The importance of exchanging ideas and expertise can often get overlooked when you have your hands in dough for most of the week. However, welcoming another baker into the fold can be incredibly valuable for everyone involved, especially when said baker has as varied a background as Louis Lamour. Born and bred in Paris, Louis has been a baker for the last decade, working in independent bakeries but also travelling the world for an additive company. This has given him a unique insight into the impact of modern science on the most ancient of crafts. Louis came and joined us for a week earlier this month, and since he’s in the process of setting up a bakery back home we seized the opportunity to quiz him on the French baking scene. Here’s what he had to say.
So Louis, what brings you to e5?
One of my British clients brought me to the Farm to Loaf symposium in October. Since I’m in the process of opening my own bakery I wanted to come and see how you guys are working as I think you’re doing a pretty good job.
The British bread industry has transformed beyond recognition in the last century. How has the french bread industry changed?
The good thing about France compared to the UK is that the majority of people, 75%, still buy their bread at the bakery rather than the supermarket. We have kept small companies, and the regions still have their own specialities. But also the quality has decreased a lot, especially with the help of improvers which have made the dough easier to mechanise. Bakers are losing the touch of the dough and relying on the functional ingredients to do the job they should be doing.
What do you mean by ‘improvers’?
So when you buy flour in France it will usually contain some ingredients which will help the tolerance of the dough, the volume of the dough, the colouring of the bread during the baking period. These might be ascorbic acid, enzymes or emulsifiers. Most millers add that to their flour for the baker to have an easier job and the customers to have a good volume for their money.
A lot of people might wonder why someone so interested in natural bread would have worked in the additive business.
I worked for a company which basically invented the bread improver and have done a good job of spreading it all over the world. I was a technical advisor so I was training colleagues and training customers how to use the improvers and bread mixes.
I’ve always liked natural, simple bread but I think that what really motivated me to do that job was first that I would learn a lot about the technical side of things. Often in baking something happens and you don’t understand why. A company like that does a lot of research and development, for example you would test 10 doughs which are identical except for 1 enzyme that would be dosed differently, to check the texture or check the volume. Secondly what was really interesting for me was travelling and meeting bakers from all over the world, as the bread culture in Asia is so different to the one in South America and North America and Eastern Europe and so on.
When setting up a bakery, do you have good flour suppliers to choose from in France?
When you set up a bakery in France you have to decide which mill you will be working with and they will be in charge of financing a lot of the investment. Therefore you are a little bit stuck with them afterwards meaning you have to buy your wheat from them until your loan is over. This means they will also put their brand on your bakery. That said, the variety of the flour they offer is quite wide so you could choose to buy enriched T55 for baguette, or you could choose stoneground white. It is sometimes quite difficult to find out where the flour has come from, whether it is French or not.
There’s obviously a lot of fairly new sourdough bakeries in London. Is this movement going on in Paris too?
Most bakeries will sell you what they call sourdough but in most cases it will contain up to 0.2% fresh yeast which for some people just isn’t real sourdough. I’d rather not use fresh yeast if I can because I think the fewer ingredients the easier it is to control the quality of those ingredients. Also I think the quality of bread made without yeast is a lot better.
There are speciality sourdough bakeries opening up but they use conventional flour or don’t communicate whether its stoneground, heritage or where it comes from. The angle is more about the look and feel of the shop.
What are the main differences you have found between British and French bread culture?
Here in Britain, from what I understand, most people buy bread from the supermarket and the culture is to make toast, whereas in France most people are buying baguettes. Any small bakery will make between 300 and 500 baguettes on any given day. People in France buy bread everyday. The way bread is perceived is different; we eat fresh bread all the time, you can buy it several times a day; you can buy once at lunch and once at dinner. In Britain you buy it every time you go shopping which is not everyday, therefore the bread cannot be the same, it has to perform differently.
Have you found any big differences in the techniques we use at e5 compared to what your used to?
The first difference would be that you guys mix by hand a lot and that is something I’ve never seen being done in a French bakery except in some very particular places, people like Nicolas Supiot who are especially known for it. In a commercial bakery I haven’t seen people mixing by hand so that was very unique, and the texture of the dough is very unique because of the flour that you mill yourselves. This also effects how you have to shape it because you cannot stress it the same way as you can conventional flour. You guys use very hydrated doughs and it benefits the quality the bread even though its more time-consuming to shape. It’s a sacrifice you make for the quality of the bread.
Do you feel positive for the future of French baking?
I’m afraid to see the development of franchises which only sell frozen dough. I think there will always be a niche of people buying expensive and good bread and there will always be a mass market who want cheap bread. We now see bakeries selling three baguettes for €1.50- you can barely make money with that, so they are buying frozen dough in from other companies and they become dependent on that. In this time of crisis you can understand that people cannot spend so much on bread, but what really saddens me is that people spend €1000 on their phone, but are not willing to spend a few extra cents on the bread that they eat everyday which is keeping them alive.
Finally Louis, as a lifelong Parisian, can you tell us where to buy the best baguettes in Paris?
I would go to Rodolphe Landemaine or Djibril Bodian at Le Grenier a Pain )
And what about here the best croissant?
I would head a bit outside Paris, to my friend at Le p’tit Père.