Saturday, June 9, 2007
Brioche at Bread & Roses
The story of the French and English has not always been one of deep understanding and mutual admiration of one another's cuisine.
That is changing thanks to Paris cafés such as Rose Bakery and the similarly named but unrelated Bread & Roses, which are patching up centuries of misunderstanding by displaying homey scones and crumbles next to chic lemon tarts and quiches.
I'll seize any opportunity to visit Bread & Roses and this morning's Edible Paris guided tour with a food-loving family of Americans from Colorado provided the perfect excuse to re-enter its kitchen.
Owner Philippe Tailleur is an unusual personality in the Paris food world. He ran a profitable shopping center outside Paris before trading it in for this run-down bakery just downstairs from his apartment and a few steps from the Luxembourg Gardens. In a triumph of quality over convenience, he now devotes himself to producing some of the finest organic bread and most tempting prepared goods in Paris (just try to resist the puff-pastry tarts loaded with roasted vegetables). He is a proud Anglophile and claims that his cheesecake is "the best this side of the Atlantic."
The scene in the basement kitchen is the opposite of Poilâne, where bare-chested bakers in traditional cream-colored linen shorts toil before the Roman wood-fired oven. Tailleur has invested in the most modern equipment: the mixers alone apparently cost €100,000 each and there is a nifty machine for dividing a batch of dough into evenly-sized balls. Stacks of white plastic bins hold the various organic flours and seeds that go into about a dozen different speciality breads, which are produced in small quantities - only about 10-20 loaves of each per day. Bakers shape the loaves by hand and are encouraged to invent new recipes, such as the wonderful currant-studded ficelle (a very thin baguette). To keep the bakery side of things small and confidential, Tailleur doesn't post the word boulangerie outside and the bread is displayed at the back of the shop.
On the other side of the kitchen a few cooks work on salads, savory tarts and pastries. Today they were making strawberry tiramisu, layering syrup-soaked Italian biscuits with strawberries, blueberries and mascarpone cream. One of the cooks was assembling a giant tiramisu in a big glass bowl which had been provided by one of the bakery's well-heeled customers. This is a popular request, she said. "That way they can say they made it themselves."
I was also intrigued by the Bread & Roses take on the tropézienne, a rich brioche-and-custard cake that originated in St-Tropez (a bit of a contradiction when you consider the beachwear there). Here it's filled with a lighter version of crème pâtissière and inauthentic strawberries, which add a welcome fresh note.
Brioche has become a specialty lately and I picked up one of the cloud-like golden loaves to try at home. Even more than croissant, brioche has the ability to transform a massive slab of butter into something puffy and ethereal that melts on the tongue. I wasn't hungry when I tasted it, but that didn't stop me from going back for a second slice, just to be sure it was as glorious as it seemed.
The rest of the loaf, toasted and perhaps spread with a little strawberry jam, will give me reason enough to wake up tomorrow morning.
Bread and Roses, 7 rue de Fleurus, 6th, 01 42 22 06 06.