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Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Mon Apr 05, 2010 3:23 pm
by monkquixote
One thing I resent massively is gluten-chomping cultural imperialists foisting their inferior breads on the indigenous artisan breads and forcing them out of favour / taste, through sheer bulk of, erm, dough and Northern European tourist shenanigans. Yes, ciabatta, I'm looking at you. An 'invented' bread, no less, designed to take on the baguette.

In my native Spain (well, a nice sleepy village in the Canary Islands) I used to scoff the local aniseed flavoured crusty bread, made by a man who'd been making it all his life, and his father before that etc. Five years on from the arriviste supermarket introducing ciabatta, and the local baker is out of business. There may not be a causal link in the real world. But there is in mine, deli-boy.

I'd eat my pan de lena with serrano, or chorizo, or Nocilla (Nutella for people with taste buds), and occasionally just with a stick of chocolate burrowed into it. But more often than not, I'd eat it on it's own. Chewy, crunchy, aniseedy, lovely. Wood-fired, it even looked like a 'special' bread, with it's pointy ends that were good to nip off in a satisfying 'crick'.

But since 5 AC (After Ciabatta) it's all 'after you, Claude' - or should I say 'Claudio', with the pesto this, and the pomegranate that. There's no room for aniseed-flavoured bread. What next? They'll be frying the local goat's cheese next and calling it a starter. GAH! They did. They are. And it's all wrong wrong wrong.

AND a ciabatta took half a molar at Barajas airport. Cruel, cruel, over-floured splat of crust-covered bubbles.


(And just to annoy Keith, as Mark says elsewhere on the thread, Chiswick has at least six, soon to be seven, places where you can buy good quality rye bread, although one of these bakers sells a single loaf for £20+ and needs to have a long floury word with himself in the mirror. And, if you want the darker 'I'd rather suck on a lemon' rye bread, you just meander along to Hammersmith and the bewildering Polish delis with the extra consonants and letter Z and W please Bob, and try not to stare at the jars full of 'fermented' weirdness that make you wonder what import duties are really for).

PS Hello board by the way.

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Fri Apr 09, 2010 9:57 pm
by Wock
Just remember "Sliced Bread" was invented in America. (Davenport, Iowa)

The saying goes "the greatest thing since sliced bread".


Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sat Apr 10, 2010 7:19 am
by Jowibou
Having recently moved from Montreal to Cambridge, I'm puzzled by the impossibility of finding a decent baguette so close to France. I've been looking for months and the primary ingredient in UK baguettes seems to be a very dense, moist cotton. Just another example of the success of "branding" in the UK. - Make a long bread and call it a baguette and people will swallow it. Call your Italian dishes "authentic" and Brits will apparently believe you.

That said - frak, they do Spring well here. Montreal does 2 seasons - DeepFreeze and HeatWave - plus one glorious week of Indian summer in October. It may have been a long while coming, but Spring on the banks of the Cam is glorious too. If only I had a decent baguette for a picnic.

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sat Apr 10, 2010 9:58 am
by xiamenese
Thing is, you need French flour for a decent baguette, and that seems not normally available. And yes, Cambridge is a lovely place in Spring, in Summer, in Autumn ... but, it seems, not last Winter! :)

Since, as you rightly say, real baguettes are not available, why not hunt out a local artisan baker. When I was a student there — alas, long, long ago — I found one in a little street behind the Rutherford labs. Made the most wonderful wholemeal bread using a wood-fired oven. I used to go out early and buy one for breakfast ... virtually straight out of the oven. Sometimes it was too hot to hold and I had to juggle it as I returned, but just right by the time I got back to my rooms; other times, it was just right when I got it ... on those occasions, I'd make it back to my rooms, but the bread wouldn't, all eaten on the way.

I'm sure that bakery won't exist now, but when you think of it, in the 70s and 80s: real beer very nearly died ... now thanks to CAMRA it is thriving, as is cider; cheese-making was nearly dead, it all having been bought up by a few big companies and turned into characterless pulp ... now there are something of the order of 250 artisan cheese-makers around the country doing great stuff (I even understand that the US, the land of 57 factories and one "cheese" ;) now has a burgeoning artisan cheese-making movement); so perhaps real bread will make a come back too ... in many ways it has in places like Chiswick, but it's still not wide-spread enough.

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sat Apr 10, 2010 10:09 am
by Hugh
Jowibou wrote:Having recently moved from Montreal to Cambridge, I'm puzzled by the impossibility of finding a decent baguette so close to France.

No puzzle really. I'm a complete non-expert, but my experience of baguettes in France is that they're baked to be eaten on the day they're made — the next day, not so nice. In the past — perhaps less so now — the entire French bakery industry and its customers' tastes seemed to be organised round this requirement, with small neighbourhood bakers baking once a day and customers buying early every morning.

In the UK the industry has long been more industrialised, with bread made to keep for several days. So even if a typical British bakery wanted to make bread on the old French model, it might find it difficult to set itself up to do so, or discover customers that wanted enough of it.

However... if you look around, even now you may find the occasional neighbourhood bakery that aspires to bake a good baguette, possibly even an in-store supermarket bakery that does so too, and Cambridge with its more upmarket populace ought to have at least one such.

Edit: Mark has beaten me to it!

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sat Apr 10, 2010 10:12 am
by Hugh
And yes Spring is a good time in Cambridge. Even the beat of the tourist boot on the cobbles is subdued (slightly)!


Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sat Apr 10, 2010 11:55 am
by monkquixote
On authentique French baguettes - I have yet to fully understand the people who go to one of the roving French markets that tour small town England, like an itinerant Waitrose, and then queue to buy a baguette. That's been made in a lorry.

I mean. The baker may well be French. The flour, equally. The recipe, certainement. And yes, it's a fresh as a daisy. That's literally fallen off the back of a lorry.

Still, it's better than a taste the difference, je suppose.

That said, I will happily pay over the odds from bread from Paul's, or Villandry, Patisserie Valerie or Maison Blanc. Funny what you become conditioned to.

Cambridge-wise I used to buy fresh bread from Sturton Street, or Donaldson's on Mill Road, but neither are quite up to the mark. That specialist cheese shop between Kings Parade and Magdalene must be able to point you in the direction of good bread, surely?

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sat Apr 10, 2010 5:52 pm
by Jowibou
After a day spent biking through the Cambridgeshire spring, I'm almost reconciled to my "manque de baguette". But the mystery still bugs me. I'm not some sort of panipurist prat who has to have his bread flown in from le sixieme arrondissement. But in Cambridge I have yet to find anything even remotely resembling a real baguette.

Xiamenese: 15 years ago I would have heartily agreed with you that a baguette can only be produced by some weird alchemy of French soil, seed and water. But since then I've seen numerous Montreal bakeries respond to grumbling demand with a little effort and come up with a perfectly acceptable substitute. Even the chain stores manage to stock a big range of fresh baguettes - often differentiated not by some entirely inappropriate ingredient (poppy seed baguette? puhleese) - but rather by the time spent letting the dough rise before baking. They have 18, 24 and 36 hour baguettes that tend to get more holey, chewy and tasty over time. I don't see why Brits couldn't do the same; I'm sure there'd be demand.

Hugh - the French have decried the industrialization of their own bread-making - yet they still manage to pump out good bread in huge amounts - and not just from la boulangerie du coin. One chain - dammit a chain - of bakeries makes something quite good called a Banette - slightly firm and salty but perfectly edible. That said, there must be a neighbourhood bakery here giving it a shot. As for the "tourist boot", they were indeed out in droves today, but I guess I haven't seen the worst of it. Shame really, says this foreigner.

Monkquixote- (I suppose I'll pronounce that monkwixit here in the UK) Roving French markets? Où? The Cambridge market mostly seems to have devolved into a tourist trap full of pseudo crafty junk and a bit of none too fresh imported fruit and veg. There is a bread stall that might be OK but in a very doorstoppy British sort of way. No Paul's here in Cambs, but that would do - a bit chewy (is it perhaps a "baguette de 48 heures?") The others I don't know but I'll keep a nostril peeled when in London; though "Maison Blanc's" gender deafness is not reassuring. Funnily enough, I was thinking I might ask the cheese guy as he clearly knows what he's about - even though his oldest cheddar is a tad over the top for my Canadian palate. I'll also check out Sturton street and Donaldson's. Thanks.

There seem to be a number of (ex?) Cambridgeites (Cantabrigians?) here. Maybe we could give the Portland contingent a bit of competition. I'm only starting to use Scrivener again after a long break mostly filled by Tinderbox, but I might start hanging out here more in anticipation V2.0.

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sun Apr 11, 2010 12:47 am
by xiamenese
Jowibou wrote:Xiamenese: They have 18, 24 and 36 hour baguettes that tend to get more holey, chewy and tasty over time. I don't see why Brits couldn't do the same; I'm sure there'd be demand.

As I understand it, there you have put your finger on a related but much bigger issue. A few months ago, a friend in New Zealand told us about a talk given by a British wheat expert. Amongst other things, apparently he said that one of the reasons that more and more people were suffering from digestive problems with bread was the result of changes in the process. Where in the past, the dough would have been allowed to rise over long periods such as you mention, modern factory production gives it only 2 hours, with the result that it continues to rise even in one's stomach after eating.
I think the point about French flour is that it has a higher gluten content, which means the dough can achieve greater elasticity and airiness, which would be enhanced by long proving.
Please note: I do not claim to be an expert ;) That is merely the understanding of a bread-lover who has lived travelled and eaten the breads of almost the entire Eurasian landmass, plus years in north-Africa and time in the Antipodes. Our home was in Paris for many years, and I wish I could spend more time in France, but it's rather a long way from China! I haven't been to the Americas — though a few weeks in Jamaica does figure on my itineraries — or south of the Sahara.

@Monkquixote: I particularly go for the sour-dough spelt bread from the German shop in Chiswick High Road, whatever it's name; and the Campaillou from Maison Blanc — Sorry Jowibou, the mixed gender comes from the fact that the company was founded by the chef Michel Blanc, I believe ... his name, not an adjective.

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sun Apr 11, 2010 3:30 pm
by crimewriter
I think you'll find that Maison Blanc was founded by Raymond -- rather than Michel -- Blanc back in the 1980s, xiamenese. It was sold and then bought back and relaunched two or three years ago. I used to call in at the shop in St Giles, on the corner of Little Clarendon Street, for the largest, best and most expensive almond croissant in Oxford. (That was before I developed an allergy to grains and had to hurry past without breathing in the scent of fine baking. It's the withdrawal symptoms that are keeping me nit-picking in this thread.)


Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Mon Apr 12, 2010 1:02 am
by xiamenese
My mistake ... I'm 10 years and 8,000 miles away, and these things tend to get misty at those distances. So apologies, Raymond ...

The point is of course that "Maison Blanc" is not a grammatical howler as Jowibou initially thought.


Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Mon Apr 12, 2010 6:55 am
by Jowibou
Good to hear I was wrong about Maison Blanc. I should have assumed that they wouldn't make such an obvious mistake in the U.K. One used to see that sort of thing all the time in the U.S.- land of "Chabliss Blank", "Coup de gras" and La Mirage -but even there it's relatively rare nowadays.
Now if they can just stop portraying the French in Hollywood movies as snobby, cowardly, pseudo-intellectual villains, not to mention how all French Waiters are assumed to be rude and obnoxious. (A bit OT - I don't mean to troll the topic to "Why Americans hate the French.")
We had lunch at a friend's house out in the countryside near lovely Barrington yesterday - after another great bike ride - and they had a nice(ish) fresh olive loaf that was bought of all places at Tescos - whodathunkit?

Re: Bread - why I hate Americans

Posted: Sat Jul 24, 2010 4:38 am
by AdahLael
My family has lived just north of San Francisco for about four generations, since the first members traveled here in wagons. I grew up with San Francisco sourdough bread; Boudins specifically, which has been using the same sourdough starter and recipe since 1849. Evidently, the longer the starter is used (a portion is held back from baking, flour and ingredients added to it, then it is left to ferment into a whole new batch) the more sour and at the same time mellow it becomes. All I know is that our sourdough is like another food group. It's a curious bread, with a thin brittle crust that easily crunches into a rather elastic -- but not unpleasantly so -- lemon-sharp interior that is usually still warm from the oven. At first bite chewy, then it seems to melt. Members of my family who have moved away to other states, and the unfortunate East Coast, always obsessively purchase as much of the local sourdough as they can and ship it home, and then they cry about how they can't get more for ten years before they visit again.

I've been thinking that I will have to leave California soon, because the price of living has gotten so bad that I literally cannot afford a place to stay AND a vehicle, both at once. Yet every time I've left, the one thing I ever missed, I missed with a passion; the food. No place in America produces the kind of delights that can be found at the average grocer here. Napa wines for three dollars a bottle that beat any import hands-down, fresh sourdough, Ghiradelli chocolate, avocados, artichokes, and right now it's cherry season… by God, we make cherries so big they might as well be plums and they knock out your sense of reality for two seconds when you bite down… and the Petaluma cheese! We laugh at Wisconsin cheese, and the import section stands abandoned by shoppers who all crowd around the generic local brand.

I could write poetry about California's food. Not to mention our Mexican restaurants… no other state can do it right it seems… but to be fair, I have to say that after fresh-baked sourdough from Boudins, the best bread I ever ate was in Safed, Israel. Just walking into a grocery store there -- instantly the nose oriented the entire body toward the huge unpolished wood shelves of bread that covered one entire wall. Every loaf baked just an hour or two ago by little orthodox jewish guys who had been making bread like that for generations, especially on the Sabbath when they made the special holiday breads every week... I literally lived on just bread in Israel, it was that good.

For a little patch of desert, they honestly reminded me of California a bit; the goat cheese almost made it up to Cali cheddar standards, and the fruits and vegetables were trucked in every morning directly from a farmstead ten minutes down the road, the oranges still had bugs on them. Almost all the other food there was junk... except Yarden wine, I had to admit it was pretty good. Still doesn't beat Napa.

Just a tip: if you visit Israel, never order pizza. :x