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Where have all les boulangers gone?

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So here we are in Beaune, and loving it. Cooking to our heart's content (couldn't tear ourselves away from the Saturday market). But I am shocked at the lack of great breads and pastry! In four days, I've tried three different boulangeries/patisseries. The croissants - bleh. None of them would I describe as "buttery" (and I did order the "au beurre"). The breads, not one of four loaves would I write home about. Although one pain au chocolat looked promising, I lifted it and was blown away by how heavy it was...and it was not due to an excess of chocolat!

So my questions are:

1) Does anyone know a great boulangerie/patisserie in Beaune; and

2) Do all the talented bakers head straight to Paris?

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I'm hardly an expert, but I noticed the same thing when I spent nearly a month in France about 5 years ago. Every one of the Paris bakeries I went to were incredible; the outside-of-Paris ones, merely good. And the croissants especially seemed to be sub-par.

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This is perhaps going to be the most useless post in all of eG history (apart from the spammers).

I don't think that is right about the Beaune bakers being mediocre, if only because I had some excellent freshly-baked croissants and pains au chcocolat in September last year, and they went down beautifully with a shot of espresso. That breakfast ritual before a hard day of work in the cellars was one of the events I really looked forward to each morning, and now remember with great nostalgia.

But do I know where they were from? No, because our kind host brought a bagful of them in every morning and never took us to the source. Perhaps he was guarding a secret...

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Can't help you with bakers in Beaune - don't know that part of France.

But I do know and spend time in big chunks of France and although, of course, there are still great bakers in France, the sad fact is that probably 95% of French bread is mediocre or awful. I'm not talking about patisserie, but I know of excellent patisseries that produce awful bread.

Lucky me, I'm just going to Arcachon for a month - I shall take my own starter and for the most part will be baking my own bread. We've been going there for 30 years and so know the Basin d'Arcachon area and Bordeaux very well. I can only tell you of one baker (le Fournil des Boiens in Biganos) that I would bother to buy bread from.

For the most part boulangeries use frozen or chilled doughs or premixes - a few proudly announce that that their dough is mixed and baked on the premises as if we should be impressed by this.

I love France and its baking tradition but it has been living on its past reputation for too long.


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I guess that good bread is in the taste buds of the eater.

We have no difficulty finding excellent bread in our part of rural France. I seriously doubt that any of our better bakers could afford to buy the pre -prepared or frozen dough. What always amazes me is the variety of taste that the boulangers can get from simple ingredients.

A fond memory from when we first moved to France was too see the smoke rising from Jacques Vigidier's bread oven at 5:00 AM as he fired up his wood fired ovens. His bread was excellent. He's died now, but his daughter carries on the tradition. She apprenticed herself to her father for two years to learn his craft. She now has three bread shops in a much larger nearby town & does very well. She still transports bread every morning to her father's old shop so the villagers can get their bread & her mother can keep abreast of the local gossip.

I'm sorry that I can't help with Beaune, but I strongly suspect that there is at least one excellent baker in a town that size. The trick is in finding him or her. In general the French bakers don't waste much money on shop fronts or decor. In fact some of the best are very hard to spot; they're just holes in the wall.

So, good luck, don't give up. If desperate head our way.

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Having a few spare minutes this morning while waiting for my sister-in-law to get ready to go out to lunch I Googled 'boulangeries Beaune'

Some interesting places came up complete with map locations.

Can't vouch for any of them, but you might want to start a bread quest just for fun.

Let us all know if you have any luck.

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We had cocktails with our landlord last night and a neighbor of hers, a chef, confirmed that most boulangers are resorting to purchasing frozen product (I'm talking viennoiserie here), and even he could not heartily recommend anyone in town. That said, I've worked with frozen croissant and puff pastry in the US and, when proofed and properly baked, have more than passable results.

I'm with you, Dave...I printed out quite a list of local shops to try and am working my way through it as well as pounding the pavement in search of the most rustic looking boulangeries of which I have found a few (will head to a couple tomorrow morning now that we are back from Lyon!) Will revert.

Julian...not fair. Email him and post the location of his purchases!

Thanks for all your kind replies, opinions, and information.

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We were successful in finding some more than decent goods. The macarons at Patisserie Bouche were divine...the passionfruit especially so! And their croissants were the best I tried. Patisserie Wagner was another good stop for a morning pick me up...their kouign amann, although not traditional, were very delicious. And their canelles were perfection: crisp exterior going into perfect chewiness and then creamy custardiness!

But the best, of couse, were in Paris. We only had a weekend there but I can't sing the praises enough for La Flute Gana on rue de Pyrenees in the 20th. Ganachaud's daughters have a rustically beautiful place there and everything we tried tasted as beautiful as it looked. Their kouign amann were, again, untraditional, but one of the best pieces of viennoisserie I have ever eaten. It absolutely glistened with sugary-butter...buttery-sugar.

Maybe my new boss will send me back to Paris for more research...

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You might look for Ed Behr's long articles on bread in France in the Art of Eating archives. He spent a lot of time looking for good bread and talking to bakers -- the results were a bit depressing but he did find some who still made real bread. Here's a link: http://www.artofeating.com/breadcoll.htm

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We spent a few weeks in different parts of France recently, and while the bread was good (very good in a few cases), we found the bread in Wallonia/Belgian Ardennes to be much much better when we went there earlier in the year. The viennoiserie sections are consistently very impressive (at least in taste) but we never had bread that made us swoon, which most certainly happened in Belgium. No idea why that might be the case though.

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