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Baguettes are harder to find when Paris shuts down in the August heat

Baguettes are harder to find when Paris shuts down in the August heat
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Baker Sylvie Debellemaniere sweats in the Paris heat.  Traditional baguette dough requires special care in hot weather.  (Photos by Adrienne Surprenant/MYOP for The Washington Post)
Baker Sylvie Debellemaniere sweats in the Paris heat. Traditional baguette dough requires special care in hot weather. (Photos by Adrienne Surprenant/MYOP for The Washington Post)

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PARIS – In normal times, more than 9 out of 10 Parisians live in a city a five-minute walk of the bakery. Some people can choose between two or three on the street. Don’t want to cross the road? Do not worry. In many places, there are boulangeries on both sides.

But these are not normal times. It’s August in Paris.

This is the period when most Parisians escape the city for their month-long annual vacation. And baguette capital – more than 1000 bakeries and pastry shops – can feel like an empty broth.

In the city’s 15th arrondissement, a normally five-minute mission required a 15-or, mon Dieu, 20-minute trek in the summer heat last week — at least for this reporter, an untrained baguette hunter. Three of the 7 neighborhood bakeries have already closed, and more are scheduled to close in the coming days.

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The government has been trying to avoid such a difficult situation for a long time. By the 1790s, bakers, who considered bread to be critical to the capital, faced restrictions on how to close their shops. Only since 2015, when the rules were finally relaxed, are all Parisian bakers free to join the August run.

There are still some left behind. Baker Adriano Farano says it’s a source of pride to produce bread at the hottest time of the year. But I admitted that this summer is tougher than the previous ones.

“We have the price of wheat, the prices of energy carriers and, of course, the increase in the price of fuel.

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Paris also had an extremely hot summer. When bakers work with 450-degree ovens and no air conditioning during a heat wave, when they have to race to stay ahead of melting butter, try to avoid soggy baguettes, and “fibrous bread disease,” it is not difficult to understand why they head for the coast or the mountains.

This week at Frédéric Comyn bakery, recently awarded the best baguette in the capital, “Official supplier of the Elysée presidential palace”, black shutters were drawn behind the sign. No word on when the bakery will open. (Many French government officials will not return to the capital until August 24.)

A few hundred meters down the road, a competitor had taped a picture of a beach umbrella with dangling stars to the front door. A “Happy Holidays” sign greeted those left behind.

In France, where a bread shortage led in part to the storming of the Bastille and the end of the monarchy, bread has acquired a special status as both a national symbol and a highly regulated food. To prevent famine or another revolution in the capital, the French government decided in 1798 to guarantee the availability of bread.

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In its most modern form, this decree was reflected in the requirement that half of all Parisian bakeries remain open in July and the other half in August, and was distributed equally throughout the capital. Holiday bakers were legally required to post signs directing people to the nearest open alternatives. Violators will be fined 11 euros per day.

Though average daily diet As the price of bread dropped from 800 grams in 1875 to about 80 grams, bakers became deeply rooted in the country’s culture. In its ninth season, the television show “The Best Bakery in France” attracts millions of viewers. During the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, boulevards were considered essential establishments and a trip to the bakery was an approved activity.

But France is also a country with a strong labor rights movement and respect for strikes. And as part of 2014 a law designed to simplify corporate practicesthe government abolished conscription requirements for bakers.

Sylvie Debellemaniere, who sells dozens of different artisanal breads, closed her shop on Friday for the rest of the month. He said it was mostly a financial decision. Rising costs have already squeezed its profit margins and forced it to raise the price of its baguettes from €1.20 to €1.30. In August, he said, bakeries outside the main tourist areas cannot count on much of a customer base.

“A lot of people haven’t gone on vacation for two years because of covid,” he said. “Everyone wants to go. All customers are tired of Paris.

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Like most Parisian bakeries, her shop – Boulangerie De Belles Manières – does not have air conditioning. He worked there through many heat waves this summer, tending to hot stoves while temperatures outside soared above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. She found that wearing looser clothing helped and tried to drink more water. But he said perhaps the most effective coping mechanism is psychological.

“There’s no point in thinking about it all day,” he said. “I tell myself it’s cold—and it works.”

The summer heat is just uncomfortable. It may interfere with the chemistry of the bread.

“Butter is very, very sensitive to heat,” said William Boutin, 37 pie instructor La Cuisine spent the morning in Paris teaching students the art of croissants, and they still had flour on their cheeks. French butter can begin to melt at 82 degrees – far below the temperatures the capital has seen recently.

Heat also affects the dough and accelerates its rise. If heat speeds up the proofing process too much, breads can lose their desired texture, become dense, or develop unwanted flavors. Quick-rising dough is also more difficult to shape, Boutin said.

For some pastry makers and bakeries, this has led to difficult choices.

“In Paris, some of them decided not to sell or produce viennoiserie during heat waves,” Boutin said, referring to products such as croissants and bitters and chocolates. “If you don’t have good conditioning, you need to speed up your work.”

Other bakers hoped they could beat the heat by working harder and faster. They experimented with reducing the water and yeast in their dough and shortening the kneading and resting stages.

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According to French baking magazine La Toque, they researched how to protect against “reticulated bread disease” – a bacterial contamination linked in part to heat waves and characterized by giving bread a “sour smell of rotten fruit”. dedicated series of articles to the difficult relationship between bread and heat waves.

Still, some bakers are disappointed to find baked goods sitting in the heat and humidity. it was very soft until noon.

Adaptation is key, Farano said.

He doesn’t use butter on his bread, allowing him to avoid some of the problems that hinder his colleagues.

It produces Pane Vivo breads natural yeast breads from an ancient wheat variety and has found a growing fan base among Parisians looking for a healthier alternative to the dominant white baguette. Some of her breads include Corsican herbs, while others are decorated with dried figs or dark chocolate.

“Our customers, once they start eating this bread, they can’t go back,” he said, as a steady stream of customers arrived, many of them excited to see the store open.

Georges Sidéris, 63, said he had little hope when he went on a mission to find his favorite bread on Thursday. “I told myself: I’ll try, you never know,” he said.

But even in August in Paris, his mission was successful. Sideris bought “Livia” with olives and rosemary and “Figata” with dried figs. He grinned widely, clutching his buns tightly.

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