Boulangeries and Baguettes- What You Should Know
There are many inconveniences that come with moving to France. From the complicated, bureaucratic visa process, to the confusing health care system, to dealing with less than stellar customer service, it can sometimes seem like France is a never ending contradiction. But one of the things us expats continue to love and brag about to our friends back at home is the food. One bite of confit de canard or a mille-feuille and all your reservations about life in France just disappear. And be honest, when you head to your favorite boulangerie and walk home with a baguette in hand (ordered bien blanche, to be extra Parisian) you feel like you’re on the set of a cheesy Parisian RomCom, and you love it. So, for this week’s blog post, we’re going to tell you all about boulangeries and baguettes, and make your next visit feels extra special.
Being a baker is no easy job!
Preparing the pastries and breads for the day takes an immense amount of dedication and passion. The bakers get to the boulangerie at 3am to start preparing the different types of doughs, before starting the baking process at 5am. By 7am the bakeries already have customers lining up for the freshest pastries of the day (the first croissants of the day are always the best).
The perfect ingredients
Much of what goes into making the best baked goods is having the best ingredients. To get that perfectly crunchy exterior and chewy interior, a baguette requires the right type of flour- Type 55 flour. It has a lower protein content which gives it that wonderful doughy taste.
There are very specific laws in France for boulangeries. Bakeries, in order to be labeled a proper boulangerie, must use the right kind of flour and bake its bread on site. All-purpose flour or baking off site means the bakery is not considered a boulangerie. These laws were enacted in 1997 when bakers started baking with cheaper ingredients to be able to sell cheaper baguettes. The French have always been vigilant about keeping their culture intact, which is why this law came about to protect the iconic baguette and its reputation. How are you supposed to know if you’re going to the right bakery? Make sure to look for the word “boulangerie;” a “point chaud” carries mass-produced bread made with cheaper ingredients, and a “depot de pain,” while carrying real baguettes, bring them in reheated after they are cooked off site.
The dark side of baking
While the early hours might seem like the worst part of being a baker, there is a scary downside. Bakers inhale a surprising amount of flour each year, leaving them exposed to a serious type of asthma. “Bakers asthma,” as it is called by the World Allergy Organization, affects 1 in 4 bakers in Paris, and leaves many more exposed. It was one of the first occupational diseases to come to light, and, unfortunately, is still the most frequently addressed occupational illness.
The best baguette competition
Every year in the month of March there is a competition in the city of Paris for the best baguette. It starts with a list of the top 10 bakers, followed by a taste test, and the winner gets a €4000 cash prize, and a contract with the Palais Élysées (the French president’s residence) to supply the president with baked goods every day for a year. The winner for 2015 was Senegalese-born Djibril Bodian from Le Grenier a Pain Abbesses — the only baker in the history of the competition that has won the title two times, in 2015 and 2010. This year’s winners are Michael Reydelet and Florian Charles from the bakery La Parisienne at 48 rue Madame in the 6th arrondissement. Some months later, usually the end of May, the city of Paris organizes La Fête du Pain to celebrate the city’s bread culture and the efforts put in by the bakers. There are sampling stands, baking career fairs, and workshops open to the public. This year’s fête will take place May 23rd-29th, so head to your local bakery and be sure to give them some extra appreciation.
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