The Search for the Perfect Baguette

It has been a few weeks since the return from our trip to Paris.  We have mostly readjusted.  We will shortly be moving our office from Croton-on-Hudson to the neighboring town of Cortlandt Manor. But there is one area where we feel as great loss; for we miss the perfect breakfast.  In Paris, or rather Boulogne-Billancourt, we had 3 boulangeries (bakeries) within walking distance from our apartment.  Each morning we would make an expedition (two blocks) to the bakery and pick up a fresh baguette (.95 Euros / USD $1.25).  We would also pick up croissant beurre, croissant almonde, pain au chocolat, or brioche.  We would top it with fresh butter, nutella or confitures.  And for the adults, drink it with freshly brewed French Roast coffee. And so, on our return, we sought to reproduce this simple pedestrian breakfast.  The pastries and baguettes were ALWAYS fresh from the oven.  The had delicate crips crusts.  The insides were light and airy, almost delicate.  The bread “snapped” in your fingers and crackled under your teeth.  The croissant were light, flaky and exuded butter.

Well, it hasn’t been easy.  Our local ShopRite (which has everything), sells loaves that are shaped like French bread, but resemble more in texture partially cooked pizza dough.  The bread is soggy to the touch when bought, with a cold clammy texture. When warmed up to get a crispy crust, the bread is hard and tough.  Sharp teeth are required to tear the break.  Rather then melting in your mouth, repeated chewing is required to aid in digestion.

The croissants are even worse.  They “look” like croissant, but the resemblance ends at the external appearance.  The French croissants were layer upon layer of delicious flaky crust, such that you could unpeel the croissant, and eat it layer by layer. The ShopRite croissants were a single undifferentiated mass of dough.  Yes, there were not too dense, and they were buttery, but they had none of the texture and feel of the French version. Once you went beyond to the Almond croissant and the Pain au Chocolate, it got worse.

I then moved on to the local “Gourmet” establishment.  They had a wider selection and variety.  The French breads (when they were available) had a gold crust and crackled when you squeezed them. But the weight of the bread was wrong.  They were too heavy.  The dough was dense and chewy.  They were interested breads, but they lacked the Artisanal flavor and texture we could get in any boulangerie in France.

Part of the reason, I am told, has to do with CULTURE.  In France, the local bakery has two production runs: early morning and mid-day.  The breads are made without any preservatives.  The means that the lucious baguette of the morning is the stale loaf of the evening, fit only for bread crumbs and croutons. And bakeries are located on every other block.  Each morning and each evening the “chefs”, including little chefs, cue up to get the fresh breads out of the oven.  In the U.S. we have “factory-sized” bakeries that ship breads through distribution centers to large markets.  Breads may take 24-48 hours from when they are made to when they show up on your shelve for you to buy on your weekly (not daily) shopping expedition.  In such a food cycle, French bread, with its 12 hour life cycle, would be long dead and stale before it got to your table.

For us, “lost in suburbia”, our option is to take the train to Zaros at Grand Central Station or learn how to make our own bread.  At present, we are decided on the later.  We will begin to yeast our our starter loaf, and put it in the convection oven while the rest of the family does their morning showers.

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