Yesterday I did not post – it was kind a wash. I woke to a rainy morning in Paris – I noticed that the streets were really quiet but I assumed people just didn’t like being out in the bad weather. After my usual breakfast of crepe and cafe au lait I set out to the 1st arrondissment, an area of the city on the right bank that holds some great boulangeries. I wasn’t having any luck because the first three I hit were closed. I still wasn’t thinking clearly because some where along the way I dropped my brand new red parasol and was too upset to figure out that it was a national holiday. The day honors the victory of the French during WWII. Unlike American holidays, most businesses in France are closed. I thought I’d try one more and see what the fates held. I searched for Max Poilane’s boulangerie – the brother of Lionel Poilane – he had his own business and was supposed to produce excellent bread. Alas, his business was nowhere to be found. When I asked a waiter in a nearby cafe if he knew where it was, he informed me that Max had tragically died in a helicopter crash about a year ago and his business is now defunct. So I did what any self-respecting American in Paris would do, I bought a tart and strolled over to the museum I knew would be open – the Musee D’Orsay – a great collection of 19th century impressionist paintings. I had a good time, but alas, no bread.
When in Paris – a few don’ts. Do not under any circumstances use a flash in a museum. Mine was accidentally on when I took a picture in the Musee D’Orsay, and a very angry Frenchwoman let me have it. (I suppose rightfully so.) Always ask permission to use a camera in a business – it’s considered very rude to just start clicking away. Never bring bread from another business into a new one unless it’s discreetly concealed – also very rude.
Today (Wednesday) I had some great success. I started the day again in the 1st arrondissment with two bakeries that are located on the same street – rue Saint-Honore. This saint happens to be the patron saint of bread bakers – or at least one of them. The first boulangerie was called Gosselin, named after a baker who really has his roots in the baking profession. Philippe is a fourth generation baker, and his wife is a baker’s daughter – so I guess he has baking encrypted in his DNA. He originally apprenticed as a baker but trained to be a patissier – training he insists is very important for a baker because it teaches one to be meticulous when scaling ingredients. (There is are a lot of philosophical and professional differences between bakers who first train as patissiers and bakers who follow the old school ways).
Gosselin is especially known for his traditional baguette – he won the the contest for best baguette in Paris about ten years ago. His traditional baguette is made by kneading the dough for twelve minutes at low speed, then letting this autolyse (rest) for up to two hours. He adds salt and a moderate amount of yeast, then shifts to second speed for five minutes. He leaves it in a vat for up half an hour, then weighs it and allows it to rise for up to three hours. He shapes by hand and bakes within the hour. (A very similar practice we use at Bouchon Bakery).
I tried it and it was delicious. The crust was beautifully formed – but it wasn’t as well done as other baguettes I have tried. I really liked the way the crust did not overwhelm the interior – which was really creamy and had a yellowish color.
While I have been trying to get an interview with Msr. Gosselin – I haven’t had a lot of luck. Steven Kaplan’s book Good Bread is Back was a great resource for information on his career and bread baking practices.
Next on the list was a boulangerie owned by Jean-Noel Julien – about two blocks away from Gosselin’s site. I guess the two are rivals but in a friendly way. Julien has a completely different background from Gosselin – he did not train in pastry – he still maintains that consistency is his goal. His traditional baguette – his most popular product – is also made with the direct method and a small amount of yeast. He kneads at low speed, lets the dough proof for three hours, and bakes in a gas-fired oven. He does not shape his baguettes by hand because he feels that too much damage is done to the dough. He thinks that if his bakers shaped by hand there would be too much inconsistency with the product.
His traditional baguette also won the prestigious prize of best baguette in Paris in the late 1990’s. The baguette is definitely different from Gosselin’s bread – the crust was much more well-done – probably the most well-done I’ve tasted to date in Paris. I visited his other shop in the 7th arrondissement last week, and that shop was definitely more fun because of the open fournil.
Another highlight was visiting the flagship of Paul – on this site, the bakery produces all of the bread for the rest of its stores. The shopkeepers are pretty strict about letting people take pictures inside, but I ran around the side of the business and befriended a baker who let me take some pictures of the oven. It was a wood-fired rotating oven (only the second I’ve seen next to Poilane.) The bakers were jovial and relaxed and were happy to answer some of my questions. Here are some photos:
I visited a number of boulangeries in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements today, and another highlight was Au Levain du Marais. This bakery is known for its use of natural pre-ferments, as well as its young owner – Theirry Rabineau – one of the youngest bakers ever to earn a MOF. I tried the pain de compagne and it was fabulous. Here are some pictures:
The real highlight came at the end of my day with a scheduled appointment with Dominique Saibon. (Courtesy of Steven Kaplan – my patron saint of this trip.) The name of his business is Boulanger de Monge, and its located on the rue du Monge in the 5th arrondissment. Dominique was rated in both Kaplan and Le Guide des Boulangeries as having the best bread in Paris, and it did not disappoint. His background is pretty interesting – when he started he was a complete outsider in the baking community. I’ve learned that having family connections in this profession is really important to getting your start. Dominique, however, is mostly self-taught. He had one week internship with Lenotre – a prestigious patissierie – that’s it. He originally worked as a patissier, and so he supervises both the pastry and bread baking operations in his shop – which I think is highly unusual. For several years of his career, he worked for a company called Carrefour, which produced large quantities of mediocre bread, until Saibon completely changed it around. He implemented the standards of what is today legislated as the traditional baguette. His influence on baking in France has been tremendous.
Today, he owns his own store which is fully devoted to his methodologies. His is the first baguette I’ve tried here made with both mixture of poolish and hard levain. After the dough is mixed he lets ferment for two hours before dividing in a machine, a minimal amount of shaping (his baguettes have a very distinct shape), and then the dough sits in couches for 3-4 hours. His bakers make the baguette dough four times daily.
His levain is natural and he refreshes every twelve hours – its smells of honey, cinnamon, and cloves. His sourdoughs as well as his specialty breads get a fermentation time of 10-12 hours.
I tried the traditional baguette and pain au levain and they were fantastic. I plan to go back to try several more – maybe I’ll get to bring some of his bread home for you to try!