Frustration can be a great catalyst for change. In Malin Elmlid’s case, it was a desperate lack of decent bread that prompted the Swede to get baking herself back in 2007. For some reason, she simply could not find any tasty, easily digestible sourdough loaves in her chosen home Berlin. “Just imagine: In Germany, of all things, i. e. one of the world’s foremost bread nations, I could not even find an approximation of the quality or taste I knew and loved from back home,” she explains. And to Malin, great bread equals sourdough; fluffy loaves that require specialist baking expertise and a good 24 hours to mature. The dedicated and time-consuming process ditches the yeast entirely, upping the result’s delectable and digestive properties.

Malin Elmlid, photo: Klara Leo
Malin Elmlid, photo: Klara Leo
111013 Malin Elmlid byter surdegsbröd mot upplevelser världen över.

Although she possessed little know-how at the time, Malin decided to tackle the challenge and started to bake in her rare time off, in moments snatched from working full-time in the fashion industry. Yet wherever her travels took her, the business graduate would invariably try new types of bread, swap recipes, and learn as much as possible about the tricks of the trade. Between meetings and fashion weeks, she would spend sleepless nights in the kitchen, occasionally even moonlighting overnight at a Paris bakery while doing her daytime job at the shows, or visiting master baker Lars Gustavsson in the Northern Swedish town of Höje between Fashion Weeks to spend ten days learning the ropes – including 2am wake-up calls.

Photo: Emelie Lindgren
Photo: Emelie Lindgren

“All the traveling left me with so many impressions and inspirations, but the things that really touched me were always the little details, the encounters.” To capture and keep it all, she started a blog in 2008. The Bread Exchange became her diary, travel companion, and finally the window of her universe. The firm focus on baking not only kept her down-to-earth, but also brought ever-new insights: Malin soon learnt about many health aspects, cultural idiosyncrasies, and finally the value of really good bread. “The more I was baking, the more it became about what to do with the bread. I shared it with friends and neighbors – and finally also via my blog.” What happened then continues to fascinate her to this day. People started offering objects and favors, from flowers and theater tickets to guitar lessons and bike repair vouchers. A man even gave her his phone number, stating that he would have an open ear whenever life left her sad. Malin was impressed – and the business graduate inside her astonished. “People don’t just give. We are taught that we are all opportunists. But then I realized that that is exactly what I am doing: Giving without waiting for a reward. Today, I know that when you give without expectations, you will reap a thousand times the investment.“

Photo: Andreas Bohlander
Photo: Andreas Bohlander

To date, Malin has given away more than 1,400 loaves and met thousands of new people. She has experimented with different types of flour, salt, and water or included fruit, herbs, and seeds from around the world. For more than six years, she has baked every day, setting her alarm clock at night to give the dough a quick knead, and investing a lot of time, money, and patience in the process. Her efforts have paid off in many ways and on many levels: Hundreds of fans comment on her blog and, in 2011, she was approached by a publisher to write a book about bread and her unbridled passion.

Photo: Shantanu Starick
Photo: Shantanu Starick

As a result, Malin quit her job and spent ten months traveling the world, swapping work for food, shelter, and countless of beautiful experiences. A book on her travels in the UK and USA will hit the shops in October, with a special Swedish edition scheduled for her native country.

Photo: Shantanu Starick
Photo: Shantanu Starick

With The Bread Exchange, the gifted baker now lives and breathes something she picked up during her studies and has always had an intuitive knack for: connecting people, telling stories, listening, learning, and continually pushing herself further. The Bread Exchange network links fans on a global and local scale, inspires people of all persuasions, and – last, but not least – demonstrates priceless passion and openness. Or, as Malin herself likes to say, “I am more driven by my curiosity than by money. Not everything is for sale.“

Text: Romy Uebel
Header image: Shantanu Starick