus: It’s both. Our main focus is still business to customer. We have a very committed team, and all of us founders (me, Mrs Viking and Jen, who I mentioned above) are still involved on a daily basis, which allows us to keep a personal tone in our customer relations. And many of our customers are extremely loyal – we have customers (that have become friends over time) that have been with us since day one, and they are still buying their bread every weekend. This relationship is important to nurture and continue focusing on.
But we are also slowly starting to explore the retailing side. We currently have a collaboration between Viking Bageri and Freedom Pizza, where they sell our Garlic & Herb Baguette and our Chocolate & Sea Salt Baguette through their channels. And going forward during the last months of 2021, I believe we’ll be able to have a few more collaborations. But we’re picky, and we want to choose the right partners in everything we do.
Our aim is that no baguette should be more than three hours’ old’ when reaching the customer to ensure that it’s still crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside
EDUAE: Artisan is a term with one very clear purpose: it enables bakeries to transmit to customers that their breads are high-quality; they don’t compare with store-purchased loaves. So, your ingredients must be superior too? What makes your baguettes special – why would I choose Viking Bageri instead of the local bakery or supermarket?
Magnus: I’ve been asked this question before. What do you need to bake a genuinely great baguette? Well, there are not many secrets to what we do. You need passion, time and patience. The first round of ingredients was all bought from supermarkets like Spinney’s and Carrefour, thus available for anyone. But it’s what you do with these ingredients that matter. Now we have evolved the recipe, we know exactly which salt is best for our bread, what protein level in the flour will give the dough its flexibility and ability to rise properly, and the exact number of grams of salt that’s needed to provide some taste, while at the same time not killing the yeast activity.
We use a very small amount of yeast (0.3% to be exact), and that means that our dough needs time to rise properly and develop the air pockets and the characteristic taste
I also mentioned time as a factor when making a great baguette. While we’re not using sourdough (I’ve found the result to be more predictable when using yeast, especially with the weather we have in this part of the world), we are mimicking the process of sourdough. We use a very small amount of yeast (0.3% to be exact), and that means that our dough needs time to rise properly and develop the air pockets and the characteristic taste, so we are cold retarding our dough for at least 14 hours before we start baking and rolling.
We pride ourselves in offering our customers freshly baked bread – something we can do thanks to the fact that we bake to order. Our aim is that no baguette should be more than three hours’ old’ when reaching the customer to ensure that it’s still crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside.
The fact that we so far have focused solely on baguettes has also allowed us to keep striving for perfection, while I believe that we otherwise would have been forced to stop at ‘good enough’.
We currently have a collaboration between Viking Bageri and Freedom Pizza
EDUAE: How do you see the company evolving over the next two to three years?
Magnus: The first step would be to open up for bread delivery during weekdays as well. A lot of the western ex-pats in Dubai are used to getting freshly baked bread throughout the day, and we’d like to be able to cater to that request as well.
Secondly, as I mentioned earlier, we’re gearing up for a few carefully selected collaborations/partnerships. It will be exciting to see them taking off during the rest of the year.
Finally, we still have the same goal as before, to provide Dubai with the best baguettes. But, perhaps we will be able to expand too, offering baguettes to the surrounding emirates, and in the future, maybe even raise the bar to look at other countries in the Middle East?
One thing is for sure, though, if we do, our desire to bake the best baguettes will still be the beating heart of Viking Bageri.