Well it has been a summer of mixed emotions for us… we have loved watching the Olympics and the herculean efforts of all our athletes who have given it their all. The nail biting gold medal fight with Andy Murray to the dying second loss of a gold medal for the Taekwondo guy!
We have also after 16 years just sold our French home in the village of Rivesaltes. It was with some sadness we spent our last summer holiday in the “maison” but we will return to the area as we love it so much.
One thing I managed to do this time was something of a long term desire and ambition to work in a genuine French bakery and make the bread!
Well I have to thank Patrick Aiguaviva for the patience and opportunity to do this as he and his family took over the old bakery called La Muscaline on the Place General de Gaulle in the village and following a redecoration re opened it as “Pain de Place” The already own and run the bar opposite so they are slowly dominating the commercial enterprises of square.
Patrick was a little surprised I wanted to get up at an ungodly hour whilst on holiday to make bread with him but he patiently agreed and I duly turned up on a warm sticky Saturday morning at 5:30m
Patrick has a culinary background of working on cruise ships so is use to production on a large scale but running a bakery is a challenge. He makes the dough up the day before using his assorted flours but what intrigued me was the recipe he uses also used some sour dough from the previous day’s dough as a starter in the dough and allows it to prove very slowly. This creates to a good tasting bread.
He does very little hand formation of the dough as he is lucky to have an ancient large rolling machine that rolled the dough into the assorted sized breads. From the traditional baguette, to a thinner smaller ficelle or the “ancienne style” baguette with their pointed ends.
Each batch was placed onto ready prepared cloth covered trays that were then wheeled into the proving cupboard where the dough was held at about 12 degrees centigrade overnight before being got out ready to be placed into the large bakery oven the next morning.
Even loading up the oven was semi-automated with a belt tray that pushed the baguettes into the oven direct onto the oven floor.
Patrick was so well organised with certain functions all geared to make his life easier so that he could bake the required number of baguettes to service the shop and a few of his local contracts. Small bread rolls for the school canteen to some Pizza dough ready for a regular client.
Within no more than 3 hours we had baked the lot as one lot went into the oven and about 12 minutes later came out. It was fascinating to learn the slashes on the top of the baguette or the Boules (round loaf) and the Epis baguettes are all traditional processes and very much the signature of each bakery and their bakers.
I had a go and found it a lot of harder than he made it look and was painfully slower. Practice will make it easier and quicker.
Viennoiserie or “morning goods” of Croissants. Pain au Chocolat and Pains aux Raisin are all bought in frozen and baked off in another oven upstairs (it was cavernous behind the scenes) This is not uncommon in French bakeries these days as it is a time consuming and highly skilled job and not really cost effective for a single man operation!
Patrick also makes large Palmiers Biscuits which he explained were traditionally made from the left over puff pastry dough that were then dredged in sugar and rolled to make the ear shaped crisp sugary pastry much loved with a grand café crème
I shot off with some warm baguettes for breakfast and then popped back a couple of hours later to roll out the next days required bread from a large batch of dough he had already made up.
It was fascinating to see and struck me the amount of effort that goes into that ninety cent baguette is certainly something to cherish and respect. The passion bakers have along with their skills is worthy of our support and our custom!
The locals of Rivesaltes are spoilt for choice and seem to appreciate the differences of each bakery. We had five bakeries all within a five minute walk and now having seen behind the scenes of our nearest I am in awe of what they all achieve but will remain loyal to Patrick’s prowess. It was a very fitting end to our holiday and a memory I shall cherish… a bit like our daily bread!