I have been away visiting my best friend and his cousin, who owns a French bakery up in Crown Point NY, which is right on the border, practically, of Quebec. I had a blast helping Yannig (his name is an old Breton one, from his dad’s side) to bake his artisanal bread in the great stone oven he built by hand, even though it was like 110 degrees in the bakery.
To the right you can see Laurel, my best friend Robert’s girlfriend, getting ready to load unbaked dough into the oven.
When the oven door opens, a blast of fragrance explodes out with the incredible heat, redolent of woodsmoke, whatever spices and fruits may be in the bread and pastries inside, and the yeasty, supremely comforting fragrance of baking bread.
when the bread comes out of the oven, my nose can differentiate between the different kinds; Crown Point Bread’s signature pain rustique,with its hearty, full, wheaty smell,
the more delicate, tantalizing odor of baguettes,
and, the absolutely irresistible smell of croissants, packed with butter, and some overloaded with chocolate or almond paste.
A good bakery is always a compelling fairyland—but unless you’ve worked in one, it is hard to comprehend the incredible, overblown odors in the back, where the real magic happens.
One of my many jobs was to brush egg glaze on rack after rack of croissant dough—that also has a unique smell- the somewhat sickly, rich smell of raw egg, the living, warm smell of the dough itself, its yeast, water and flour negotiating their ever-changing relationship within, and the gorgeous smell of French butter, liquefying in the intense heat.
tedious, yet beautiful work. yet the consolation was within sight:
the finished product, warm from the oven, the chocolate still melted, the layers of crust falling apart like pages in a book, the incredible flavor of the handmade croissant, beyond description….
A variation on the theme, the classically Gallic combination of coffee, Pain au chocolat, that sweaty, yet attractive hot human smell, and a cigarette—now that is an exceptional perfume….
live well, my friends!