There is passion for bread in Parisian arrondisments
A generation of bakers using organic flours from small millers, homemade yeasts, long fermentation times, and slow kneading are crafting tasty old-fashioned breads. Here are three artisans who roll up their sleeves to make the best of their craft
Every morning, Julien and Florian at their Atelier P1 bakery carefully shape their dough on layered cloths in full view of customers. In this new address in Paris’ 18th arrondissement, one must wait a minimum of 24 hours before tasting the day’s yield. The usual three-hour fermentation of most bakeries is unheard of here. Julien Cantenot, a co-founder of Atelier P1, is a “neobaker,” which is not so new at all. “It’s a craftsperson who applies old-fashioned bread-making techniques, quite opposite to conventional techniques” explains Christian
Remésy, a former director of nutrition research at the National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) who promotes long fermentation times at room temperature and the exclusion of white flour, popularised after the Second World War. Even Grand
Prize-winning baguettes leave him indifferent. “Like any refined product, it has a high glycemic index with little nutritional value. Not to mention the large quantities of nitrogen fertiliser required for production, making it an ecological disaster” he says, pointing out that it is no coincidence that artisanal bakers don’t make that icon of French gastronomy. Cantenot is a devotee of brown flours (grain meals in various degrees of wholeness), focusing his efforts on organic whole and semi-whole single variety breads to preserve the flavor of each cereal.
François Brault, the founder of Panifica bakery, is part of a new generation of artisans “who select the raw materials they use and control their supplies” contrary to chain mills and recipes using all white flour with additives. Five years ago, he gathered his peers to ask their millers to add heirloom varieties, organic when possible, for artisan bakers.
“Things are moving in the right direction, but it takes time. The varieties we requested must first be sown, harvested, and ground” he explains. Philippe Guichard knows something
about it. The farmer-miller in the In the Matignon family, the milling craft has been
passed from father to son. The family mill, set in the Gâtinais, mainly processes local wheat, but five years ago, Gilles added heirloom varieties to their catalog. “I wanted to grind the cereals my grandfather had known,” he says. His only clients are Atelier P1, Chardon, Dupain, Le Petit Grain, and Solques. “Some artisans advertise heirloom wheat only for marketing purposes, while others want heirloom varieties which are as simple to use as modern wheat,” he laments.
Lot-et-Garonne is increasingly in demand by those whom he poetically calls “the ambassadors of bread.” His 35 tonnes of heirloom wheat flour are not enough to satisfy
growing demand from bakers, restaurants, and the gluten-intolerant.
“After the Second World War, agrifood giants created a genetic selection to obtain more solid gluten, which degrades slower and resists industrial transformation. We ended up with less-digestible wheats,” he says. This is not an issue for neobakers, as they essentially use glutenfree unrefined flour. An increasing number of artisans are also incorporating natural leavenings (a mixture of flour, water, and yeast which predigests the gluten) into their recipes to offer a more digestible bread. Cantenot and François Brault swear by their ferments which add a slightly tangy flavor.
Although Christophe Vasseur claims to be part of the movement, he doesn’t share many of his counterparts’ passion for leaven. “Its aromatic power flattens the subtleties of the cereal, which is a pity when you use naturally flavourful high-quality flours.” Vasseur believes bakers can obtain delicious, nutritious, digestible products with just a hint of baker’s yeast and long fermentation times.
In a few years, his bakery, founded in 1875, which Vasseur renamed Du Pain et des Idées in 2002, has become a mecca for delicious pastries and the Pain des Amis, a nutty loaf baked in an oven whose temperature decreases during baking.
His immense success proved to Vasseur that the neo-bakery is amovement he believes will grow. Cantenot shares his hopes, but acknowledges that there’s much to be done for the profession to be recognized at its true value.
“Like wine, bread is a fermented product that requires real expertise. Unfortunately, most French people see it as a simple mixture of water and flour picked up on the way home from work. We are still far from customers discussing fermentation, varieties, and origin like they do with their wine seller!” he jokes.