Du pain (again! but not for the last time.)

by jemma margaret

Growing up I had a very definite knowledge that my parents’ favorite kind of bread was something that sounded like “pen oh la van” and my favorite kind of bread was something that sounded like “pugliese” (oh how I love Italian!).

Well, as Oscar Wilde foretold, I now am soundly in the pain au levain camp, and happily living in the right place to enjoy that sort of thing.

At least, that’s what you would think.

But observe, when the clock strikes noon or six o’clock you will notice that every other person is clutching a baguette. Based on very circumstantial evidence I would estimate that the average Parisian consumes about one baguette every two days. And since French women can not get fat, that does not leave much space for other bread consumption.

There is of course the ubiquitous Poîlane, which makes possibly the best croutons ever. Exceptional toast as well. Fresh, though, it’s only so-so.

Before I go further into French bread denigration, let me explain that it is all my aforementioned parents’ fault. I was raised by talented cooks with good taste in a culinary mecca. Inevitably, I am a food snob. Blame them, not me!

So yesterday I set off on an uphill walk to one of the few remaining wood burning bakeries left in Paris. The storefront was bustling with a line of us snaking around the charming pastries and spectacular loaves. I was secretly glad for the wait as it allowed me time to consider the possibilities, all varieties of flours (white, whole wheat, rye, spelt, chestnut, buckwheat, quinoa, kamut, etc.) and fillings (nuts, fruit, cheese, chocolate) were on display and available by the fraction of a kilogram. I opted for a very simple miche with a rye levain in the hopes of an open crumb and a strong tang.

I am sorry to say, I was disappointed (though if I haven’t completely offended my mother by my above accusations, she is cordially invited to join me in their adorable tea room any afternoon in June–I imagine their pastries (or chestnut flour bread) are worthy of the hike).

Not one to lose hope so easily, at home I turned to the internet for advice. I realized that prior searches has combined English and French to ill-effect (best pain au levain Paris) and switching to a monolingual approach yielded a new spate of hopefully amazing options. I now have a list of four bakeries that service some of the best restaurants this city has on offer.

Stay tuned.

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