Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips and Recipes

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9780316730150: Confessions of a French Baker: Breadmaking Secrets, Tips and Recipes

Attention bread lovers!In the first of his famous books about Provence, Peter Mayle shared with us news of a bakery in the town of Cavaillon where the baking and appreciation of breads “had been elevated to the status of a minor religion.” Its name: Chez Auzet.Now, several hundred visits later, Mayle has joined forces with Gerard Auzet, the proprietor of this most glorious of Provençal bakeries, to tell us about breadmaking at its finest.Mayle takes us into the baking room to witness the birth of a loaf. We see the master at work–slapping, rolling, squeezing, folding, and twisting dough as he sculpts it into fougasses, bâtards, and boules. Auzet then gives us precise, beautifully illustrated instructions for making sixteen kinds of bread, from the classic baguette to loaves made with such ingredients as bacon, apricots, hazelnuts, garlic, and green and black olives. There are tips galore, the tricks of the trade are revealed, and along the way Mayle relates the delightful history of four generations of Auzet bakers. One of Provence’s oldest and most delicious pleasures is now available at a kitchen near you, thanks to this charming guide. Read, bake, and enjoy.

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About the Author:

Peter Mayle is the author of A Year in Provence, French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork, and Corkscrew, and seven other books set in Provence, where he lives.

Gerard Auzet runs his family’s bakery, Chez Auzet, in Cavaillon, Provence, where it has been operating since 1951.

Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, Toujours Provence, Encore Provence, and French Lessons, as well as five novels set in Provence, are available in Vintage paperback.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Oregon's Kosher Maven's Honey Cake
1 cake with at least 12 servings

In Portland, Oregon, a city settled by German-Jewish tradesmen and shopkeepers in the 1840s, one woman is still remembered for her great kosher cooking. The late Runi Hyman used to provide kosher meals for transients and hungry Portlanders from the late 1920s until about 1970.

Because of her great heart she always opened her door to anyone who knocked and asked for a meal. One day someone sent a well-dressed young man to her. The man told her he had been traveling across the country and had left a wife and three sons in the east. Ms. Hyman looked him in the eye and said, "What's a young man with so many family responsibilities doing bumming around the country instead of getting a steady job?" That young man was the singer Jan Peerce.

During World War II she cooked for soldiers. A regular ritual followed each meal. Mrs. Hyman would take a snapshot of each young man. Then the picture would be developed and sent home to the soldier's family.

Although most of her recipes are gone, she shared her traditional honey cake, made for Rosh Hashanah to ensure a sweet New Year but also prepared by honey-cake afficianados for all good occasions.

3  large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Grated rind of one lemon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup honey
1 cup warm black coffee
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup slivered almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

2. Place the eggs, lemon juice, lemon rind, oil, honey, and coffee in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on low speed until well blended. Gradually add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cream of tartar, sugar, and cinnamon, mixing for about 5 minutes or until well blended. Fold in the slivered almonds.

3. Pour the batter into the tube pan. Bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
The Birth of a Loaf

 

Cavaillon, the melon capital of France (and of the world, according to the local melon fraternity), is a market town of some 23,000 inhabitants, about a thirty-minute drive from Avignon. By day, it’s a lively, crowded place. Cars prowl the streets in search of a parking spot, housewives sniff and prod the glistening piles of fruit and vegetables laid out on sidewalk stands shaded by striped awnings, café regulars study newspapers over their morning beers as dogs sidle between the tables hoping to find a fallen croissant. The sounds of laughter, vigorous argument, and les top hits of Radio Vaucluse burst out through open doors and windows.

 

That was how I knew Cavaillon, and how I always thought of it, until I was invited to take a look behind the scenes of the Auzet bakery by the patron himself. It was to be a working visit. I wanted to see bakers in action. I wanted to witness mounds of dough being transformed into loaves. I wanted to run my fingers through the flour, squeeze a warm boule or two, and generally soak up the atmosphere.

 

That was no problem, Gerard Auzet told me. I could have the freedom of the bakery while it was still calm and uncrowded. He suggested that I turn up for work, like everyone else, at four a.m. He could guarantee I’d have no trouble parking.

 

Cavaillon at four on that August morning was cool and ghostly. There were no cars, no noise, no people, no hint of the heat that would come with the morning sun. I was aware of hearing sounds one seldom hears in a busy town: the ticking of my car’s engine as it cooled, the wailing of a lovelorn cat, the click of my own footsteps. I walked past shuttered stores and groups of café chairs and tables that had been chained up on the pavement for the night. It felt strange to have the street to myself.

 

Gerard was waiting for me at the end of the cours Bournissac, standing in a pool of light outside the entrance to his bakery. He was more cheerful than any man had a right to be at that time of the morning.

 

“We’ve already started,” he said. “But you haven’t missed much. Come on in.”

 

It was still too early for the addict’s fix, the warm and heavenly whiff of just-baked bread. That would come in an hour or so, filling the bakery, drifting out through the door, causing nostrils to twitch in anticipation. The very thought of it made me hungry.

 

For the first time, I saw the bakery in a state of undress, the shelves bare. By six a.m. those shelves would be filling up with loaves—tall and thick, long and slender, plump and round, plain and fancy, whole wheat, rye, bran, flavored with garlic or Roquefort cheese, studded with olives or walnuts—the twenty-one varieties that are baked and sold each day. (If none of these is exactly what you want, the Auzet bakers can also supply made-to-order breads; these include bouillabaisse bread, saffron bread, onion bread, apricot bread, and, for those who like nibbling monograms, personalized bread rolls. You name it, they bake it.)

 

Gerard led me past the naked shelves and down a ramp that took us into the baking area, a large, airy room, bright white under the fluorescent lights. In one corner was a dough-kneading bowl the size of an infants’ paddling pool, and fifty-kilo (110-pound) sacks of flour, from the ultrafine to the coarser, almost gritty (stone-ground); against the walls, stainless steel three-decker ovens six feet tall; between the ovens, steel work tables on which roughly formed boules of dough had been arranged in neat lines. There was no decoration, no stool to sit on, no concession to comfort, nothing that wasn’t necessary for the making of bread. It was a functional room, saved from sterility by the earthy, reassuring smell of flour, and by the smiles and whistling of the bakers who were working the early shift, from four a.m. to noon.

 

That morning there were three of them, dressed in white T-shirts and shorts, their fingers and hands already pale with a dusting of flour. They started to work while I watched. I was at first surprised, then fascinated.

 

I was surprised because I had always thought that the standard loaves were formed mechanically, by some kind of molding process. I imagined a conveyor belt with dough going in at one end and baguettes coming out at the other—baguettes of identical size, identical weight, identical color, identical markings. I’m sure there are bread factories where this is exactly what happens, but it’s not the way they do things at Auzet.

 

Every loaf is formed by hand, façonnage à la main, and it’s a wonderful sight to behold. The preweighed lumps of dough (250 grams per baguette—a little more than half a pound) are taken, one by one, and slapped, rolled, squeezed, folded, and tweaked until they assume the familiar shape—if not yet the familiar color—of a loaf you would recognize on the shelf. It’s like high-speed sculpture. The shaping of each loaf takes no more than thirty seconds, and after watching a dozen or so, you would swear that there are no differences between one loaf and the next. But of course, there are: the tiny variations, marks of humanity, that distinguish handmade objects from those turned out by machine.

 

The variations are a little easier to spot at the next stage of the loaf’s birth, when the decorative touches are added. With the classic baguette, for example, you will find a series of diagonal stripes along the top surface of the loaf. At Auzet, these are made by hand. They start as gashes, swift stabs with what I originally thought must be a special tool—the baker’s friend—used only by the pros. When I asked to take a look at one, I saw that it was a sliver of tin clipped from a can, sharp and shiny from years of use.

 

In a matter of minutes, twenty lumps of dough had become twenty baguettes. After each had been given its stripes, it was put on a length of flour-dusted canvas that had been corrugated to separate one loaf from the next. When the batch was completed, it was slid into the oven on a long wooden board.

 

By the time the first contingent of baguettes came out of the ovens, it was about four-thirty. The loaves were golden, some slightly darker at each end. Baking had caused the gashes to widen and fill in until they looked like indentations that might have been made in the crust by a finger applied horizontally across the loaf.

 

Gerard took a baguette from the batch and held it to his nose, much as a sommelier might check a cork. Then he turned the baguette over and tapped the flat underside two or three times, making a sound like a muffled drumbeat. “That’s one way of testing the bread,” he said. “You can hear when it’s been baked correctly.”

 

He passed me the loaf, and I gave it a novice’s tap. Now that warm air had expanded the dough, the baguette felt light, almost hollow, rather than dense. I gave it a squeeze: firm, but yielding. I gave it a sniff. Mmmm. It made me wonder what time bakers had breakfast. I hoped it was soon.

 

This particular loaf, the standard, slim, everyd...

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