David Aplin, co-owner of Cliffside Hearth Bread Company with Camelia Proulx, his wife and business partner, recently sent me this lively (and deliciously vivid) account of his tour of French bakeries during a summer trip to France with his family. I so enjoyed reading it that I asked him if I could post the story. He kindly agreed and even sent me some pictures.
I have yet to meet David and his wife or to taste their bread but, as he recently wrote on facebook, he bakes “with wild yeast and love” and the ingredients listed on the bakery’s homepage (flour, whole grains, water and salt) are so straightforward that I am already hugely interested. If I ever make it to Toronto and if David and Camelia don’t mind a visit from a nosy bread blogger, Cliffside Hearth Bread Company will be at the top of my list!
A Baker’s Vacation
My wife and son and I just returned from our first trip to France.
It was supposed to be a vacation, but we combined pleasure with business and visited as many boulangeries as was possible.
France in general was a lot of fun, but specifically it was a real eye opener to visit the bakeries. There were as many differences between them as there were similarities.
At each stop we tried to purchase at least a baguette traditionelle, a pain aux céréales, and some sort of méteil or seigle as we are rye bread lovers. We realized that almost every boulangerie had an outstanding looking pâtisserie display so added to the bread purchases were various tartes: lemon, apple, raspberry, etc.
We stayed on Rue Chapon and Boulangerie Julien was less than three minutes away, however it being August they were closed. Many people told us not to visit Paris or France during August as “everything is closed”, however as we are also bakery owners it was the only time for us to consider a visit. Yes, there were many places closed, but we had no trouble at all finding places that were open.
Besides making the obligatory pilgrimage Chez Poilâne on Rue du Cherche-Midi, we checked out Maison Kayser, Dominique Saibron and many places whose names I forget. We also visited some of the boulangeries under the Banette moniker, franchise places with very average offerings.
At the more prestigious places it was hit and miss. Chez Kayser, brand maintenance was obvious, bread suffered. Saibron was simply outstanding, beat Kayser hands down. Poilâne was excellent, what I expected, we lived on that miche for the rest of the day as we hiked around Paris.
We passed a Paul shop but didn’t go in…the line was too long! The bakers were out at the side having a smoke break. I peered inside and saw the wonderful sight of an Artofex mixer full of dough, set on first gear and slowly turning, the arms gently lifting and folding the wet dough. A sight I will never forget.
There were some unexpected surprises too, we bought an amazing pain aux céréales from a Bio-Marché supermarket, it was cut from a giant sized loaf the size of a small car. We asked the counter girl who supplied them with their bread, but between our lack of French and her lack of enthusiasm we never found out.
There was also a tiny place on the Ile beyond the Notre-Dame cathedral. An old baker wearing a blue and white striped cardigan and looking every bit the typical Frenchman had baguettes traditionnelles that were flat and curved, not much to look at, but amazing flavour and texture.
We left Paris after only four days, I could spend a decade wandering the streets and visiting different boulangeries.
We went south to Avignon and stayed at a mas in the country outside Chateaurenard. From there we made day trips to various places, again with varying degrees of success. There was a good place in Chateaurenard called Festival des Pains, good baguette and a pain aux céréales cut like a ciabatta, almost a meter in length. In Rognonas we found two places both with very good baguettes traditionelles.
However, the best boulangerie we had the pleasure of visiting was Le Farinoman Fou in Aix-de-Provence. A very impressive bakery. Bread only, no pâtisserie of any kind, no drinks or coffee, no bread slicer…just like our place: A temple of bread.
We left with a bag of stuff, two “Olympic”-sized baguettes, a demi-miche, a pain aux céréales and a seigle. The baguettes were devoured in a few short minutes as we browsed the weekly marché nearby, we went back and bought two more.
Crispy and chewy, these were baguettes on another level. The flavors were incomparable and nuanced: dried fruit, honey, roasted grains, mild fruit acidity. Simply outstanding.
The shop is very small, perhaps less than 500 sq. feet. Our place is 740 sq. feet and we’re always moaning about how small it is, but Farinoman (as most other french bakeries) is tiny. Small in size but big in quality and flavour, as I said the breads were outstanding, falling in that delicious zone between light and heavy, everything had a good crust but the crumb structure on all of the breads was…voluptuous, chewy but not in the Poilane style at all.
Don’t you wish you could drop everything and hop on a plane? I sure do… Thanks, David!