Saturday, September 09, 2006

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?



At 5:26 PM, September 09, 2006, Blogger Kat said...

I feel your pain. There's a place here in Milwaukee called the Breadsmith that makes decent baguette. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend it. Even my French friends here say it's good. Hang in there. I found a great recipe for baguette in one of my cooking magazines. Shall I forward it on to you? For your spare time...HA!

At 5:41 PM, September 09, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Hi Mrs. B, this seems almost sacrilige to say but at the Super WalMart bakery they have small multigrain loaves that are par-baked and you finish them off at home. I am 100% sure they are not as good as what you can have in Paris, but they are pretty nice with holes inside which I like a lot.

At 9:42 PM, September 09, 2006, Blogger Run Around Paris said...

I don't know if you have the "Panera Bread" chain where you are, but they carry a multigrain baguette and it's actually quite good - crispy on the outside, and a dense and somewhat chewy inside. One thing I noticed when I was in Paris was that their bread had a more flavorful, salty taste. The bread here seems to lack that for some reason.

At 11:34 PM, September 09, 2006, Anonymous fay said...

There is no such thing as a decent baguette in the US (at least in Texas). I miss the real taste of bread. Here we have "La Madeleine" bakeries that crank out frenchy-type foods that my relatives choke down when they miss their baguettes. Why can't they get it right? Well they probably could, but believe it or not, our American palates would probably refuse it. you know, you eat what you're used to eating.

At 6:47 AM, September 10, 2006, Anonymous John N said...

Yeah I know what you mean Ronica. In the UK they do not put any importance on bakeries as they do in France. Practically all that we have over there are in the city centre and then far from numerous. They are places where you buy sandwiches or cakes at lunchtime - but a lot of newsagents do that now too.

I guess this is what makes France like England of the 1950's.

Hope everything is going OK now you are back in the US. We are experiencing a nice Eté Indien here in the Paris area after the awful August.



At 11:34 AM, September 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting that they don't have a multigrain baguette! They have delicious ones right at out Super Walmart.

At 2:14 PM, September 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've given up on finding really good bread in Madison. La Brioche is pretty awful (and the service is kinda rude too). Clasen's makes "european-style" breads, but they're the more hearty german varieties. I haven't tried the breads at Cafe Soleil (which is the "casual dining/bakery" wing of L'Etoile on the square). A good friend of mine used to be Odessa Piper's pastry chef and I know they used very authentic recipes and high-quality ingredients.

I've had to content myself with the mediocre La Brea breads from the grocery store. They're made in a commercial bakery in California, frozen, shipped all over the country, and then re-baked at their final destination, but they're tolerable (although their crusts are definitely a bit leathery). And, yeah, the flavored breads are too much (you'll still be tasting the "Roasted Garlic" loaf for days after you eat it).

You could always try baking your own bread, I guess. I attempted to make baguette a while back but it got HUGE in the oven and the crust didn't have that lovely crispness I was craving.

I'm anxious to see whether you find a reasonable replacement for your beloved french breads.

At least we have good coffee here....right?? :)

At 3:29 PM, September 10, 2006, Blogger Samantha said...

I think it's nice that she offered though.

And I actually really miss bread from the US - give me a nice, fluffy, slice of whole-grain bread over a chewy baguette anyday! Baguettes are nice for breakfast, but I hate using them to make sandwiches. And they dry out so fast.

At 9:58 PM, September 10, 2006, Blogger La Rêveuse said...

We tried Café (DU) Soleil this weekend, and were again disappointed. The baguettes were dense, somehow sweet (???), and pas bienne cuite IMO. The pain au chocolat had a lovely amount of chocolate, but it was too sweet, they put powdered sugar on top (again with the ???) and it was also not golden enough.

I'd be happy if there was a Vie de France bakery in town--at least that, I know, was an imitation, albeit a pale one. But tasty, and not too undercooked if the baker knew what she was doing. (The bakery I baked at was a Vie de France boulangerie.)

As for Super Wal Mart--don't have one in Madison. And I would likely not go if we did. Not often, anyway. It scares me a little that Super Walmart is the first name that springs to mind when people search for good bread in the US. (Shudder)

At 10:32 PM, September 10, 2006, Blogger Don Ball Carbajal said...

I've always heard that Vietnamese bakeries have pretty faithful renditions of baguettes. We've got a bunch of them up here in the cities. Are there any in Madison?

Otherwise, I agree with your trepidation about Walmart. And Panera: if they commit the crime to baguettes what they've committed unto bagels, you best stay away. I'm afraid huge corporations just don't do subtle.

At 11:17 PM, September 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If in Fargo try "Breadsmiths" is an excellent bakery with all kinds of freshly baked breads laid on woodent shelves fresh from the oven. I'll ck out the multi grain baguettes next time I am in there. Don't go often as I looove their breads and I would no double overdose on them. My body does not need the carbs....I am truly addicted to great breads. They have french Italian....baguettes, rounds etc and will let you sample right there before buying. Maybe next time Jeanne and Dick are headed your way they can pick some up in Fargo for you to try! Have been to France and think these are every bit as good. Worth a try...B

At 1:26 AM, September 11, 2006, Blogger Clare said...

Hi Ronica,

Next time we go to our favourite bakery for a pain aux grain I shall think of you.

Shall I wrap one up for you and post it :)

It is unbelieveably hot still.

Clare x

At 5:20 AM, September 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's not possible to FedEx a banette, but you can FedEx Pain Poilane:

yet, I haven't checked shipping prices...


At 10:30 AM, September 11, 2006, Anonymous Cheryl said...

If you like to bake, check out a book by Peter Mayle called "Confessions of a French Baker". The baguette recipe is easy and very good. I have tried many baguette recipes, including Julia Child's, after a visit to France. This recipe is the best.

At 4:27 PM, September 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too bad you can't find your favorite baquettes in Madison. But consider it a trade-off.....NOW you have a dryer that actually dries your clothes...not a bad trade off ...ha ha! Really though, next time Jeanne and Dick come have them get some baquettes from Breadsmith....I guess your first responer mentioned there was one in Milwaukee....B

At 6:52 PM, September 11, 2006, Anonymous martina said...

Can you order from A La Francaise bakery here in Seattle? They have great baguettes and sell to most of the good grocery stores. One bakery on Bainbridge Island actually SHIPS bread from France to their store once a week and it sells very quickly.

At 6:56 PM, September 11, 2006, Anonymous martina said...

Just checked and Sara Lee owns A La Francaise! So much for home grown baked goods.

At 9:18 AM, September 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that you are really quick to generalize American bakeries, just because you can't find a good one in Madison. I live in Minneapolis and have plenty of options for good French Bread--made from spelt or hemp, enriched with wheat and absolutely wonderful. Let's see...there's the New French Bakery, French Meadow Bakery, and Franklin Street Bakery--not to mention the artisan breads from Lunds that taste nothing like a stale hot dog bun. Come on up and try it before saying that Americans can't bake bread like the French.

At 12:00 AM, September 13, 2006, Anonymous Anne Vanderbloemen said...

Hi Ronica. Welcome back! I just checked out your blog. wow! I hope you'll consider returning to the Madison Wind Ensemble. We've missed you! --Anne V.

At 8:20 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger FrauBucher said...

Still looking for a name? Howzabout "Painless in Madison?" ;) As if that hasn't been thought of by everyone by now... Welcome back, Mrs B.

At 11:20 AM, September 13, 2006, Blogger La Rêveuse said...

I didn't. I am trying. La Brioche stinks. I have tried others. I am still searching. I know you can find good breads, and I will find something, but I only have one mouth and can't spend all day every day doing this. I didn't generalize about "all American bakeries".

Please read my post carefully before commenting. It was meant to be a light-hearted story about something I miss from France that was plentiful and easily available, which it's not where I live currently. I made no grand pronouncements about the condition of every bakery in America.

And La Brioche's baguette was like a hard hot dog bun. Want me to mail you one? You'll agree, trust me. (Blech!)

At 3:11 PM, September 13, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, point taken! By the way, I'm Kara--a friend your little sis, Roxanne. Seriously, though, do you have a Lunds Bakery down there? They have terrific Artisan Breads. At any rate, I hope you find something as good. I had the same problem after returning from Ireland, only with Guinness. The quality of it is 10 times better than it is here. What can you do, right?

At 6:30 PM, September 14, 2006, Anonymous Braunstonian said...

Is this the time to mention that we have a breadmaker in our kitchen? ;-)

At 12:35 PM, September 17, 2006, Blogger MWN said...

I just found your blog and love it, though I'm sorry to see you've left France! :(
(I moved to the French countryside recently and now curse the good bakeries. The French are blissfully ignorant of Atkins...)

At 3:07 PM, September 17, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you're in Madtown, try Madison Sourdough on Mineral Pt. Rd. Go early in the day, because they run out of multigrain bread early. You can also get frozen partially-baked loaves. Not baguettes, but pretty good bread for around here.

At 2:22 PM, July 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Madison I find that "Whole Foods" has amazing breads. I had the same thing after I had gone to Madrid. I was convinced I'd never find bread like that here. I was partially right, but the closest I've found is the bread at "Whole Foods". They also have some of the best cheeses I've found anywhere in WI.

Bonne Chance,

(Paris me manque!)

At 5:41 AM, November 03, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you are in new york, there is a restaurant in the williamsburg section of brooklyn, a very pleasant bistro called "marlowe and sons."
they have the most authentic baguette i have had outside of france. brittle crust and ethereal crumb.
a block away, their sister business, "marlowe and daughters," is a fabulous butcher shop, and bakery, and you can buy the baguettes to take away.


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