my bread and butter

20 Feb

Le pain.  No, it isn’t pain—in French, pain is la douleur. Le pain is bread, the staff of life in the country of the boulangerie and the pâtisserie, of flour and moulin (mill), of warm yeasty havens on biting winter mornings.

This particular loaf was bought at the marché this morning.  I snagged it from a popular stall after shuffling along after a line of scarf-swaddled matrons  carting their chariots, the little market-going trolleys ubiquitous in France.   Pain au levain de noisettes.  Sourdough hazelnut bread.  Even the name is intriguing, in both languages — not overly sweet, textured with the symmetry of ‘pain’ and ‘levain,’ then again in ‘sourdough.’  And the whistling pleasure of the ‘noizzz,’ just before the ‘ettes’ snaps the thing to a close.

The taste weighs subtly on the tongue, harboring just enough hazel sweetness to balance out  the rough smokiness of the feu au bois that it was baked in.  The dense interior is porous, shining and taut.  Yet the body of it yields, like leaves under your feet.  The crust is thin and dark, crispy, like the sunbaked crust of the earth.  The roasted hazelnuts even cast shadows on the crust.

Following the advice of another blogger, I also picked up a slab of real beurre cru, raw (read unpasteurized, baby) butter, from a fromagerie, to attain complete harmonization.

France has a national standard for its signature bread, la baguette.  I jumped on wikipedia after noticing what looked like the title to a legislative bill on the side of my baguette bag.  Since 1993, une baguette à la tradition française may only contain the following four ingredients if it wants to merit its own name:  flour, water, yeast, salt.  Don’t worry:  plenty of other breads, including many baguettes, contain lots  of other additives, colors and numbers.  But that a “traditional” no-nonsense French baguette even exists, is testament enough to the French fondness for simplicity, even underneath all the other complications of French life.

Bread — so important that it too has been centralized, à la française.  From one French friend in Lyon:  “There must always be bread on the table.  Otherwise, something is missing—I can’t say what exactly.  Without bread, I leave hungry, even if I’ve eaten.”

Oh mon pain, je t’aime.

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One Response to “my bread and butter”

  1. julien March 4, 2010 at 7:43 pm #

    Quand j’étais petit, ma mère coupait des tranches de pain pour toute la famille au début du repas. Et avant de faire ça, elle faisait un signe de croix, avec son couteau, sur le pain. Un automatisme : elle le faisait sans s’en apercevoir. Je n’ai jamais vu quelqu’un d’autre faire ça. Elle a certainement hérité ça de sa mère, qui avait hérité ça de sa mère, qui avait…

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