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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Bread winner

The baguette is synonymous with France and despite my own poor  standard Bordeaux hôtel holiday experiences of very tough and chewy baguette style  bread for my  petite dejeuner,  the general standard in shops and les marché en ville are usually very high and since the introduction of the new French regime of encouraging artisanal bread making among French bakeries are much improved.  Rather than the previously industrially made frozen dough high on additives, then to be baked bread that lasted less than a day, all is now well today in the boulangeries of France. The Artisan Boulangerie standard has now risen to ensure the highest standard of French bread manufacture overall. Trés bein!

When I was last in Bordeaux  (2010) and visited the Sunday market on the banks of the river Garonne the stall selling pain a l’ancienne in phenomenal sizes and types was earning a very decent crust merci, and I loved the yeasty aromas emanating from this stall so early that June morning. You could almost eat the air. As the church bells chimed in the misty far distance the selection of breads and the aroma was almost over-powering. I was on my own and some of the larger loaves, despite looking delicious, were far too much for one person. Thankfully they also sold a good choice of cobs (as we English call them) often deeply infused with sumptuous pungent  garlic, thyme and other wild  herbs like the Spanish and Italians enjoy. All I needed were some succulent sun ripened tomatoes and a back throat hitting cheese and my dinner was assured.

Guess what the next stall offered? Yes, juicy fat tomatoes that tasted like those of my childhood when an elderly neighbour called Mr Disney used to grow his own in a small greenhouse circa 1968. This miraculous stall seemed to second guess my  other needs and supplied a fine choice of reasonably priced organic French cheeses and were more than happy to let me taste a few before buying. Yummy! The vigourously blue veined St Agur was to die for. At once a richly blue flavoured cheese, subtly salty and extremely moreish.

On a browse around the city of Bordeaux, early one morning I also happened across the Teynié Traiteur on the central rue Camille Godard and their daily promotions were fabulous. I love just coming across such places seemingly quite ordinary and quite extra-ordinary at the same time. This assumption can be based purely on the basis that we rarely get such finesse in the UK and a real pride in the skill and variety of pâttiserie that is probably considered quite normal on the continent. The Teynié Traiteur offered exceptional bread products  and fabulous pâttiseries and sandwiches and plats à emporter. Maybe this is normal in France but as a huge Francophile this was just heaven on a plate with no comparison in the UK.  See and drool.

Returning to the theme, bread has been the staple of the French diet since the Middle Ages. The first loaves were large and coarse, made from a mix of flours and unsalted because of the high price of salt. Not until the seventeenth century was white bread invented when a method for removing the bran was invented.

The French have many differing names for the stages and types of bread offered such as, gross pain, pain bis, pain de Boulanger, pain brié, a very hard and dense crusted bread from Normandy, pain à chanter, pain azyme (unleavened bread), pain brûlé (deep golden brown)  and pain complet.

Although the elegant baguette is still France’s most popular bread, the more rustic and nutritious pain de champagne is growing in popularity, as are other loaves made from barley and rye. These country style loaves often use a levain (sourdough starter) rather than yeast.  The starter ferments for at least four days to give the bread its yeasty taste. Sourdough breads have a long production time, but they do keep for a few days rather than going stale quickly like baguettes. These loaves may also be baked in a wood fired oven which adds an unctuous smoky taste that lingers long after the first bite.

From a recent trip to Karlsruhe in Germany it seems that the Germans have an equal passion of quality bread making and a have Brot Festival (Easter 2008) to encourage the passion for Brot and the mouth wateringly delicious contributions of the traditional German Konditerei. I took the following pictures after being allowed into their event and being able to speak reasonably eloquently in German about my love of food.  Like the French the Germans certainly seem to have a huge passion for pastry and cakes as a regular everyday thing to consume. Then there’s the Graubrot  and Vollkornbrot and Schwartsbrot….


The Quizzical Observer said...

Ah, another bread enthusiast. Moi aussi. Mrs Observer, to my great delight, has been making a study of sourdough bread for over a year, and turns out superlative loaves. St Agur goes exceptionally well with a crusty piece of sourdough bread, a few slices of a good saucisson and a glass of something red and dark. What more could you want?

Phil Lowe said...

Ah oui. exact! crusty sourdough and St Agur. Parfait.

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

What an excellent and perfectly in depth study of the French bread. I can almost taste that flavour now. I have been trying for years to achieve that perfect loaf but not there yet so any hints and tips along the way are greatly appreciated. X

Athina said...

Hi Phil, nice post and very informative too. I didn't know salt was expensive during the middle ages. In the Philippines today, the cheapest commodity is salt.

I also love the smell of baking bread and to describe it as "you could almost eat the air" was really witty. More power to your blog!

Karen said...

Oh, proper bread....much better than shop bought stuff. Though I made a terrible faux pas yesterday. Made what I thought was going to be a scrumptious focaccia, with sea salt & rosemary topping. All looked well until I tasted it....disgusting. Truly foul. I had been so busy concentrating on baking a huge cake for my parents Ruby Wedding (2nd marriage 4 both) that I was distracted & forgot to add salt to the bread dough. It sadly went into the dustbin.

Phil Lowe said...

Tina: thanks for your lovely comment. Yes, the smell of bread baking is fab.

Dom: the only bread I have ever made is from a packet. Even so I enjoyed all the pummeling and watching the dough rise and a lovely ciabatta loaf at the end of it all.

Phil Lowe said...

Karen: Great to have your comments again. Thanks for your message on flickr too.