Friday, May 31, 2013

Confessions of a Canadian Bread Baker


 Last week, when I was reading this:

 
 
 
 
I couldn't stop thinking about bread. Real bread. Homemade bread. And then while trawling the stacks of my Public Library, I stumbled upon this:
 
 
 
 
No. Not the bread - the book. Confessions of a French Baker: Secrets, Tips, and Recipes, by Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet (2005). It is a short (91 pages) little (17 x 14 cm) gem of a book that is part cookbook, part armchair travelogue, and part narrative history of bread-making in the Provencal town of Cavaillon. Perfect for anyone, like myself, who loves books, food, and travel.
 
I happen to love this type of book. Do you know what I mean? When the reader is lulled into a slow-paced world where time is almost suspended. The descriptive tone makes the reader feel as if he or she is sitting at an outdoor cafe and listening to the tales of the narrator, a glass of wine or a cup of espresso in hand. Mayle's A Year in Provence falls into this category, as well as Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. As an aside, I read Tuscan Sun while on a long car journey with an Italian couple who had originated from Tuscany. Long before the film came out; which I still have yet to see, it was a book that I read in little chunks and I savoured every morsel. When I needed clarification or expansion on something I was reading, I just asked Concetta. And if reading made me hungry, there was no shortage of food opportunities with those two. This is why it was a long journey - we had to stop and eat every few hours. Oh, and Mayes' A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller - another one of those books that is savoured, rather than devoured. I just didn't want it to end because it was like leaving these locales.
 
But back to Confessions.  Mayle provides a short history of the five-generation Auzet family that has been baking bread in this area near Avignon since the late nineteenth century. He then takes the reader inside the present boulangerie as he is invited to have a personal bread-baking tutorial with proprietor, Gerard Auzet. I definitely felt as if I was sitting and having an easy conversation with Mayle as he detailed his experience. Here is an example of his prose:
 
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 hallow, 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.
...
 
Once the shelves are filled, tables and chairs are set out on the pavement. It's taken for granted that the sun will shine all day, just as it has been doing for the past three months. Outdoor blinds and shutters are folded back from the display window, and the first soft gray light of dawn seeps into the shop. The door is fixed open. Chez Auzet is ready for business. 
 Mayle's conversational tone is enhanced with his sprinkling of French vocabulary in his dialogue. I find this quite typical of people who are living in a country that has a language other than one's own native tongue. He doesn't provide a translation, which I think keeps it authentic and would just break up the narrative. For the most part, the meaning is easily inferred or is common knowledge, in my opinion.

As the subtitle indicates, Confessions also provides recipes - lots of bread recipes. With illustrations, tips, and step-by-step instructions. Although I would never consider myself a bread maker, I have made bread on many occasions. For some reason I never got into that whole 90's bread-making machine craze. It's probably because the part I like most about break-making is the kneading And the fact that I get to use my special bread/pie pastry/gingerbread floured tea towel that I have used since I was a young wife. I don't know why, but I channel my inner Little Nanny every time I get that thing out of it's special bag where it stays rolled up until I am ready to create something delicious again.
 
 One morning we made bread before school so Daughter1 could bring it into her kindergarten class for Show and Tell. She carefully pulled out the still-warm, yummy-smelling loaf, and after unwrapping it she went around the class letting them see and smell the bread while she explained the procedure involved in making it. Sound, sight, smell, and maybe even touch were involved in this activity, but she would not let them taste the bread. No way -  not  even after many attempts were made to get her to change her mind. When she left for school I just assumed that she would share the loaf with her small class, and I was surprised when she returned home with it intact. No, she wanted it all to herself. And besides, "it's 'Show and Tell'; not 'Show and Taste''' she reminded me.
 
And so I found myself baking bread again yesterday - this time a classic baguette following the directions given in Confessions. It still belies all rationality that flour, salt, yeast, and water can combine to create something so délicieux. But you may just have to try it yourself!
 
 
 
 
You may be wondering what happened with Jodi Picoult's book which opened this post. You will have to stay tuned. More to come in my upcoming Summer Reads post.
 
 


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