When you think of France, do you see a béret, a marinière top and a baguette under the arm? To this day, this image has been inked into our minds. I sometimes reflect on the origins of this postal card, souvenir, movie-like ‘cliché’. The characteristics of a baguette remind us of the simplicity and originality of the French way of life. The morning ritual of going to the boulangerie, or in other words the village’s social rendez-vous. You meet everyone there, exchanging stories, saying hellos, overhearing gossip. You can also dive into someone’s life by knowing their bread preferences. And that is how life is all over France. We buy our daily baguettes, hold them under the arms, nibbling the tip out of sheer ‘gourmandise’. The crusty smell of a freshly baked baguette is enchanting.
Baguette is France’s daily bread. Finding a perfect baguette is a sacred quest. Once found, you shall forever be faithful. It’s a family affair.
When we lived in Paris, we found a boulangerie with baguettes just how we like them (Pain D’Epis, 63 Avenue Bosquet, 75007 Paris note I just found out they closed down – Boulanger Thierry Dubois decided to take a year off for a ‘Tour du monde’). Everytime we bought bread there, we were grateful for the excellent quality. When we left Paris, one of the first things I said every morning was: ‘Oh how I miss my boulanger!’ So there we were, discreetly searching for a great baguette. We tried, talked, discussed, searched. After a few months of tasting and comparing (lots of good bread), we discovered ‘Le fournil de J & J’, located in Soulac-sur-Mer (24, Rue Trouche 33780, Soulac-sur-mer). This husband and wife bakery (Jeremy & Jessica) is certainly a bit of a stretch distance wise, but in exchange we get the quality we are looking for. Don’t be fooled by the simple décor. This place is all about excellent bread. It’s as good as any bread I’ve ever had, right up there with the very best, the kind of bread you would expect from a great establishment where the boulanger wears the French flag around his neck. That this bread is made by such a young artisan makes it even more special and bodes well for the future of French gastronomy.
What is a perfect baguette? Golden thin crisp crust, light and airy inside. The bubbles of air keep all the flavours in. Jeremy is the ‘artisan‘ boulanger, a master of his trade. He started when he was fourteen years old and has been perfecting his art ever since. What is the secret to a good baguette, I asked? It’s the ‘action de la levure, la fermentation (the action of the yeast, the fermentation). But what is even more important is the time he lets his bread rise. From 24 to 72 hours. Quality is all about patience. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time, nor the staff, for such dedication. Additionally, Jeremy has a few tricks up his sleeve that make his bread unique. C’est le secret professionel, something he won’t share with anyone.
The less yeast , the better the quality. The more water, the thinner the crust, the airier the crumb, therefore the bread tastes better. Jeremy leaves his baguette ‘tradition’ (their bestseller) to rise 48 hours in a cold room of 3 degrees Celsius. He uses ‘mitronette’ mill flour from the Charente-Maritime region. In high season, queues start forming at 7:30 am, clients buying the baguette classique, the ficelle, the céréales, the bio among many others.
I have learnt a great deal from Jeremy’s techniques and will take these very important tips:
● Only use fresh yeast (your baker can sell you some),
● Don’t be shy to let the dough rise for a long time (Jeremy lets his baguette rise 48 hours in a cold room 3 degrees), or at least 3 hours at home at room temperature
● Less yeast = better tasting bread
● While baking the bread at 240°C, use a cast iron skillet filled with 1 large glass of water placed under the baking tray. Traditional baguettes are baked in ovens that produce steam, which delays crust formation so the loaves can fully rise.
We came back home by lunchtime. I made my favourite sandwich. Baguette, saucissons secs, butter and crunchy pickles. Simplicity at its best.