22 November 2007

A Wednesday bread run

What's the first thing you do when you get back to Saint-Aignan after a long absence? And you are struggling with jet lag? You make a big pot of vegetable soup and you get some good French bread to have with it.

For me, the first full day back happened to be a Wednesday. What's the significance? No bread lady! The boulangerie in our village is closed on Wednesdays, so Roselyne takes the day off. I looked in the freezer. No bread except the sliced sandwich kind. But at least I found some frozen chicken broth. Out of the freezer and the refrigerator, I gathered together lots of vegetables: lentils, celery, carrots, onions, green peas, and some plain cooked spaghetti.

A boulangerie I noticed in Nemours
on the way home from the airport Tuesday

What choices did I have for bread? There are three or four boulangeries in Saint-Aignan, and there are two or three over in Noyers. All make good bread fresh daily. But the best bakery, in the opinion of many locals, is the boulangerie up in the vineyards, on the little road that links Saint-Aignan to the village called Céré-la-Ronde. The boulanger there cooks his baguettes, boules, croissants, and pains au chocolat in a wood-fired oven.

So at 11:00, with soup bubbling on the stove, I fired up the old Peugeot and headed out. The sun was shining. It had rained quite a bit the night before, making the dirt road through the vineyard a muddy mess. I knew, because I had walked out there with Callie earlier in the morning. That would normally be the shortest route from our house to the boulangerie-in-the-vineyard, which is in a place called Le Chêne du Renard (the Fox's Oak).

A boulangerie in the village called
La Ferté-Beauharnais, in Sologne

To avoid the mud holes, I had to go around. Down our paved road to the route départementale, turn right, and then make another quick right up the narrow rue de la Chotinière, past several new houses, some still not finished, and then a dozen or so older houses, and finally the old farm with caves carved into a cliff where equipment and supplies are stored. Into the woods for a few hundred yards, and then out into the vineyards.

Two or three turns later, I arrive at the Chêne du Renard. One customer was leaving as I arrived, and another was sitting in her Mercedes talking on a cell phone. She went in to buy her bread just as I was coming back out.

The boulangerie at Le Chêne du Renard near Saint-Aignan

The woman who sells bread knows me but only vaguely; since we have bread delivered five days a week, we don't get up there as often as we would otherwise. Everything looked and smelled really good, as you would expect, but the thing that stood out was a fougasse, a.k.a. a focaccia, a long flat bread adorned with lardons of smoked pork and covered with melted Gruyère cheese. Wouldn't some of that be good with a big bowl of vegetable soup?

Well, yes, it would. I took a slightly different route home, down the rue des Bas-Bonneaux to the edge of our village past several old farms and a dozen or more houses. Back to the route départementale, past the garage and a couple of B&Bs (chambres d'hôtes) to the rue de la Renaudière. Soup was on. The fougasse was delicious. I'm sorry I didn't take a picture of it.

Emblem representing the door of an old bread oven
on the wall of the boulangerie at Le Chêne du Renard

This story doesn't have a punch line or any great significance. It just tries to describe a little bit of what life is like here. No stop lights, no shopping centers, narrow roads through vineyards, no traffic. I passed one or two cars on my four-mile round trip. The landscape looks wintry — there were several really cold mornings last week, Walt told me, and most of the leaves are off the vines and the trees — but the sun was shining low in the sky.

Today is Thanksgiving. That's not a holiday in France, and we are probably the only people for miles around who are even aware of the American celebration. Today I'm ready for more substantial food, and we are going to cook a piece of boneless leg of lamb with some flageolet beans. It's our Frenchified Thanksgiving dinner. But don't worry — Walt is making a pumpkin pie. We'll have a turkey (or a capon) at Christmas.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving...and welcome home! I can think of no better return activities than making soup and buying bread. You know, I am thinking of making my own bread having returned to the USA and eating what's here...surely I can bake something better. Got any good French bread recipes?

    Meilleurs voeux!!

  2. That's a fine looking bakery, Ken. Just looking at your photos today made me miss France a lot. I don't know why we don't have more bakeries in the US.

    Blue, I can give you an easy recipe for french bread that I make using my bread machine for the dough part and then a baguette pan for the rising and baking. It doesn't taste much like real french bread, but it's pretty good.

  3. Anne, get Evelyn's bread recipe. Her bread is really good. Happy Thanksgiving. Ken

  4. It's good to have you home. We enjoyed your blogs on North Carolina but the drive to the bakery made my mouth water. Walt kept us entertained especially with some wonderful dishes he prepared. Happy Thanksgiving! Mary and Gabby
    P.S. Do you remember Art Buchwald's Le Jour de Merci Donnant?

  5. happy thanksgiving! i'm grateful for your descriptions and pix of real life in france. thank you!

  6. I'd like that bread recipe also. I've been baking bread in a machine for twenty years, but never tried to make baguettes out of the dough. Thanks in advance.

  7. For Anne and CHM,

    Donna German's French Honey Bread

    (Medium - makes one large baguette)
    3/4 cup water
    2 tsp honey
    2 tsp olive oil
    2/3 tsp salt
    2/3 tsp sugar
    2 cups bread flour
    1-1/2 tsp yeast

    (Large - makes 2 baguettes)
    1-1/8 C cup water
    1 Tbs honey
    1 Tbs olive oil
    1 tsp salt
    1 tsp sugar
    3 cups bread flour
    2-1/2 tsp yeast

    Put ingredients in your bread machine in the order given. Program machine to do dough and remove dough which is soft. I spray my hands with Pam and shape the dough by letting it hang down. It will assume the shape of a baguette.

    Bake at 350F for 30 minutes in a French loaf pan , sprayed with Pam. If you don't have one you can make a trough shape out of heavy duty aluminum foil.

    My pan looks like this one, but I don't think it was as expensive as this one is.

  8. Evelyn-Thank you so much for the recipe. I'll try it once and another time without honey, sugar and olive oil, ingredients that I don't think enter into the true French baguette. For the so called French bread cycle of one and a half pound loaf in the machine I put only, in this order:
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1-1/2 cups cold water
    3 cup flour
    1 heaping teaspoon of SAF yeast after the mixing has begun.
    It is as close as French bread I have been able to go.
    P.S. I buy my SAF yeast at Harris Teeter in Arlington, VA and Williams-Sonoma in Palm Desert, CA. It is definitely better than American yeasts, and you use less.

  9. My bread isn't like real french bread, but yours sounds perfect. I'll try it next time.

    I have a niece who lives within walking distance of a Harris Teeter in Arlington, so I'll pick up some of that good sort of yeast when I go to visit her.

    Thanks for sending your recipe.

  10. I wonder if there is not some difference between French flour and American flour -- maybe "sugar" content -- that makes it better to add honey and sugar to the American flour for bread-making. I can vouch for Evelyn's bread: it was very good when I had some about a month ago. Is SAF a brand name for that yeast? I wonder what SAF stands for.

  11. For information about SAF yeast you can go to
    for French speaking people
    or to
    for English people.
    I should have said that this yeast is French [made in Mexico for North America] and supposed to be the "best in the world...and beyond".
    I should have mentioned also that it is cheaper than its American counterparts.

  12. Happy Thanksgiving although a little late. I so love Thanksgiving turkey!!!


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