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Samuel Fromartz, the author/journalist who shocked a small conference room of bakers and cooks by winning the City Paper‘s debut baguette contest, recounts his formative experiences at a Parisian boulangerie in the premiere issue of Afar magazine.
Don’t expect any tales of abuse at the hands of an angry French baker. Instead, Fromartz balances his own learning lessons at Boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel with those of the French people, who learned once again to embrace the time-consuming traditions of genuine artisan breadmaking. It’s a good read, along with some stunning photography.
Y&H’s favorite part is where Fromartz takes matters into his own hands and prepares a few baguettes after calculating how to cut down Delmontel’s recipe for hundreds of baguettes:
One day at the bakery, during a brief lull I noticed a recipe taped to the wall, Delmontel’s formula for making several hundred baguettes. Using the same ratio of water, salt, flour, and yeast, I calculated the quantities necessary to make three baguettes and showed my figures to Chardon. “Oui?” he said. “Un test,” I replied.
I weighed out the small batch of ingredients and then, to Chardon’s surprise, I began kneading the dough by hand. “I haven’t done that since baking school,” he said. The French flour was noticeably less absorbent than the American flours I was used to, owing to the fact that French flour has less protein than American flour (see “Is French Flour Really Different?,” page 73). When the shaggy dough developed into a more solid mass, I showed it to Chardon, who signaled to keep kneading. After a few more minutes, I let the dough sit, then kneaded again before each of the three 20-minute rest periods. I put the dough in the refrigerator for a 24-hour rise, and told Delmontel about my little experiment when he walked into the fournil.
The next morning, I waited for another free moment to take out the dough, which had risen nicely and was filled with bubbles. I shaped the baguettes by hand, let them rise once more, then baked them in the huge oven. They sprang up nicely, and when we removed them with the long wooden peel (a spatula), I saw they had a deep golden-brown color, and the slashes were well defined. Once the loaves cooled, I picked one out and took it upstairs to the chef.
“Le test,” I announced, entering Delmontel’s office. He looked amused as I gave him the loaf. “Nice slashes,” he said. “Good color. May I cut it open?”
Of course, I nodded.
He took a knife and cut the full length of the loaf as if making a sandwich, then thrust his nose inside to breathe in the aroma. “Ah, good smell,” he said. Looking at the uneven air pockets in the crumb, he smiled. “I didn’t know my formula could be done on such a small scale,” he said. Then he took a bite.
“Ah, c’est bien!” he concluded.
A French baker had told me I made decent bread. What else did I need? I flew out of the office to tell Chardon the good news.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery