The Saône river in Lyon (Herbert Frank from Wien (Vienna), AT – Lyon, an der Saône, Eglise Saint Georges / Wikimedia Commons)
When you have 20 minutes it is worth hearing Bill Buford speak about the same experience he has written about. If you have already read about his Lyon baking experience, and enjoyed it, all the more so; this conversation brings more to the table as he discusses his new book, Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father, and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking. Click the image of the book below to go to an independent bookseller that offers it.
Likewise, even if you have already read plenty on the importance of bread and bakeries in French culture you might enjoy one more take, from the present circumstances, in James McAuley’s article about flocking back to bakeries for comfort: …“The power of bread is particularly emotional now. It’s no longer caloric; a vital necessity,” Kaplan said. “Bread still is the conveyor of this extraordinary, important feeling we have that the state cares about us. It’s a reaffirmation of solidarity. Solidarity is really represented by sharing bread.” (Baguettes were price-controlled in France until 1986)…
Yesterday’s post got me thinking more about bread, which reminded me of Cherchez le pain. This guide to the best bakeries in Paris was published when we lived there, and its author had been my professor at Cornell. As soon as I saw the publicity for the book I sent him an email congratulating him. To my surprise, he was on sabbatical leave, living just a few blocks from where we were living, so I invited him to join us for dinner.
I had sat through enough of his lectures on the history of food to anticipate an interesting dinner, but I was not prepared for what might sound now like a parlor trick. As soon as we sat for the meal, he picked up the bread in front of him, our favorite from a bakery we had chosen from dozens during our first few months living in that city. He held it to his nose, then brought it to his ear and tapped it with a spoon. He broke it in two and pressed his face into it. Maybe there was more to the show that I have forgotten now. What I do remember is that he named the bakery it was from.
I was impressed. And I was gratified after that when he said we had chosen well. But then he mentioned that if we were willing to walk just two blocks further we would find a bakery that ranked in the top five out of six hundred bakeries he had sampled in Paris. Next morning, of course, we went to that bakery and bought what might be the best bread of our lives. As we walked home with our bread, our entire family halted as we approached the bakery that had been our regular bakery for the past several months. We decided to walk an entire city block out of our way so that the baker would not see us having bought our bread elsewhere.
Karl De Smedt in the Puratos Center for Bread Flavor, the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, in St. Vith, Belgium. Puratos Center for Bread Flavor
Bread is a frequent flier of a topic on this platform, including sourdough specifically. Ditto for libraries and their librarians and the creative things they do. Franz Lidz is not a writer we have featured in our pages before, but with a story like this one we will be watching for more.
Some starters never die, they just get filed away here.
In these housebound times, Americans have gone stark baking mad. Shut-ins are channeling their anxieties into pandemic pastries and quarantine cookies, some with icing piped in the shape of surgical masks, others frosted with the face of Dr. Anthony Fauci. Baking essentials such as yeast and flour are in short supply, and Google searches for bread recipes are on the rise, so to speak.
Puratos Center for Bread Flavour
Curiously, during this apocalyptic spring, the best thing since sliced bread turns out not to be sliced bread. The most coveted isolation loaves seem to be sourdough, a knobbly, rugged variety that requires patience, handmade fermentations and something like affection. “Working with sourdough is part art, part science,” said Karl De Smedt. “You don’t tell the dough when it’s time to be shaped. The dough tells you.”
Mr. De Smedt is the curator of the world’s only sourdough library. Located in the flyspeck village of St. Vith, 87 miles southeast of Brussels, the library houses the world’s most extensive collection of sourdough starters, those bubbling beige globs of bacteria and wild yeast — known as “mothers” — that bakers mix into dough to produce flavorful loaves with interestingly shaped holes. If a mother isn’t regularly divided and kneaded and fed with flour and water, she will eventually go dormant or die. “A starter has its own heart, almost its own will,” Mr. De Smedt said. “Treat a starter nice and it will reward you tremendously, like a good friend.” Continue reading
The bread from Bob’s boulangerie united a neighborhood of food fanatics. Illustration by Leo Espinosa
My first mention of Bill Buford was so brief, you might have missed it–just a link to an event he was moderating. The second was a link to his writing. And then another link to his writing. I am glad to see that he is still harvesting from his experience living in Lyon. It is a city that I have been to twice, with exceptional food memories which I will save for another time. For now I will just mention that one baker in Costa Rica has recently mastered the art of world-class bread-making, including baguette and chiabbata. During these challenging times for this country’s family farms it occurs to me, thanks to Bill Buford’s story, that ensuring the survival of this bakery is worthy of attention as well:
In Lyon, an ancient but benevolent law compels bakers to take one day off a week, and so most don’t work Sundays. An exception was the one in the quartier where I lived with my family for five years, until 2013. On Sundays, the baker, Bob, worked without sleep. Late-night carousers started appearing at three in the morning to ask for a hot baguette, swaying on tiptoe at a high ventilation window by the oven room, a hand outstretched with a euro coin. By nine, a line extended down the street, and the shop, when you finally got inside, was loud from people and from music being played at high volume. Everyone shouted to be heard—the cacophonous hustle, oven doors banging, people waving and trying to get noticed, too-hot-to-touch baguettes arriving in baskets, money changing hands. Everyone left with an armful and with the same look, suspended between appetite and the prospect of an appetite satisfied. It was a lesson in the appeal of good bread—handmade, aromatically yeasty, with a just-out-of-the-oven texture of crunchy air. This was their breakfast. It completed the week. This was Sunday in Lyon. Continue reading
Helen Rosner, surprisingly appearing for only the second time in our pages, catches us just after our new year’s resolution to take up bread baking.
For a few minutes of bread love, click the image above. For a few minutes more of bread geek-out, read on:
In the immeasurable history of people talking about food, has there ever been a single statement more raw and moving and real than Oprah Winfrey, sitting before a television camera, flinging her arms emphatically forward, narrowing her eyes with fevered intensity, and declaring, with a passionate roar, “I! Love! Bread!” Continue reading
The publisher’s blurb starts with an annoying claim, as if there is one chef better than all others in the world, that illustrates why foodie-ism is less and less linked to on this platform. Nonetheless, the book sounds worthy of attention:
Massimo Bottura, the world’s best chef, prepares extraordinary meals from ordinary and sometimes ‘wasted’ ingredients inspiring home chefs to eat well while living well.
‘These dishes could change the way we feed the world, because they can be cooked by anyone, anywhere, on any budget. To feed the planet, first you have to fight the waste’, Massimo Bottura
Bread is Gold is the first book to take a holistic look at the subject of food waste, presenting recipes for three-course meals from 45 of the world’s top chefs, including Daniel Humm, Mario Batali, René Redzepi, Alain Ducasse, Joan Roca, Enrique Olvera, Ferran & Albert Adrià and Virgilio Martínez. These recipes, which number more than 150, turn everyday ingredients into inspiring dishes that are delicious, economical, and easy to make.
We remember the genesis of this from a story by Adam Robb a couple of years ago:
The renovated Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan’s Greco neighborhood will house a charity event organized by chef Massimo Bottura during Expo Milano 2015. Credit Adam Robb
Italy’s most progressive exhibition of sustainable cooking commences this Thursday, when the Michelin-starred chef Massimo Bottura throws open the doors of Refettorio Ambrosiano, the once-derelict theater repurposed to educate and feed the refugees and working poor who reside far across town from the multinational pavilions welcoming culinary tourists to this summer’s Expo Milano 2015. Continue reading
The Poderanchem Fest will pay tribute to the state’s unique baking traditions and the people who keep them alive. PHOTO: Scroll
India is home to celebrations that pan religions, occasions like harvest, birthdays of legendary heroes, and more. And now the country gets its first platform celebrating bakers. All the way from the tourist-laden beaches of Goa.
It’s the sound of Goa. Every morning at the crack of dawn, the bulb horn of the poder wakes up people across the state, encouraging them to start their day with cheap, freshly baked bread. On Friday, the state’s humble bakers will finally get turn in the spotlight. Goa’s first Poderanchem Fest, or Baker’s Festival, being hosted in the leafy North Goa village of Succorro, will feature a baker’s parade and stalls selling traditional and new varieties of pao, in addition to the region’s favourite foods to eat the bread with.
Read more here.