I went on another tour last week, to one of the best bakeries (and that's saying something) in Paris, Au 140.
This bakery was the winner of the 2001 award for the Best Baguette in Paris for their Baguette Traditional, which is completely hand made, as opposed to their normal Baguettes which are formed by machine.
We were shown around the kitchens by Monsieur Laurent Demoncy, who showed us the enormous 22 ton brick oven which bakes all the boules needed for the day. The baguettes are cooked in a different, special oven held at a different temperature and approximate 1000 to 2000 are sold per day.
The "levain" or sourdough bread from Au 140 is special too, with the "chef" or starter used since 1983, made originally with a base of crushed wild grapes. Half of the chef is used each day for the new batch with equal parts flour and water added to the old batch for use the next day. The started is held at a constant 15 degrees, whereas Poilane's starter is held at between 20 and 25 degrees, which accounts for the higher acidity.
Monsieur Demoncy explained that sourdough bread, due to the molecules within the starter, helps to retain moisture better, which means that it keeps much better, as opposed to baguettes, which go all hard and inedible the day after. We then tasted a bit of their sourdough and it was delicious, just slightly sour but not enough to be off-putting.
We also tasted three kinds of baguettes, their normal baguette, their award-winning traditional baguette, and another version of their award-winning traditional baguette but slightly shorter and which cooks 3 minutes quicker with a little more flour .
Unsurprisingly there was a big difference between the normal baguettes and the traditional baguettes, with the normal baguettes more uniform in terms of texture but the traditional tastier, at least to me. What surprised me however, was the differences between the two traditional baguettes. The taste was quite different in terms of taste and texture, with the shorter baguette slightly more chewy and light.
It was interesting to see the back of the bakery and where all the chocolates and cakes for their other bakery, Pâtisserie de L'Église. Besides the short baguette and slice of the sourdough Monsieur Demoncy kindly gave us, I couldn't resist buying a round of kouign amman after David's drool worthy descriptions of flaky butter pastry. And yes, it was just as rich, delicious and as great with tea.
Keep peeled for new updates on Au 140. After 3 years on the jury, they are likely to be competing again this year for best baguette and croisssant in Paris. As for my opinion? They've won my heart for best pain levain in Paris, one that I will travel for.
140, rue de Belleville
Tel: 01 46 36 92 47