Penne Cole's thoughts on food, travel and more
The French take their bread so seriously that there is a festival in honour of it. I chanced upon the Fete du Pain one Spring day in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The venue wasn’t much to look at – just a simple white tent – but the mouth-watering smells wafting out of the tent and the long lines snaking out of it was proof that this was the real deal.
Inside the tent, there were several different types of breads and pastries on display, for sampling, and for sale. Breads of every shape and size, and from every region around the world were featured. Freshly baked goods were continuously being brought out of giant ovens at the back while curious crowds watched the master bakers at their work at long tables in the front. The two cashiers were constantly busy ringing up the purchases. Grabbing a tarte aux pommes, I munch happily, abandoning my plans to get some Berthillon ice cream from the store nearby.
The fete du pain has fired up my curiosity and when I get home, I research the best baguettes in Paris. It turns out that the French take their baguettes even more seriously than I thought. In Paris, a jury of 15 master bakers are charged with the task of determining which baker makes the best baguettes in town. The selection process is rigorous. There are size (the bread must be between 55 and 65 centimetres) and weight (between 250 and 300 grams) restrictions; there are salt restrictions – no more than 18 grams of salt per kilogram of flour. The breads are judged on five criteria – appearance, cooking, the air pockets within the bread, the smell, and of course, the taste. After a rigorous afternoon of tasting more than 150 qualified entries (another 50 were disqualified because they didn’t meet the requirements), the results are in.
1. Au Paradis du Gourmand, 156 rue Raymond Losserand, 14th
Taking the top prize is Ridha Khadjer from Au Paradis du Gourmand in the 14th Arrondissement. Dutifully, I make the pilgrimage there, arriving just before the lunchtime crowds. I order a sandwich (on a baguette of course!) and a plain baguette. The cheese and ham sandwich is disappointing; it has obviously been sitting out for a while and the bread is stale, with none of the satisfying crustiness that I am expecting. But the fresh baguette is heavenly. It is still slightly warm from the oven, deliciously crusty on the outside, yet light and fluffy on the inside. I’m no expert, of course, but this baguette was amazing.
Sadly, I didn’t manage to make it to any of the other boulangeries, but here are the rest of the top ten:
2. Boulangerie Raphaelle, 1 rue Feutrier, 18th
3. Boulangerie Damiani, 125 avenue du Clichy, 17th
4. Christian Vabret, 27 rue Francois Miron, 4th
5. Maison Cailleaud, 104 cours de Vincennes, 75012
6. Maison Landemaine, 56 rue du Clichy, 9th
7. Dominique Saibron, 77 avenue du General Leclerc, 14th (also among the top ten places for croissants in Paris)
8. Le Grenier a Pain Lafayette, 91 rue Faubourg Poissonniere, 9th
9. La Parisienne, 12 rue Coustou, 18th
10. Claude Besnier, 40 rue Bourgogne, 7th
The Fete du Pain (Bread Festival) is an annual affair throughout France. For more information, visit their website.
Related post: The best croissants in Paris.
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