It was drizzly and cold as we climbed up the street from the métro station to the rue des Abbesses but we hardly noticed. As part of the bakery tours organized by the Bread Bakers Guild of America, we were on our way to Au Levain d’antan (6, rue des Abbesses), the bakery who won the best baguette in Paris award in 2011, and we were excited. The owner, Monsieur Barillon, was away in Japan but he and his wife had kindly agreed to let les boulangers américains visit the lab and talk to Jean-Luc, the head baker.
Since the baguette is presidential material, I thought its specs might be a secret d’État (a state secret) but no, Jean-Luc kindly agreed to answer our questions: the baguette is made with T65 flour (the only flour that can be used by law in baguettes Tradition, it contains no additive whatsoever) over a 6-hour period (from start to finish), using .8% of yeast and 74% water. It is autolysed for 45 minutes and mixed for 17 minutes on first speed. It ferments in the mixer for one hour with one fold at the 30-minute mark.
Another fold is done just before taking out of the mixer and divided into several bins. It ferments for another hour in the bins, then it is divided and shaped. Proofing time is an hour. The baguettes you see Jean-Luc dust with flour had been shaped an hour earlier.
We had a taste before we left (Jean-Luc even gave us a few baguettes to take with us). The crust was delicate and crunchy at the same time and the crumb literally melted in the mouth. I thought the taste was rather bland but then that has been the case with all of the “best baguettes in Paris” we tasted so far during these bakery visits. That’s because bread -and especially the baguette which is eaten daily at every meal- is not supposed to be the star. Its job is to accompany a dish or a cheese or any other type of food and showcase its flavor. From that perspective these baguettes are indeed ideal.