Lyn and Steve Baker from Perth, Australia arrived in Paris and their first tour was a behind the scenes look at a local Boulangerie in Montmartre…
Things to do in Montmartre Paris – baking bread with an artisan baker
We booked a bread making course in Montmartre, and unable to understand the very strong French accent over the phone, I requested our hotel receptionist to write the address for the meeting point. As it turned out our hotel was in the same street, Rue Caulaincourt, so we thought we’d enjoy the sunshine and walk.
We set off along the beautiful tree lined Rue Caulaincourt and over the bridge above the Montmartre cemetery. Having only arrived the day before we kept stopping to see things as they caught our eye, we were still in awe of the fact we were in Paris. The area is magnificent, the architecture is beautiful. Ornate doors of 19th century buildings lead up to private residences, several stories off the ground. Stunning balconies overlook beautiful trees and “Mary Poppins” rooftops of the surrounding buildings, where you imagine on the inside, doors that don’t quite close because of their age.
Along Rue Caulaincourt we are charmed by the tranquillity, passing gorgeous little cobblestone streets, with lovely restaurants on every corner; the good atmosphere of the area makes us feel totally safe. There are lively squares overflowing with bustling cafes, a supermarket, steep stairways leading through to the next street, a Metro station and green grocers store. There are so many shops along the way, boulangeries with mind blowing pastries, we are having sensory overload. We got rather excited at all the delicacies in the window at Arnaud Larher Patisserie Chocolaterie and could not contemplate eating something so beautiful. Further along, more shops, more boulangeries and cafes, trendy little bistros. There are wine merchants, cheese shops, flower shops, butchers & charcuterie shops.
Baking bread at Le Grenier a Pain, Paris
Inside Le Grenier à Pain we meet our guide, Emily, who speaks very good English, introduces us to the owner and another couple on the tour. They say it’s a small world, and amazingly the other couple like us, come from Perth. Here we are, on the other side of the world and the only other people to book for today live a few kilometres from us in Perth. So, we are in a bakery and our surname is Baker and the other ladies’ names are Butcher and just next door just happens to be a butcher shop. Emily translates this to the owner and together they chuckle thinking us Aussies have funny names.
We are taken behind the shop front to the bread production room where we meet the Bread Maker. Although the dough is made with machines this is far from a factory using industrial methods, but a typical small, independent Parisian production unit. The baker gauges, measures, evaluates the flexibility of the dough and kneads with precision. We sample fougasse, stuffed savoury bread with olives and another with sundried tomatoes. After the Baguettes are shaped, Emily explains the baker must make five cuts, called scoring in the top of each Baguette. We are each given the blade called a “lame” to score a loaf. The purpose of scoring is primarily to control the direction in which the bread expands during cooking, intentionally creating a weak spot on the surface of the loaf preventing it from bursting.
Ion the baker is an artisan, a craftsman with a real passion for every aspect of French baking. The angle and depth of the cuts influences the formation of an “ear”, a raised flap of crust at the edge of the cut which slows the expansion of the loaf. The scoring stroke should be firm, rapid, smooth and decisive and for the beginner it takes practice. Although understanding the function of scoring and the effects on the result helps, there is no substitute for experience. It’s kind of magic watching Ion choose the right temperature for the oven and proving machine in this small authentic area. It is clear to see an automated machine could never replace his main tool, his hands. Emily explains that his hands “understand” and feel the bread dough.
We learn the laws are quite strict for bread making. To be called a Boulangerie they must bake onsite and not between 10pm and 4am, hence only two batches of baguettes are made each day. To be classified “baguette de tradition”, they have to be made on the premises from start to finish and must only contain five ingredients, wheat, flour, salt, yeast and water.
While the baguettes are cooking we head down these tiny spiral stairs, slippery from all the flour, into the basement. Here we get to sample some apple cake and chocolate cake as we get a full demonstration of making croissants. We see the buttery, layered pastry being meticulously cut and rolled. Croissants can only be crescent shape if they are made with butter; straight croissants usually are made with margarine. The baker must gauge how many to make each day, ensuring enough to keep customers happy without wastage. By law the croissant cannot be sold the next day, so any excess is filled with almond cream, glazed, covered in almonds and baked again so they can be sold as Croissant aux amandes
Once we are finished here we carefully go back up the flour covered stairs were we are met with the wondrous smell of fresh baked bread as Ion has just taken the golden baguettes from oven. We get to keep the loaf we scored, and a fresh croissant too.
How to carry a baguette in Paris
On the way back we are proudly walking along, Steve with our two baguettes sticking out the top of his backpack. Next minute a Frenchman rushes towards him and gestures something is wrong. He takes the baguettes out from the backpack and pokes them under Steve’s arm and instructs him, “this is how we carry a baguette in Paris”. We stop at Fromagerie Lepic and get some stinky cheese to have with the baguette. Now we strut with style, I feel like we need a beret. From now on, we shall be known a Mr & Mrs Boulanger.
Further along another is the Boulangerie du Moulin de la Galette. Again I’m in awe; this quaint Art Nouveau bakery is where Julia Childs’ buys her croissants in the movie Julie and Julia.
Back at the hotel we devour the buttery, flaky croissant, brushing the crumbs from our lap and break open the crunchy baguette to enjoy this astounding bread that we had a hand in making. This capped one of the best experiences we had in Paris, learning how Croissants and Baguettes are made and the unexpected highlight of our stroll along Rue Caulaincourt.
Lyn and Steve, travel bloggers from Perth, Western Australia married and began to travel at 50 when they took their first trip overseas for their honeymoon in 2011. Since then they have travelled to 16 countries and plan on seeing as much as they can of “this beautiful world we live in.” Read more about their adventures at www.aholeinmyshoe.com