A visit with kindred spirits at a bakery in Paris

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By: Rachel Shenk

The spring sunshine warms one side of the Rue St. Antoine as we walk out of the Place des Vosges, one of Paris’ prettiest squares.

When the weather is this nice, office workers on their lunch break, school children letting off steam, university students doing their homework and toddlers with parents in tow come out to play or sit on benches and soak up the sun, just as we are.

But now we are on a mission to go a get a baguette and maybe dessert from our favorite bakery down the street.

La Boulangerie St. Antoine, named for the street it sits on, is a small establishment with a long display case and a bakery rack running its length with just enough room beside for us to stand in line. And there always seems to be a line when we go.

Back behind the sales room is where the baking gets done. A large bread mixer sits in the corner filled with the creamy resting afternoon dough. One baker is scoring loaves and rolling them into the oven. The other baker is filling tall, round baskets with several types and lengths of baguettes and taking them out to the front. The smell is irresistible.

When it’s our turn to order, we ask for “une Tradition,” which means the unadorned baguette made with all natural ingredients and no additives. The clerk hands it to us in the bakery’s signature orange bag and we each tear off a piece as we head out the door. Yes, it is still warm.

A few days ago, when I spotted the bakers at work, I asked if I could come into their inner sanctum to look around. “I am on vacation from my bakery in the United States,” I told them.

The passion for what we do transcends our geographical location.

They immediately welcomed me in and for the next half hour, we chatted about flour, yeast, sourdough, mixing and rising times, and special breads while they worked.

“We have an apricot, pistachio and hazelnut bread these days,” they told me. “I make a four pepper sourdough,” I shared. “We are getting ready for Easter,” they said. “So am I,” I answered.

As I stood and chatted with them, I found my feet slipping slightly on the floury floor. And, for one instant, I am in all the bakeries of the world: the heat, the flour, the smell…the passion for what we do transcends our geographical location.

Rachel Shenk chats with the bakers as she gets a peek inside the kitchen of her favorite bakery in Paris.

Though in Paris, some might vaunt the bread of other more well known bakers, I found myself in heaven in a little bakery on Rue St. Antoine, where the bakers spend long days making bread for those living in their neighborhood.

On our last night, I thanked them again for taking the time to chat. “Mais non, c’est rien, Madame!” (It was nothing, Madame.) “Bon voyage et Bonne route!” And we grabbed one more warm “Tradition,” a chunk of the apricot, pistachio and hazelnut bread and two pieces of apple tart to go.

I decided I might have to just try to duplicate that fruit and nut bread. We stopped for a last drink at the café down the street and watched dusk fall in the city of light.

Here are two before-dinner drinks that I sometimes order when I am in France. The Monaco is especially refreshing in warmer weather.

Kir

  • 2 tbsp. Crème de Cassis (this is black currant liqueur)
  • 6 oz. chilled white wine (the common wine used in France is a Bourgogne Aligoté)

Put the liqueur in the bottom of a wine glass. Add the wine. It should have a nice reddish colour.

Monaco

  • Pomegranate syrup
  • ⅔ glass Lager type beer
  • ⅓ glass sparkling limonade

Put the pomegranate syrup in first, then the limonade. Top with the beer. Stir.

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