Le Pain, il me manque.
In France, we took for granted that we could find decent bread just about anywhere we went. Some was worse than others, but we knew the places we liked, and even if they were closed, there was something at least passable within walking distance of our petit appartement.
When I was in college, I worked as a weekend baker at a bakery in North Dakota that made bread from dough prepared by French bakers, imported to the US. The flours were imported from France, and though it wasn't hand made (and thus of an inferior quality to the artisanal breads we so loved in France), it was still quite good. I loved shaping the breads, tucking the ends over to make the tips smooth, and slashing the tops with a razor blade before steaming them in the oven the owner had imported from France for the baking of the bread. The smell of the baking breads, and the crackling of the crusts as they cooled on the rack was enough to make up for the 4 AM reveille.
Upon arriving in the US again, we missed the bakeries more than we expected to. We searched for "good" bread, and again and again were disappointed with crusts that were either too soft or hard but not crisp, mie that was dense and cottony rather than light with chew and big, irregular holes, and the addition of herbs and flavors that seemed just too much. An olive oil and rosemary bread was like biting into an herb garden, filled with mattress stuffing. Not an appetizing combination.
I decided to stop into the "french" bakery in town, hoping I could find something passable. The breads I saw reminded me nothing of the boulangeries in Paris, and the case was loaded with heavy Wisconsin cookies, bars, bear claws and donuts. I saw multigrain breads in plastic sacks, and hoped that there would be some of my favorite, a multi-grain baguette, available.
"Do you make a multi-grain baguette?" I asked, hoping to see a rack of them hiding around the corner.
"A multi-grain baguette?" the clerk asked. "You can make multi-grain baguettes?"
"Yes. Well, they do in France. I love them; they're my favorite."
"Oh, I'll ask," she said, turning and catching the attention of one of the bakers.
"No, we don't make them now," she answered, "but I can do it, if you give me about a week's notice," she said, blowing the hair out of her eyes as she wiped her brow with the back of her arm.
A week's notice. A WEEK. What? How difficult is it to shape dough into the shape of a baguette? Unbelievable.
I thanked them politely, said no, and took the baguette she had cut in half and slipped into a paper bag for me.
I headed home, and we broke out the baguette for dinner, breaking the tip off to munch on while the sausage was sizzling in the pan.
"Yuck," said Dr. B. "Tastes like a hard hot-dog bun."
So much for "La Brioche".
I wonder how much it costs to FedEx a Baguette des Prés?