It is with extreme shame that I have to admit that my husband has gone and done it again. He's made an extraordinary find in the food shopping department, despite the fact that he does less than one percent of the shopping or cooking in our apartment. (Last year, he embarrassed me by finding an amazing cheese shop that - miraculously - sells very good Stilton. And it's ten minutes walk from our door.)
This time it's a bakery.
A really good bakery.
The Boulangerie Alsatienne at 158, boulevard Berthier in the 17th arrondisement of Paris is the best bakery I have found in Paris. A little research (starting with the web site of the flour suppliers on the paper bag that came with the bread, Minoteries Viron) has shown that I'm not alone in this. The bakery won the prestigious Lauréat du grand prix de la Baguette de Paris in 2000 and 2002. The winner of this prize has the honor of supplying bread to the Elysées Palace where the president of the republic lives. So Jaques Chirac loves the same bread as me. Lucky him.
The whole bread issue is, as you can imagine, a very very emotional one for Parisians. More and more bakeries are starting to cut corners in their production, and you can see and taste the difference. These days many bakeries either buy their dough frozen or - even weirder - have it delivered by pipeline. I'm not joking: I've seen it being delivered to a bakery in the 16th. A big white truck that is the shape of a gas truck parks next to the bakery, they attach a big tube to a spigot in the wall of the bakery and start pumping. It's heresy. And what's more, it's not good bread.
It's fairly easy to pick out these inferior bakeries. There are three good signs: 1) a sticker on the door that proudly announces the bakery buys "Baguépi" brand dough 2) the bread can be cracked open (as opposed to tearing) 3) no line.
A real baguette like my Alsatian friends produce is chewy and soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside. It should feel buttery even if no butter was used in the production. It should beg you to go home right now and get out the soft unsalted butter. Below are photos of the real stuff and the inferior standard baguette. I've been cutting them up in preparation for a fondue tonight.
In addition to the city's best baguette, the bakery has already won a prize in 2004 for the best Galette des Rois (an almond cake that is traditionally eaten in January). It also had a appealing little sesame seed loaf that I'll be trying next time. And since it's an Alsatian establishment, they also have some very tasty looking pretzels hanging about. I think this matter needs more research and you deserve the best information possible!
Also in the breaking news: tonight (as mentioned) we are melting our cheese in the French fashion. We visited three bakeries and bought different kinds of bread. Tonight we shall test which is really the best bread for fondue: a really good baguette, a typical dry tasteless one or a round loaf? Local wisdom actually opts for number two there - cheap stale bread is least likely to fall off your fork and anyway it's just a cheese vehicle. However, I think the other two options also have merit. Tonight we will put it to six impartial judges and let you know the results.
It's a tough job but luckily we are here to do it.
For an article by the Telegraph about this bakery and the Parisian bread industry, follow this link. You might need to register.
Boulangerie Alsatienne Raoul Maeder
158 BOULEVARD BERTHIER 75017 PARIS
+33 1 46 22 50 73
Nearest metro: Periere