Thursday, April 26, 2007
A bread moment
Like Jacques Chirac, I’m borrowing a Paris pad from a friend for the next few months (part-time in my case). Mine doesn’t overlook the Seine but a leafy courtyard in a quiet street near Porte de Champerret, a part of the 17th I had never thought to explore. It’s proving less sleepy than I expected: impeccably groomed women in sundresses and high heels and dazzling men in black suits and crisp white shirts populate the café terraces on place du Maréchal Juin. My haunt on the place until recently was the café Les Hortensias, where I had been going for WiFi access. This time, though, I couldn't get it to work. When I asked the waiter if there might be a problem he replied, "Don't ask me, I'm anti-technology." Hmph. If they ran out of tea, would he declare he is anti-tea?
This morning, for the first time, I ventured out looking for bread. It didn't take me long to come across a boulangerie that looked very promising indeed. Raoul Maeder's boulangerie won the city's prestigious "best baguette" prize in 2000 and 2002, and the "best galette des rois" prize in 2004. What first drew my eye to this bakery were the pretzels hanging from a metal rack, an unusual sight in Paris and a sign that the boulanger is Alsatian. I would have liked to try one but by now I was on a mission.
"I'd like the baguette that won the prize," I said.
Full marks to the salesgirl for asking me whether I'd like it "bien cuit, pas trop cuit ou moyen" (well browned, not too brown or medium) even though I hadn't specified. Just think how many times a day she sells these baguettes and still she bothers to ask. This baguette was a Rétrodor, which means that the boulanger follows a specific set of guidelines that are outlined on the paper wrapper. I was thrilled to see that the holes should be "sauvage" (wild) and irregular.
Back at the apartment, I started to eat the baguette - and couldn't stop. Crunchy crusted, not too salty, not too sour, with a creamy-coloured crumb and wild holes, this was everything a baguette à l'ancienne should be. I couldn't help asking myself whether baguettes really were like this in ancient times, or if the baguette à l'ancienne is a modern invention. What does it really matter, when they taste so good?
I nibbled at the baguette as I worked and, at lunch, picked up a few thin slices of ham from the local butcher and some AOC butter from Deux Sèvres to make a ham sandwich that needed neither mustard nor gherkins to make it perfect. Bravo, Mr. Maeder. Your baguette is truly exemplary.
158 bd Berthier, 17th, 01 46 22 50 73.