Baking the Bread
After the oven has maintained a 300 degree centigrade temperature for a while — this morning that point is at 7:35 — the baker closes the damper, removes the metal form from the center of the oven, and places a metal rail in the front. The bar holds a basket of flour the baker utilizes to dust the paddles he uses to place the bread in the oven. The paddles have handles about 10 feet long to reach to the back of the oven and when not in use sit across the ceiling beams. They are so large that when not overhead or propped against the metal bar, they stick outside the wrought iron window covering into the street. There are also two copper bowls with spigots underneath them, one on each side of the oven door. He pours a liter of water into each. The water injects into the oven, creating the steam which makes the outside of each loaf crusty.
The bread is brought from the cooler in large racks which he arranges close by to his side and back. Once the process starts, each loaf takes 20 minutes to bake, and to keep the process going without burning any of them requires an intricate choreography of removing loaves from the couches, placing them on floured paddles, slashing each four times with a straight-edge razor, and placing them in order in the oven. If the loaves are not slashed or placed seam side open, the dough cannot expand and the bread will not rise properly in the heat. The crumb (texture of the bread) will be too tight. At any one moment there are 75-80 loaves baking and they must be arranged from right to left in a pattern that permits him to remove baked loaves and put in raw ones over and again until the entire batch is done.
As each tray of loaves goes into the oven, he removes the couche they sat on and sets it on the rail to dry. As each batch of loaves bakes, Mr. Honorat extracts it by paddle and sets it into wicker baskets for sale.
Another baker makes the other types of breads and pastries sold here. Brioche, for example, which Mr. Honorat tells me they prepare much as I do, by mixing the dough, placing it in the refrigerator, and pulling off whatever is needed. The baguettes I think are far harder to do. He nods to a young man standing in the doorway and says that he is an apprentice and that he has told him that by Christmas he’ll have learned how to bake these baguettes. It is in this way that the traditional crafts survive to the good fortune of the residents and visitors alike.
Also in the shop are Mr. Honorat’s lovely wife and daughter who chat with the constant stream of customers, filling their orders with charm and grace. It is in these ordinary transactions everyday that the life of these towns and villages is so pleasant.