Bread winner

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.

Baguettes in the making & a charming client buying her baguette tradition
Perfect baguettes.
Baguette ordinaire (left), and a client buying a ficelle.

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.

Jeremy only uses flour from Charente-Maritime.

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.

Fresh baker’s yeast (left), Jessica and boulanger Pierre.

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.

Cycling around the charming village of Soulac-sur-mer.

My favourite sandwich: saucissons secs, pickles and butter with baguette bread.

We came back home by lunchtime. I made my favourite sandwich. Baguette, saucissons secs, butter and crunchy pickles. Simplicity at its best.

Le fournil de J & J

29 thoughts on “Bread winner

  1. It’s all about the simple pleasures. I enjoy the very same thing halfway across the world: going to market, buying what takes my fancy and lunch coming together without a second thought…love it!

    1. Bonjour Andrée! Merci pour tes belles paroles. Quel bonheur de retrouver une bonne baguette digne de ce nom dans le Médoc! Encore une belle découverte dans le coin. Je t’embrasse aussi. Mimix

  2. Sheesh, Mimi, could you be any prettier? Methinks not.
    Yes, you can’t help but be baguette obsessed when living in France and certainly with a Frenchman (“What do you mean we don’t have any bread?” is a question that I quickly learned to avoid). I actually live directly across the street from a boulangerie, mais helas, not MY boulangerie. No, that would be too easy. Their baguette doesn’t have any bubbles at all and they can never get “mi-cuite” right so I leash up the pupper and walk across town to get the real deal. It is worth it!

    Bon weekend…

  3. My bread is on the rise right now – 7 double loaves of Prince Edward Island farmbread. Not like baguettes, but similar in that it’s a very simple water, yeast, flour and shortening bread. No measurements – I go by feel and many years of baking. I have a cast iron skillet. It belonged to my husband’s great-grandfather. I’m going to try your tip with placing it in the oven with 1 cup water. Thank you for a very enjoyable post!

  4. Thank for for such a lovely post, baguettes are my favorite indulgence when I visit France. I am traveling to the Paris in November to celebrate my 3rd wedding anniversary with the love of my life, my husband, and we both cannot wait to find ourselves a cafe with some wine, cheese and a baguette to enjoy. Your sandwich looks remarkable and I love the combination of flavors, I must try one for myself.

  5. Your favorite sandwich looks a lot like my favorite sandwich. Only made with Greek country bread instead of a baguette. I love baguettes, though.
    Thanks for all the tips. They will come in handy as I’m planning to experiment with homemade baguette. I’m not expecting miracles but then again, they are known to happen 🙂

  6. I believe that life is best lived by the simplest ingredients, just like your favorite baguettes! Give me a good, crusty loaf, a salty cheese and thinly sliced country ham and I will be forever happy. Growing up, I never had to go far for the best bread around; my grandmother made the best rolls in the world and has perfected her recipe over 40 years ago. Perfection is found in simplicity!

  7. that sounds and smells really very good, even my favorite baguette would be vegetarian – I would prefer cheese and tomatoes on it – but also with butter.
    But did you ever bake baguette by your own? thats really a artist act.
    And you do know a little book from Peter Mayle :”Geheimnisse eines französichen Bäckers” / secrets of a french original baker” – I don’t know if this book is printed in a english version , I didn’t find it at amazon.
    Nevertheless this book tells the story of the way the baguette and croissants are growining, smelling, tasting. By reading you will have the feeling of beeing in this little lovely bakery at the site of the baker and you feel the meal – really!!!
    bon weekend, je t’embrasse.

    1. Dear Susanne,

      Thank you for your lovely message! I enjoy Peter Mayle’s writing, but I have never read ‘Confessions of a French baker’. Merci beaucoup for the recommendation, I shall definitely buy it – it looks like enjoyable reading. I have baked my own baguette before, but honestly they have never been as good as my baker’s! I don’t know if I will ever get to his level, but after spending some quality time in his bakery, I have certainly learnt a few good tricks, which I will apply next time. Bon week-end to you too Susanne! Mimi

  8. So very lovely. A good bread is the simplest and also the most complex thing to attain, the pinnacle of baking for me. Luckily as a student chef about to partake in my next module of pastry I (might just get there.) However I doubt they could ever be as fabulous as your lovely specimens there.

    Thank you for sharing your story with us, on those simplest of rituals which make a big difference to our day and how we go about it!

    1. How lucky you are to be a student chef! I wish you all the best, especially in pastry. I have learnt that the key to successful baking is care and patience. Bonne journée, Mimi

  9. Good bread is one of the thing I missed the most leaving in Qatar. The only choice is Carrefour or Paul…It’s hard to be french and far from a good boulangerie! Thanks for your post, it reminds me of home!

  10. We live nearby and ‘went’ very often to Pain d’Epis as well. Unfortunately, another boulangerie has taken over now. So these days we trek to Des Granges in Passy for their Passy Passion – a perfect baguette!
    I’ll be making your Plum Pain Perdu this week for friends. Thanks for your delicious recipes and stories.

    1. Oh how sad to hear this! Did they just move somewhere else? I hope they did not close down. Well, I am glad to hear you have found another boulangerie! Perhaps you and I crossed path once at Pain d’Epis? It’s a small world. Enjoy the pain perdu! I loved the plums so much I cooked more today and stored them (with lots of syrup) in old jam jars. Bonne soirée, Mimi

  11. Oh my…I just found your site and am sure I will be visiting regularly. You make me really yearn to be back in France again. I was a French major in college and spent a summer in France…Paris (my absolute love), Nice and Dijon where I spent several months studying. Seeing those baguettes just flood my mind with memories. Oh how I loved that summer. A bottle of wine, a hunk of cheese and a loaf of bread…nothing better! We don’t even have a good bakery where I live and it is extremely hard to find even a great loaf of baked bread. I really wish I had the knack to make my own. Thanks so much for the post!

    1. Hi Sharyn, so glad you dropped by on ‘Manger’! It warms my heart to read how a good baguette can trigger so many fond memories! life is certainly all about simple pleasures and good humour. I admit it is a hard task to bake a baguette ‘artisanale’, but one should always try. Here’s a little recipe given to me by the baker of J & J: 500 g flour T65 type, 325 ml water, 10 g fine salt, 5-7g fresh baker’s yeast. Dissolve yeast in a bit of water. Mix all ingredients and start kneading. Proceed with ‘folding’ the dough as if you were folding an A4 sheet of paper clockwise. Leave to rise 3 hours covered with a cloth at room temperature. Roll out in a baguette shape, make diagonal slashes across the dough. Bake 22-23 minutes on 240C. Please check my post for good tips on baking baguette (steam, rising etc). Mimi

  12. Reading your appetizing post made me, like everyone else here, long for the smell and taste of real baguette (living in an area with no decent bakeries of any kind got me started baking our own bread, baguette and other). It also brought back the memory of a funny incident in France, where as a kid I spent many summer vacations. The non-French family who had rented the house next door told my mother how convenient it was that there was a special tall waste basket for diapers. I do not remember how my mother told her it was NOT a garbage bin. But every summer after that, my mother always stored our baguette on the kitchen counter.

  13. Mimi, I’m completely smitten with your blog, and I adore your trench coat. Can you please share the brand and style?

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