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Bread & Butter

December 20, 2012

Had I been clever, I would have written a whole bunch of posts on the long plane ride over the Atlantic. But there is something about the drone of plane engines that scrambles my brain and prevents me from being productive.

Instead I watched two movies, took a little nap, and read a bit about gin.

My time in Paris was short and sweet, so I need to be careful about drawing too many conclusions about the city or its culture. And I am so enamored by its cafes that I can hardly contain myself. But the thing I’m going to miss the most is the bread and butter.

The very very first thing I tried to do after arriving in our hotel was visit Poilane for their giant sourdough round. I figured it made a lot of sense to get a mega-sized bread on the first day, because then there might be a chance that Mrs. Fussy and I could eat the whole thing before it went off.

Only I couldn’t get in there on Sunday because they were closed. Still I got to eat some fantastic bread, the best of which came from various branches of Eric Kayser. I was told to try the Pain aux cereals there, but over the course of our stay I also tried their baguette and pain rustique.

What really struck me was that when everyone was commuting back from work, there was a line out the door of the better boulangeries as people were picking up their evening’s bread. I snuck into one of the lines and was treated to a baguette that was still warm from the oven.

Also in a place where an espresso can set you back four euros (or more), you can get an amazing loaf of bread for a little over one euro. It’s the greatest food value in the area. Especially since the bread is so damn good. Crisp, crunchy crusts that protect a chewy, yeasty, and wild crumb that’s full of irregular holes and tastes delicious.

While on the whole the bakeries in Paris were better than those in Berkeley, it was nice to realize first hand that the Acme Bakery in the Bay Area could really run with the better shops of France.

And what goes better with bread than butter? Some of you might say cheese. And you would have a point, but I’d disagree. Butter goes better with bread. Cheese you can eat out of hand, plus an assertive bread can sometimes take away from the cheese. Butter on the other hand, generally demands something to be spread upon.

Speaking of butter, I was turned on to a handmade butter made by Jean-Yves Bordier that is studded with flecks of sea salt. Apparently it doesn’t make it over to America. But I was able to get a bar of it on Sunday, and it lasted Mrs. Fussy and I for the whole trip. Seriously, if I didn’t eat anything else but the Kayser breads and the Bordier butter, I could have left Paris a happy man.

Speaking of butter, it too seems to be central to French food. In addition to flavoring the great croissants–the best I had coming from a place called Angelina–butter is also a critical ingredient to financiers. These are small French cakes, that look like a cross between a muffin and a cupcake without icing. But the Kayser plain financier was out of this world, with a crisp caramelized top and a light but rich crumb bursting with brown butter.

I was just lamenting leaving that financier behind in Paris. But then I just found out that Kayser has a recently opened outpost on the upper east side in NYC. Please tell me someone has been. Because its a lot easier to get down to our big city than it is to get back overseas.

Bread may continue to be tricky. Because amazing bread costs and arm and a leg here, and even still isn’t always that good. How a bread culture arises to create a large enough market for good bread so that the price goes down dramatically, is probably something for further study. But since I know that it’s possible, I’m going to hold out hope that one day it can happen here in Albany too.

As for croissants, we are lucky to have Mrs. London’s nearby whose specimen with its shatteringly brittle exterior and layer upon layer of delicate buttery insides is more than good enough to hold its own against those of Paris.

So more than anything it’s the bread I will miss. Although maybe I don’t have to travel further than the upper east side to get it. Can’t wait to find out.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 20, 2012 11:34 am

    That bread sounds amazing. The closest I’ve been to a Paris bakery is BP Boulangerie on Cape Cod. Their bread is sooo good.

  2. Marianne permalink
    December 20, 2012 11:43 am

    I have a friend who lived, for a time, in France and learned to make French bread. Thankfully, she shared the very basic technique with me and although the bread I make is most likely not as wonderful, it is still very good. She also taught me about the culture there – not stocking their pantry with food, but rather, shopping every day for that day’s dinner needs. Also, picking up a loaf of bread each day, just for THAT day. But their bread is not laden with fat to keep it fresh – the difference here. But there is something Albany at-home bakers can get their hands on (and which I order online) – Farmers Ground Flour. Simply makes the most fabulous pita bread, French bread, etc. – and it’s locally grown and ground! Check it out under Cayuga Organics. Honest Weight used to carry the half white in bulk, and Four Seasons carries small bags of spelt, whole wheat bread flour, etc., too. Simply the best flour to try your hand at making bread – nothing smells better (well, maybe except some great cookes) than bread baking in a home kitchen!

  3. Debra permalink
    December 20, 2012 12:33 pm

    You’ve probably already seen this but thought I’d post it if you hadn’t.

    http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2012/08/maison-kayser-eric-kaysers-bakery-boulangerie-patisserie-baguette-french-nyc-opening.html

  4. addiesdad permalink
    December 20, 2012 2:24 pm

    Daniel,

    Your statement “Speaking of butter, it too seems to be central to French food.” really stuck me. Did you not already know how central butter is to French cuisine? Have you ever perused any of Julia Child’s cookbooks? “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” may be a tome, and the techniques old fashioned, but it’s how I learned the basics to cooking almost anything under the sun. Or Jacques Pepin? Maybe you meant this as a throw-away line, but I am gobsmacked that it took a trip to Paris for you to realize the importance of butter to the French. Maybe it’s time to focus less on Marcella Hazan (who’s “Essentials” are also my go to source for cooking Italian dishes) and more on some of her continental peers?

    • enough already! permalink
      December 21, 2012 3:29 pm

      Addiesdad – maybe Daniel is jet lagged.

  5. Richard Lachmann permalink
    January 31, 2013 10:59 pm

    The Eric Kayser in NYC is excellent. He has managed to turn out extremely high quality bread and pastries i multiple locations in Paris and now New York (and also Lisbon, Portugal).

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