jeudi 22 novembre 2012

Give us this day our daily, artisanale bread

Bread lovers are well-served in France.  Bakeries here are as ubiquitous as Starbucks are in the USA, and even if you were to find yourself in a lieu-dit--a town of fewer than 30 inhabitants--rest assured you'd still have access to the sacred baguette via the mobile baker who comes into the village a couple of times a day, announcing his arrival with several swift beeps to the horn on his truck.
It is possible, however, to find bad bread.  Not only possible, but probable, as more and more bakeries turn to industrial sourcing of dough which arrives frozen and ready to pop in the oven.  It's a cost thing.  As rent, salaries and employee taxes rise, the older, artisanale bakeries shut down, to be replaced by these mediocre vendors.  This morning I read with great sadness of the demise of  Paris oldest bakery, forced to close its doors due to a huge rent increase.
Here's a company which provides frozen baguettes, pain au chocolat and other baked goods to retail bakeries; they've got some "helpful hints" on how to make the goods look authentic:  "Sprinkle flour over the finished baguette." That reminds me of a novel I read where the working mother, learning she must supply a cake for her children's next-morning school bake sale, took a hammer to the package of Mr. Bakewells and found herself frantically tapping the prepackaged tarts at midnight, in an attempt to make them look broken and homemade.
For those who wish to avoid the mass-produced bread and cakes, it's pretty simple.  Don't buy your bread in a Monoprix.  (Obviously.)  Look for the words "Boulangerie Artisanale" on the bakery sign.  A mere "Boulangerie" or (shudder) "Dépôt de Pain" means the bread is not baked on site but trucked in either frozen (for the former) or pre-baked (for the latter).  Oh, and never buy bread in a gas station.  That's a thousand ways of disgusting. 
Not sure what you are getting is authentic?  A baguette made from frozen dough is really straight and frequently the underside will be cracked.  Speaking of undersides, an authentic artisanale baguette should still show the little dotted indentations from sitting on the linen fabric during its rising time; a frozen one won't bear those telltale marks.
If you are walking around and you see this going on, you'll know that boulangerie is making their own stuff:


See that white sleeve going from truck to the wall of the bakery?  That's bringing in the flour to the basement of the shop...where all the magic is made.  Nothing frozen going on in there!

Lastly, a real baguette will be a bit irregular.  French law says it should weigh 250 grams exactly, but an artisanale one will vary--especially one make with a dense flour such as chestnut flour.  And it will measure anywhere from 55 to 65 centimeters in length, whereas the imposter will always be 50 centimeters long precisely.  Which brings to mind a hilarious ad campaign that we were treated to several years ago; something that would certainly be censored in the USA :

I see they've sprinkled flour over that fake baguette.  Must have read the website.

8 commentaires:

  1. Hello! I used to live in a lieu-dit, it wasn't a village though, just an old manor house that had been turned into a holiday camp, so no bread van. Anyway, don't tell anyone, but I like Monoprix bread! Or, to be precise, I like being able to squeeze every loaf (good French pastime, that) and find the least croustillante one.

  2. I like being able to squeeze every loaf

    Yikes! This is precisely why one shouldn't buy Monoprix bread!

    Thanks for the comment, though. Now I'm off to sanitize my bread.

  3. LOL on the loaf squeezing comment! Never thought of it like that...
    I'm a new follower, just thought I should stop by and say hello. I've been to Paris once and only for two days, but I was absolutely in love with it. Looking forward to continuing to follow your blog :)


  4. But where would you suggest for a great artisanal baguette in Paris...?

    1. That's a good question and not an easy one to answer. I like Eric Kayser's "Baguette Malesherbes" because it is dense, chewy and a little bit salty so it pairs well with morning butter and jam. I don't like his cakes, however (too dry)...which I found is pretty much the rule in most boulangeries/patisseries. They either do cakes well, or breads well, but rarely both.

      I also like Lionel Poilane's pain aux noix, even though it's not a baguette. His pain aux raisins, in the loaf or individual bread form is excellent with goat cheese...I love the salty/sweet combination.

      I'm not a purest when it comes to bread and if I don't go for the traditional baguette, I love to try breads with mix-ins: muesli, nuts, dried fruit, seeds... The only thing I won't buy is a viennoise baguette with chocolate chips in it...not a fan of the two tastes together.