BLAISE PASCAL Thoughts (1670)
Roland Feuillas, his quest for the absolute
Biodiversity in peril
The Bourgeois Mills – One hundred and twenty years of flour milling
Inebriated parenthesis - Portrait of Erik Rosdahl
My playground – Bakery Du Pain et des Idées
Tourier, an (almost) extinguished craft
Clément Bruno – Portrait of a great-hearted Chef
Making homemade bread and tasty variations
Using baker’s dough
Judiciously recycling dry bread
Making simple and tasty tartines
Choosing good bread
A native of Haute-Savoie and newly graduated from a business school, I worked for nearly 10 years in a professional environment that did not bear any resemblance to me at all. Tired of the suits and ties that I encountered every day, I decided to abandon this career to pursue my childhood dream: that of becoming an artisan baker. My professional transition would be long and fraught with difficulties up until the turning point in February 2002 when, after two weeks of training at INBP* Rouen, three weeks working with a Parisian baker, and having passed my diploma as an independent candidate,
I finally opened my own bakery Du Pain et des Idées in the tenth arrondissement of Paris. Driven by my passion and listening solely to my instincts, I opened a place that is unique and timeless. During the first four years, I needed to work like a madman to learn the craft and obtain recognition for my work. Then, my originality was acclaimed by the first journalists, French to start with, foreigners later. They were followed by chefs from the most prestigious restaurants. Today, my shop is known all over the world for making bread that devotees describe as exceptional.
That which we give to the earth, it returns a hundredfold. When sown, a single grain of wheat gives birth to five ears on average, and an ear contains around 40 grains. Each of these grains can in turn produce five ears of wheat, and so on. Today, few seeds are fertile and authorized to be replanted without cost or penalty. Farmers have forgotten their thousand-year old know-how, the art of creating, testing and exchanging new varieties. Plowing damages the soil, compresses it and leaves it vulnerable to the elements. Fossil fuels are running out. Cultures no longer know how to adapt to their environment and to climate change. In just a few decades, the land has lost its equilibrium. It has emptied itself of life to be filled with fertilizers, herbicides and other lethal chemicals.
Respecting the living means letting life express itself, having ears of wheat that are more or less bearded, thicker or thinner, ranging from gold to red, green or blue-black. It also means considering man’s place as being part of the ecosystem, and not its driver.
The order of nature is disorder. No tidy fields, nor wheat standing to attention in uniform. The magic of nature casts its spell through its differences and via biodiversity. I myself have experimented with chaos in my life, I even chose it. To become a baker, I cast myself adrift from my bearings, from all my comforts, forcing myself to seek my limits, to "have guts", to do that which I thought I was incapable of doing, leaving no other choice but to reinvent myself to discover my new vocation and set in motion a powerful creative process.
By turns farmer, miller and baker, Roland Feuillas is seen as a knight in the service of authentic bread: healthy bread that awakens our ancestral memory and arouses emotions.
Behind his shining armor lies a deeply humanistic man, tormented by the production-driven excesses of our society. Roland is not fighting against windmills but with them. He has adopted a purist approach, 100% natural.
I discovered him in an article that we had in common. I was seeking his flours. I found a colleague with whom I could discuss techniques and visions of taste.
Out of 100,000 mills in operation in 1800, there were no more than 30,000 in 1900, 9000 in 1950 and 435 in 2013. They have quit the daily life of the French, and even their imagination. Water mills and windmills may pose on postcards, but most are no longer working. The milling companies have amalgamated. 5% of them provide 80% of the ground wheat in France. Between them, they grind around 4.41 million tons of wheat per year. Result: the wheat crops from different counties and regions are mixed and the taste of the flour is increasingly uniform.
Bread is not just water, flour, salt and a bit of ferment. What makes the bread rise, makes it alive and gives it its unique taste, is the love that we put into it, the part of oneself that one devotes to it. When still small, I understood our magical relationship with food, our ability to transform next to nothing, to delight our palates and uplift our souls. I must have been eight years old when I saw Marcel Pagnol’s famous film The baker’s Wife for the first time. Since then, the speech of Raimu, alias Aimable, after his wife had run away with a young shepherd, has remained anchored in my memory: "I don’t want to make bread any more, for my leaven has gone". Faced with the villagers, who have gathered together to find his wife and their bread, he promises: "If you bring me back my Aurelie, I will make you bread like you've never seen before (...) and in this bread there will be love and friendship".
I am not Raimu, but every day I do my best, so that the love that is at work makes itself felt in my bread and Viennoiseries. By dint of chemicals and additives, the bread industry tries to make us forget this essential and invisible ingredient. Don’t let them get away with it. The memories and emotions that eating well can bring are too precious.
The baker's talent lies in working with the flame. Instinct, the human hand and the refractory mass needed for baking mean that an identical copy cannot be made at home or in a factory. The passion for baking bread well, for dosing the temperature depending on the weather and the flour, is essential. The passage in the oven can be critical or conversely it can sublimate everything: the shape, the taste, the caramelization and the elasticity of the bread.
Mastery over the baking process is never won in advance, especially since I refuse any sort of bread-making improver. One has to accept that the bread may be different from one day to another and even from one batch to another. Like the wood-fired ovens of former times, I use the “falling oven” technique which consists of lowering the thermostat during baking. Le Pain des AmisTM (Bread of friends) which has baked slowly for 1 hour on natural stone and in a non-linear way will thereby reveal hints of chestnut and maple syrup.
Bread’s sensual bark gives it charisma, chewiness and most of its taste (three quarters comes from the crust, in my opinion). It awakens the senses in the morning when one breaks it. Amber, spicy, robust and caramelized, the crust is the French coat of arms, and is also the opportunity for the baker to express his art and to apply his signature.
Because of our weakness for barely baked white bread, we forget the strength of bread, its French specificity and the craftsman’s ace in the hole. We allow industrial bread to gain ground for it is difficult to differentiate oneself under these conditions. 42.7% of the bread-making market now belongs to supermarkets and industrial bakeries. It’s up to artisan bakers to educate customers, make them taste and stimulate their desire. It's up to bakers to brandish the banner of uncompromising, well-baked bread.
Faithful to the historic spirit of the bakery, I make only bread, viennoiseries and a few seasonal fruit tarts. There are no pastries, no fast food and no confectionary at Du Pain et des Idées! The work of preparing the dough for puff pastry, brioches and croissants, is indispensable and inseparable from the bakery. Yet, this skill is disappearing in France, endangered by the invasion of industrial frozen viennoiseries.
Let me make it clear right away - even with a competition oven, you will not be able to reproduce in your home the bread that your baker makes. The best results for baking and Maillard caramelization are obtained with the natural and well-insulated refractory mass of a professional baker’s oven.
The raw materials used, your way of kneading, the tools and your sensitivity will make your bread unique. Bread that is personal and different, with a soft inner part (known as the crumb) similar to that of a sandwich loaf. Once the main principles of homemade bread have been mastered, give free rein to your inspiration and take full ownership.
1 kilo of wheat flour, ideally bio type 65 ( "T65" is marked on the packet ).
600-750 grams of lukewarm milk ( the best way not to goof up your homemade bread is to use milk instead of water, either whole or semi-skimmed ).
Precisely 18 grams of salt.
8 grams, no more no less, of fresh baker's yeast, which you can obtain from your baker or find next to the butter in the fresh food section of certain organic shops and supermarkets,
Flour for the work surface