Pain Poilâne: the best bargain in Paris?

April 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

The little box of Pierre Hermé macarons I wrote about in my last post set me back 25 Euros. For a third of the price, you can buy yourself beautiful, round, whole loaf of arguably the finest bread in the world weighing in at a shade under two kilos.

Here are the loaves on display at Poilâne’s newest store (opened in July 2011) on the rue Debelleyme in the Marais. The staff are charming and friendly and, unlike the Pierre Hermé shop, were happy for me to take photos. You’ll see that the word for what we might call a cob is not a mere “boule” but a “miche” literally a generously rounded buttock! I love that idea.

It was such a treat to carry out the whole loaf, still faintly warm from the legendary wood-fired oven, lovingly wrapped, and less lovingly stuffed into my rucksack for the journey back to Manchester. It survived the journey intact:

and was soon sliced up ready for sampling:

What makes the bread so special? It has the dark, crackly crust typical of a wood-fired oven bake. The crumb is not white but a deep cream colour attributable both to its wholegrain content and its long fermentation. The texture of the crumb is dense but not heavy. It’s chewy, just a touch sour, flavoursome and slices well. Fresh, it tastes excellent but thanks to its sourdough fermentation it keeps for a week and a few days old it toasts brilliantly.

What’s in it? The Poilâne website tells you that the bread is made from just four ingredients (stoneground flour, sourdough starter, water and Guérande sea salt) but doesn’t go into detail as to what type of flour is used. Lots of people have written lots of things about the flour in a Poilâne loaf. US baker Peter Reinhart in his book “The Breadbaker’s Apprentice” describes the flour as a stoneground 85% extraction wholewheat ie with some of the bran removed. This is not a type of flour readily accessible to homebakers but can be approximated by mixing three parts white flour to one part wholemeal/wholewheat. Other commentators refer to the inclusion of 30% spelt (épeautre in French) flour in the Poilâne mix but I haven’t yet found an unimpeachable source for this claim.

According to the Poilâne website, legend began in the 1932 when Pierre Poilâne from Normandy set up shop in the rue du Cherche Midi in St Germain on Paris’ Left Bank. He made a traditional loaf in the traditional way (best quality ingredients, long fermentation, natural yeasts, baking in a woodfired oven) rather than producing the more popular white flour baguettes. His sons Lionel (and also Max) continued the family baking business. Lionel was the marketing genius – very convenient if you’re going to supply countrywide if you can first convince the world that your bread tastes best not when absolutely fresh but 3 days’ old! – and it is his bread which has gone onto achieve iconic status worldwide. Lionel died in a freak helicopter accident in 2002 leaving his 19 year old daughter Apollonia in charge.

I’ve occasionally wondered how Poilâne bread can appear on English and French supermarket shelves when there are just three tiny traditional outlets in Paris. I’ve visited two of them, sadly not the original rue du Cherche Midi shop yet which I’ll have to save until next time.

Here’s the Boulevard de la Grenelle shop:

and here’s the newest rue Debelleyme shop in the Marais:

The answer to the supply conundrum is that in the 1980s, Lionel built a 24 wood-fired oven “facility” as the website delicately puts it, to supply growing demand. The discreet little cream-coloured tree-screened factory is located in Bièvres in the southwest outskirts of Paris not far from Versailles.

Harvard Business School graduate Apollonia Poilâne seems to have inherited her father’s business sense as well as his passion for good bread and has made a number of discreet innovations. I’m not convinced about the matcha flavoured green teaspoon shaped biscuits but the “Cuisine de Bar” outlets that have appeared adjacent to the bread shops in the rues du Cherche Midi and Debelleyme (also in London now) are an excellent idea. They are essentially cafés based on toast (tartines in French). So next time you’re in Paris looking for a fashionable, wholesome and inexpensive breakfast or light lunch, you know where to go.

After a bit of research

Contact details (Paris)

http://www.poilane.com

38 rue Debelleyme (Marais- “Cuisine de bar” adjacent to shop)
Paris 75003
Tel +33 (0) 1 44 61 83 39
Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm

49 bld de Grenelle (Eiffel Tower)
Paris 75015
Tel +33 (0) 1 45 79 11 49
Opening hours :
Tuesday to Sunday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm

8 rue du Cherche-Midi (St Germain – “Cuisine de bar” adjacent to shop)
Paris 75006
Tel +33 (0) 1 45 48 42 59
Opening hours :
Monday to Saturday 7:15 am to 8:15 pm

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Four blissful days of artisan baking – part 1, the basics

October 19, 2010 § 4 Comments

I’m freshly returned from four days spent at the School of Artisan Food in Nottinghamshire baking bread under the watchful eyes of Master Baker Emmanuel Hadjiandreou. Emmanuel, originally from South Africa despite his Greek name has an immaculate baking pedigree having worked for the catchily named Flour Power City bakery in London, Gordon Ramsay, Daylesford Organic in Oxford and Judges Bakery in Hastings. Judges is, by the way no ordinary bakery as it’s owned by Green & Black’s chocolate founders Craig Sams and Josephine Fairley.

Here’s Emmanuel in teaching mode in the School kitchens on Day 1 of the “Artisan Baking Session”.

Emmanuel is clearly passionate about all things bread, incredibly skilful, a natural teacher, full of boundless energy and an all round nice guy. Four days spent just baking bread may sound excessive but the days passed too quickly in the idyllic rather other-wordly setting of the School of Artisan Food, a place where the sun always shines, the high-spec kitchens are always spotless, the right utensils and ingredients are always to hand and everything comes out of the oven looking and tasting pretty damn good (though I say so myself)

The School of Artisan Food is a brave new venture established on the Welbeck Estate, the rather grand rural retreat of the Duke of Portland and home to various branches of the Cavendish-Bentinck-Parente families (sorry have rather lost track of the complex family tree). The family seat itself, Welbeck Abbey, is not open to the public. The people behind the School are owners Alison & William Parente (son Joe runs the farm shop and bakery too), managing director Gareth Kennedy and an incredible stable of artisan food gurus – Randolph Hodgson founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy for cheese, Andrew Whitley author of Bread Matter for baking to name but two. It’s a not for profit organisation (a company limited by guarantee) with funding provided in part by the East Midlands Development Agency.

Coming up the drive in my taxi on day 1 of the course, I assumed this was the family seat:

but this is merely a set of almshouses known as “The Winnings” as the cost of building was funded by a former Duke’s racing habit.

Horses appear often in the family history and the estate is home to a splendid stone-built indoor riding school which in its heyday was second only in size to the famous Vienna Riding School.

The School itself is housed in the Estate’s former fire station and is approached across a handsome cobbled courtyard:

By 10 o’clock on Monday morning, the first day of the course, I and my fellow students, 15 of us in total, had settled into our workstations in the School teaching kitchen.

What sort of person goes on a 4 day artisan breadbaking course? Well, all sorts. We were approximately 50:50 men and women and ages ranged from I think late teens to early 60s. Generally a friendly and cooperative group of people with a shared interest and thankfully no hint of rivalry or competitiveness, in fact a great willingness to share ideas, knowledge and experiences.

There were a couple of chefs in the group wanting to expand their repertoire but this is not a course aimed at turning out master bakers after just 4 days. The techniques and recipe quantities were firmly aimed at the domestic rather than a commercial setting. I would say the majority of people on the course were enthusiastic amateurs – one of whom was so enthusiastic in fact that he’d built his own wood-fired bread oven with a capacity of 30 loaves in his back garden in Aberdeenshire!

Day 1 focused on the basics, the raw ingredients of breadmaking, and 3 basic recipes for white, wholemeal and malthouse loaves raised with nicely domesticated commercial yeast and shaped and baked in tins.

The basic ingredients of breadmaking are of course very simple – flour, yeast, water and salt – yet a lot of myths are propounded about them. We used Shipton Mill organic flour throughout the 4 days of the course as this was a range Emmanuel was already familiar with from his previous baking career. Quite a few myths were debunked when going through this list of basic ingredients:

1) You don’t need to use expensive crushed Maldon salt – regular table salt is just fine (excuse the pun…)

2) Either fresh or dried yeast (as long as the dried yeast hasn’t been messed about with) is equally good as long as you dissolve it in water first.

3) Neither bottled mineral water nor water warmed to blood heat are necessary to make good bread – just use room temperature water out of your tap, even when making up a sourdough starter.

4) There’s no need to add fat or sugar to your bread dough – all that you need is in the flour itself.

5) Finally, and most radically, making a sourdough starter is dead, dead simple. Simply mix together a teaspoon of rye flour and a teaspoon of water in a small container, cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours then repeat the process and you’re away. After 4 days you’ll have a lively starter ready to be bulked up with either white or rye flour and you’re ready to bake your very own sourdough loaf.

It really was that simple. I’ve been put off sourdough baking before because of the complex recipes involving grapes, raisins, molasses, orange juice, apple juice plus other more esoteric ingredients. Then there were the tales of exploding starters, icky smells, dead starters, yellow mould, pathogens and worse. Emmanuel in his charming and direct style showed us how simple it was.Here’s the rye sourdough Emmanuel passed round on day 1, ready to be prodded and poked:

And for the sake of completeness, here’s one of Emmanuel’s white sourdough starters. Like a conjuror he breathed frothing bubbly life back into a piece of frozen sourdough, a rather pasty piece of dry sourdough and a more liquid version and all three performed fantastically.

I’m going to conclude this post with a slightly obsessive time series set of pics of my very own rye starter, conceived at Welbeck and now resident in my kitchen in Altrincham:

Here’s the flour and water freshly mixed on day 1 (iPhoto tells me it’s 11 Oct at 13.26 precisely)

and already the next day there are signs of wild yeasty fermenting life in my baby! This photo is dated 12 October at 14.27.

Fermentation is clearly well-established by the following morning 13 October at 09.26

And by the end of day 4 I was ready to take home by lovely bouncing starter ready for baking!

I’m pleased to report that it’s producing great bread – a wonderfully moist and light rye loaf most recently. In fact, must go and give it a feed now…

More bread stuff to follow on my return from holiday to Egypt – let’s hope Tim can keep the starters going in my absence.

Guten Morgen Von Österreich: Austrian breakfast

September 2, 2010 § 4 Comments

It was during winter holidays in Austria that I first began to gain an understanding of the German (in the widest sense) concept of gemütlichkeit (usually translated as cosiness but meaning much much more). At the Hotel Karl Schranz in the resort town of St Anton in the Tirol, this concept was embodied in the dining room with its wood panelling, flickering candlelight, pink linen napkins, and perfect attentive service. The eponymous Herr Schranz would occasionally grace us with his regal presence: the skiing wild child of the 1960s now transfigured into portly gentleman hotelier.

Herr Schranz clearly runs a tight ship as breakfast at his hotel was always an absolute delight – fruit juices decanted into glass jugs (my favourite being “Multivitamines” a bright orange concoction big on carrot and passion fruit juice); müsli and other cereals; delicious thick yoghurt; fruit salad; all kinds of jam, boiled eggs; and best of all wonderful bread – multigrain loaves thick with pumpkin and other seeds, rye bread, white bread and the distinctive and ubiquitous semmel white rolls.

Here is the Karl Schranz experience recreated at home as best I could:

A trip to Chorlton’s legendary Barbakan bakery and delicatessen provided most of what was needed in terms of wonderful fresh bread, cheese and ham. Chorlton is a suburb of South Manchester with a cluster of good food shops – the Unicorn grocery for fruit, vegetables and vegetarian items; Frosts the butchers for excellent meat (including unusual items like squirrel from time to time!) ; Out of the Blue fishmongers for properly fresh fish filleted in front of you, bags of clams and the like…is it worth moving house to have all this on my doorstep I wonder? For now, food shopping in Chorlton remains an occasional treat.

Here’s the Barbakan shop-front, a little unprepossessing from the outside but a real treasure-trove inside. My hands were too full and the shop too busy for me to take a good photo inside. On sunny Saturday mornings, the queue for fresh bread stretches out of the door so best to get there early.

I’ve just checked out the website http://www.barbakan-deli.co.uk/ and see that they have recently won, very deservedly, the 2009/10 Manchester Food and Drink Festival’s “Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet” award.

Barbakan’s 2 founders are Polish and much of their bread has a distinctly Eastern European feel – lots of rye loaves, and both caraway and poppy seeds are a preferred flavouring. Sadly on the morning I called they were fresh out of both Vienna sticks and Kaiserbrot, both of which would have been perfect for my Austrian theme. Instead, I opted for two loaves (German Altenburg rye bread “the true taste of Bavarian rye” , and a second rye loaf this one flavoured with caraway) and and some Polish poppy seed biegles, the originator of the modern US bagel. After all, poppy seeds are popular in Austria too most startlingly in the form of a main course germknödel (poppy seed dumpling) served with lashings of custard…I digress, so back to the bread, pictured below:

A true Austrian Hausfrau would have made all her own jams and preserves. Mine were all bought on this occasion, but as a nod to tradition I made a simple blackcurrant compôte to serve with yoghurt from the tempting looking punnet of blackcurrants that came from the Unicorn grocery just across the road:

Pictured with the blackcurrants are an equally tempting bag of ripe apricots and the fabulous Glebelands Road grown salad leaves – you can’t get more locally grown salad than this unless it’s in your back garden of course.

Here’s the finished compôte together with yoghurt and some pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top. Austrians are nuts about pumpkins in any shape or form. Especially good is the deep green roast pumpkin seed oil which gives a wonderful flavour to salad dressings and, drizzled on top, to pumpkin soup.

All very pretty, but it takes a lot of effort to keep up this gemütlichkeit business – fresh flowers from the garden, best china, freshly laundered napkins and so on. The Austrian Hausfrau must be chained to the kitchen keeping up appearances. So for now it’s back to toast and cereal on the usual crockery, until our next international breakfast, this time from Azerbaijan…

Barbakan contact details

67-71 Manchester Rd
Chorlton cum Hardy,
Manchester
M21 9PW

Telephone: 0161 881 7053

http://www.barbakan-deli.co.uk/

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