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Where does artisan baking become industrial?


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Hello James,

My wife and I came to Montreal for our honeymoon last New Year's Eve. We had the pleasure of meeting you and sampling a few things from the bakery. Unfortunately we never will be able to taste the food from your kitchen; it will remain legendary.

I had some questions for you regarding the word artisan. In Europe I know there is legislation to protect the small players in the bakery business, but we have no such laws in North America that I'm aware of.

This brings me to my questions: Where, in your opinion, does artisan baking become industrial? I know of more than a few very large bakeries that position themselves at artisan bakeries in the US, and some find this disturbing. Does a place like Poilane in Paris make an artisan bread? Is it all about size?

Lastly, what are your feelings about stress free dividers such as Rheon? Do you regard this as one of the machines that will impede the success of the "true artisans?"

Thanks for your time and I hope that you find happiness and continued fulfillment in your future endeavors. My wife and I will always remember eating our rillettes on the sourdough bread for lunch, and the simple pleasure of it all.

Regards,

Rob Alexander

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French dictionaries define artisan as someone who works with his (her) hands in a self-owned business with help from family members or a few employees. Machines and other labor-saving devices have since clouded things.

At what point in any given trade do technical advances start to infringe upon quality, and quantity/profit begin to rule? Mechanical mixers only came into general use in France at the close of the first world war. They were a good idea, for we must assume that all too often, exhaused workers underkneaded doughs as the day's work progressed, and they are a benign necessity as long as bakers do not oxydise doughs through overkneading, thereby destroying flavor and texture. Unfortunately, the mechanical dough dividers and dough shapers which arrived in the 1950's ans 60's were another matter because the brutal action of the early models mangled the pieces of dough. Early versions of industrial equipment were even worse, and in both cases, the dough's texture and state of "fermentedness" had to be adjusted to suit the machines ( i.e. for the most part overly firm and grossly underfermented doughs), not the end result.

French food laws are concerned not only with food safety but also consumer protection. Appelation Controlee laws guarentee the origin and basic quality criteria of wines and cheeses, and bread may contain only unbleached flour, water, yeast( or levain), salt, malt (or amylases), fava bean flour, ascorbic acid, and lecithin which is used only industrially ( by comparison, one has the impression that in Canada and especially the U.S. that bread could look and taste like cotton candy as long as it makes a profit and doesn't cause cancer in laboratory mice) Faced with the alarming disappearance rate of artisan bakeries because of supermarkets and "boulangeries froides" ( traditional-looking bakeries but which buy prebaked bread rather than produce it), laws were passed over ten years ago to protect the artisans and their customers: "pain maison" must be entirely produced on the site, and "pain tradition" limits the ingredients to flour, water, yeast, salt, malt and fava bean flour ( this is curious and unfortunate, for the fava bean flour is indeed traditional but drastically increases the loss of flavor when the dough is overmixed, while ascorbic acid is prohibited for despite the fact that for those who choose to use a dough conditioner, it is probably th best choice. History wins out over flavor because ascorbic acid is not traditional). At the time, Raymond Calvel remarked that no law can force bad bakers to bake good bread.

First machines, and then additives have clouded the definition of artisan and abuses abound. Montreal is famous for its bagels, but I have yet to see a bagel place that doesn't use bleached flours containing azodicarbinomide ( an additive which allows for the elimination of the fermentation of the dough). Because of this, in spite of the hand shaping and wood-burning ovens, I feel that they are an industrial product. Lionel Poilane's bakery produces thousands of loaves weekly in a huge plant on the outskirts of Paris, but apparently the "factory" is merely the original workshop reproduced 15 or 20 times with bakers in each one doing things the way they have always been done. It would be difficult to critcise this.

I am of two minds on the question of stress-free industrial machines to divide and shape doughs. The artisan in me recoils, but it might get improved bread into supermarkets.

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Faced with the alarming disappearance rate of artisan bakeries because of supermarkets and "boulangeries froides" ( traditional-looking bakeries but which buy prebaked bread rather than produce it), laws were passed over ten years ago to protect the artisans and their customers: "pain maison" must be entirely produced on the site, and "pain tradition" limits the ingredients to flour, water, yeast, salt, malt and fava bean flour.

Your are right, two french laws changes many things.

It’s the “Décret N°93-1074” of September 13th in 1993 and Loi n° 98-405 of may 25th,1998 which specify :

1 - A “boulanger” knead, shape and bake the bread he sales, where he sales it. If you don’t do that, you are not a boulanger and your shop is not a “Boulangerie”( You can put “Pain, croissant or sandwichs” on the front of your shop but not “Boulangerie”). If so, your bread is “pain maison”.

If you use frozen-prebaked pasts for your bread, you are not a boulangerie. We call then ‘points chauds”.

2 - A boulanger can make “pain de tradition française”. It's a "appellation contôlée". For so, you have to use flour, salt, water and “levure de panification” (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Only additives are fava bean flour (2 %), la soya flour (0.5 %) and wheat malt flour (0.3 %).

It doesn't look the same :biggrin: :

BagCompar.jpg

(on the right, bad baguette, on the left, baguette de tradition française.

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Specifically to Renaud, but hope, of general interest:

Thank you for finding the exact wordings of the "maison" and "tradition" laws.

Remember that although fava and soy products are allowed because they are traditional, in the presence of high speed mixing they greatly oxydise the dough to produce bread which is as bleached-out as all of the commercial stuff.

Thank you, as well, for the picture. The "tradition" loaf has beautiful large holes but seems a bit on the underdeveloped side, and perhaps enevenly baked. Although many many people agree on the dangers of overkneading, exactly how much kneading is necessary or beneficial is another thing.

Any true baguette should be light enough in structure to maintain a crispy, crackly crust. There is at times a tendency to underknead, the idea being that any "real" bread should have some consistency ( i.e. heavy is better. This is not how the baguette began, and baguettes can be made with hardly any kneading at all which are lighter and more open than the loaf pictured.

Of course, photos are photos, and in any case, chacun son gout!

Merci et a bientot

James

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