A friend who lives nearby told me I had to come and check out Boulangerie Solques at 243 rue Saint-Jacques in the 5th arrondissement of Paris: it was unique, he said, and he had bought there a marvelous savory tart (I think he said a leek-turnip one). So we arranged to meet one morning and we went together. Crossing the door was like stepping into another world, a bit like Alice in Wonderland. Granted, I saw no Cheshire Cat or White Rabbit but a humongous pig head ogles the customer from up high on a wall and a dejected clay cow rests its poor face on the wooden counter. There seems to be bread everywhere but a closer look reveals that the ones on the walls are made out of pâte morte (literally dead dough) and not edible. Some loaves are gorgeous, straight out of a seventeenth-century Dutch still life, some seem to have been hammered together by sheer force of will.
A man steps in from the back. Slim and curly-haired, he smiles broadly: “Bonjour, what can I do for you?” We introduced ourselves, my friend is trained as a baker and I have a bread blog. We talk.
Bruno Solques’ boulangerie is a one-man show: he does absolutely everything himself. No employee, no help. He has been doing it that way for thirteen years and he is happy. Now 50, he started baking at age 15, got his CAP de boulanger (certificate of professional ability) at 17 and has been a boulanger ever since. He worked at Poilâne and Ganachaud, then had his own bakeries, two of them, big ones with lots of employees. He sold them. “Never again!”
Now Solques is his own employee and his own boss and he does pretty much what he wants. Which may mean “guesstimating” weights, not using traditional shaping techniques and creating new breads, pastries or savories on a whim, everyday if he wants. On weekends, when the bakery is closed, he paints and sculpts in the vaulted cellar under the shop. “I am always shaping something. Dough, clay, pâte morte.”
All Bruno’s flours (wheat, kamut, spelt, rye, etc.) are organic and he works exclusively with pâte fermentée (which, like many French bakers, he calls levain): when he is done mixing, he sets a chunk of dough aside to leaven the following batch. When he goes on vacation, he puts some pâte fermentée in the freezer to use when he comes back. Bread is a bit dense the first week, he says, but everything is soon back to normal.
We didn’t stay long as he was obviously very busy but in the ten minutes we spent at the shop we saw several regulars and a few tourists. We bought chocolate pastries and an almond-pear chausson (literally slipper). They were both very good (but we ate them before I remembered to take a picture!). I can’t report on the bread since I didn’t taste it but the regulars seem hooked. They order it by weight.
It was rather early in the day when we visited and I made a note to come back closer to lunch hour next time. I want to see the lunch offerings, especially the tarts! Do go if you are in Paris, Boulangerie Solques is definitely not your regular Parisian bakery (you won’t get a baguette there) but it is well worth a trip.