Easy to Make but Hard to bake GOOD baguette, Master Bakers Prepare for 19th Fete du Pain




Benoit Fradette of Farinoman Fou bakery – a high-end baker in Aix-en-Provence – complains the overall quality of French bread today is “awful”, something the lines of hungry customers outside the door of his shop would seem to contradict.

Benoit Fradette master baker at Farinoman Fou in Aix en Provence (Credit: Farinoman Fou website)

Benoit Fradette master baker at Farinoman Fou in Aix en Provence (Credit: Farinoman Fou website)

Just days ahead of France’s 19th annual nationwide Fête du Pain  running from 12-18 May and dedicated to the art of the baguette de tradition he told the Christian Science Monitor: “Bread was maybe good 15 years ago, but [now] bakers here don’t do bread, they sell the price.”

Poster advertising the 13th Annual Fete du Pain running nationwide between 12-18 May

Poster advertising the 19th Annual Fete du Pain running nationwide between 12-18 May

The FarinomanFou (literally the mad flour man) was born in Quebec moving to southern France where he opened a bakery in Aix-en-Provence in 2007. According to Aix City Local News online he doesn’t sell “baguette” or “pain de campagne” but varieties shown on his menu as “olympiques”, “effarouchées“, “nuages” and “Alchimiches” (roughly Olympian, Scarified, Clouds and Archimedes). His limited editions are in so much demand that his online menu shows which days customers can expect to find the specialty breads available.

Meanwhile although youngsters knock on his bakery door weekly asking to be allowed to become apprentices to the bread master, he says he has no wish to expand his operation.

“The limited amount of bread I can make, even when I start at 11pm on a Friday to cater for the extra demand on Saturdays, adds a premium to price and leads to lines outside the door. If my bread is more expensive is is because it is better. I do not sell price but good bread,” he tells the paper.

According to Aix City Local News he likes to remind people that the quality of his bread is not the result of serendipity: “Everything emerges from intention and attention. The intention is the purpose we intended: to make good bread. To achieve this everything is vested in attention to the task, to the choice of flour and other ingredients, to the preparation, and so on…”

Over the more than 30 years of his career Benoit Fradette has developed a very specific technique that allows him to preserve and reveal the full flavour of wheat, buckwheat and spelt used in his baking. Part of his secret is to use very little yeast and leaven to raise the dough while allowing the fermentation to go on for much longer than most of his rivals. His dough mixtures are more moist — hydrated with 80% water, against about 65% which is the usual level. “This means the bread has both a soft crumb inside and a crispy outer crust all at the same time. But these choices have a price,and that is a problem, machinery and chemistry do not replace the manual labor and the time required to make this bread,” he adds.

See this gallery of photos that reflects the care le Farinoman fou takes with all the bread he bakes and sells at his Aix store:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Speaking ahead of the 19th Fête du Pain bread festival, Jean-Pierre Crouzet, president of the National Confederation of Bakers and Pastry-Makers in France told the Christian Science Monitor that bread’s decline had spurred a class of purists, like Fradette, and given rise to new experiments that could once again change French breadmaking – for the better.

The Fête du Pain was conceived to promote the qualities of “tradition” bread, made from nothing more than flour, salt, water and yeast, and whose special status is protected by the government. It currently accounts for just 25% of the national bread market. The rest is met by industrial producers who use additives and quick-rising dough which while expanding production and reducing the costs of overnight labour, has resulted in baguettes that make the best bakers blush, the paper reported.

The video clip reflects the success of the 18th bread festival where the theme was the baking generation:

FETE DU PAIN PARIS from astronvidéo on Vimeo.

Despite its treasured spot in national cuisine, the traditional baguette is said to be in decline as bakers cut corners and consumers, hit by more than six long years of recession, look for savings. This is the reason for the festival says Jean-Pierre Crouzet to encourage the French to fall in love with traditional bread again. The nationwide programme can be found on this interactive map:

Click on this image to go to the interactive map that shows where events are being held during the festival.

Click on this image to go to the interactive map that shows where events are being held during the festival.

The festival enables people all round France to discover bakeries and learn about their craft and their products from master bakers. Not all outlets that sell bread may call themselves boulangeries (bakeries) and the Fête du Pain aims to help consumers distinguish between true artisans and professionals who bake le Pain de Tradition Française  sold only by licensed bakeries, and the industrial mass-market output.

Bread Festival 2013 focused on Generation Boulangerie

Bread Festival 2013 focused on Generation Boulangerie

Meanwhile earlier the results in the French-inspired World Cup of Baking were announced with the French team carrying off the coveted PIÈCE ARTISTIQUE, prize,  awarded to baker Antoine ROBILLARD but losing the top place it won in the 2011 World Cup, as best bakers of bread,  to Yuki NAGATA of Japan.

The World Cup of Baking master bakers competition is held every four years. The latest edition ran from 8 and 12 March 2014 in Paris. See this report on the training that goes into these affairs: “Forget that World Cup — everyone agrees it was a national disgrace — this time round the French Team, up before sunrise daily and cloistered in its exclusive Aurillac training camp, is committed to gruelling hours in perfecting technical skills at the hands of the world’s best coaches….”

So enjoy this year’s  Fête du Pain and remember to keep an eye out for the licensed baker of tradition  sign before buying those baguettes.

Story: Ken Pottinger
editorial@french-news-online.com

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