After a 2-year hiatus we finally have a boulangerie in the village again! The children can walk 120 metres down the road and come back with baguettes, croissants or a hunk of gros pain! Everything took a long time, the transformation of the interior of the old 18th century shop into a new, updated and enlarged bakery. But the important news is that the bread itself is excellent, and that’s something the whole village is happy about.
A baguette is one of France’s most recognisable symbols of life, and as a former colonial power there are many other countries around the world that also live and breath by the baguette. It’s a symbol of appetite, hunger and food that’s existed since at least the 18th century, and Marie Antoinette famously lost her head at the complexities of its importance in daily life. And of course, like most ancient traditions, the simplest things are now getting complex, but having a boulangerie in one’s village that makes good bread is terribly important for anyone with French blood in their veins and a whole host of foreigners too.
The simplest baguette consists of just four ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt – and although in every bakery in France there will be baguettes of this composition, there are now nearly always other varieties made with different flours and additional ingredients. There are different sizes such as batons, ficelles and flutes, and then behind the glass panes or set aside in baskets will be specialities that look like ears of corn or plaits. ALL of them will taste divine, whether we’re using a piece to sop up some gravy, or dunking it in a tartin of hot chocolate for our breakfast.
To add to the myriad of confusion that can assail the unwary foreigner, since 1993 and Le Décret Pain (the Bread Decree), every boulangerie in France will make their pain maison a different way, since the decree states any pain maison must be “fully kneeded, shaped, and baked at their place of sale.” In addition, pain traditionnel français cannot be made from pre-made dough. So if you want the best bread in a boulangerie, the rule of thumb is to look for the ‘house’ baguette, which may come under such guises as a baguette tradition, or a baguette festive, the latter the name of our local home-baked loaf. Typically, these will be the most plentiful, piled high in obvious existence, and the one which most of the other clients will be choosing. It may arrive either wrapped in a small piece of thin paper, or it may be slid into a paper bag, complete with the logo of the mill that supplies the boulangerie with their flour.
It is also important to watch out for what a baguette ordinaire is in the bakery, as this may be nothing more than a long thing made with very tasteless white flour, a loaf often purchased by the elderly who find it easier to chew. My advice is to choose something with tradition or campagne in the name, both will be much tastier than a baguette ordinaire and should arrive with a substantial crust and a bounce to the interior.
You’ll know if you have a good boulangerie in your village when a French person comes by to eat. They may only take one tiny piece of baguette but the flavour is vital and hopefully it will be eaten with a nod of approval.
Bread is a serious business in French households, and a hundred years ago it was such an important part of the French diet that the daily consumption was nearly 600grms per person, so many French people, especially the older members of a family, will be sticklers for a good baguette, and if your’s is not up to scratch the fact may well be brought to your attention!
One of my favourite games when we have friends visiting is to come home with a selection of baguettes from different bakeries, and then hold a tasting game. You’ll be amazed at the variety in flavours and textures, and you will end up with some bread that is very much more to your taste than the rest.
But the boulangerie has come a long way. All but the very smallest now sell a variety of patisserie. Those wonderful mouth watering deserts that are so hard to resist.
And of course croissants, pain au chocolat and delicious pastries. Along with savoury filled baguettes and pizza slices.
Many have gone one step further, like ours and added a small epicerie space selling all sorts of useful necessities; sugar, pasta, tea, coffee and of course local wine! In fact they’ve become the small corner shop. But they’re not just that, they are also a very social place, a meeting point for villagers to discuss the weather, the latest gossip, the football or rugby. Whatever needs to be mentioned will be discussed. It’s a fabulous place to just listen, you never know what snippet of information you might pick up!
On another note be warned – if you eat cheese with your fresh baguette, you may well find your French friends frowning in bewilderment, as they tend to eat their cheese as a standalone product, with a fork and knife!
I can’t finish this without a warning – beware of the trap that some bakers will set out for you too, making a baguette that thins out at each end into the most irresistible knob that can mysteriously snap off and find it’s way into an unwary mouth before home is reached. Should this unfortunate event befall you, just remember to brush off the shadows of flour from your clothing that can give away the careless gourmand !
One final word thank you so much to everyone who has supported our shop during these difficult times, we are so incredibly grateful, you have helped us so much. We have some new exciting developments coming this month but before then and to show our appreciation we created Our Summer Madness Sale, now running and ending on Monday the 7th. There is 25% off nearly everything in the shop and I’ve reduced prices as well. The discount is automatically applied at the checkout. And if you would like to purchase several items do send me an email, I can try and combine the shipping the best way possible and get you an even better price. Click here to go directly to the shop. Or visit our website www.ourfrenchlifestyle.com