I spent the day with my local baker a few days ago, trying to do some justice to his excellent work with my camera as part of a series of “Day in the life of..” that I’m trying to put together as a personal project. We spent the morning baking (and tasting!) bread and the afternoon making “Chausson au Pomme” ready for the next couple of days. A great day, and a genuinely nice man with a real passion for his work. Can’t wait to go back for when he does the chocolates!
I hope you like the photos and it wets your appetite for some fantastic artisanale French bread!
Yoann works in Charroux which is in the Vienne (86) department within the Poitou-Charente region of France. His work day starts at 4am, and aside from help in the shop during the morning rush, he works alone until 7 or 8pm in the night. His speciality is a French baguette called a Charloise, which he makes entirely by hand, or as the French would call it, in the “artisanale” way, and it’s probably the nicest bread you’ll ever taste in your life! He bakes around 200 of his speciality Charloise baguette a day, which is on top of the other types of bread, croissants, cakes, chocolates, etc. he produces.
He has been a patissier for 23 years, starting his training in the north of France when he was 15. A patissier specialises in fine hand made cakes, but these alone don’t provide enough income in a small village, so the daily French bread forms the basis of his business, and that is what we spent the morning making. I was lucky enough to not only get to take photos, but encouraged (not that I needed much!) to get my hands dirty and have a go at each stage in the process right from the mixing of the dough. Testing my French to the limit, I was given a science lesson along the way! It’s taken very seriously in France and each baker has to pass the appropriate courses to be able to work as such. It ‘s also quite individual, for example there is a one course for bread and another for patisseries, rather than a general ‘bakery’ course. It’s a skilled job, and as I found out, there is obviously a lot of the science taught behind the process, not simply the practical skills needed.
The dough is produced hours in advance of it being cooked into bread. Yoann explains that this is the only way to get the true flavour out of it, by letting it rest and allowing the chemical process enough time to do its job and soak right the way though the entire batch of dough. That is the difference between an “artisanale” baker and a run of the mill one – someone who does it by hand and has the time to let the bread achieve it’s best potential, producing less, but of better quality.
Work in the morning is non-stop. Making dough for use later on, dividing it up in to correct quantities for each different type of bread, rolling it out into the correct form, storing and moving the formed dough around, and finally baking it in his huge oven. It’s a continuous cycle with the oven bleeping away all morning sounding the next batch is ready. He explains to me that each type of bread has its own particular way of cooking it and the time it takes to cook it even depends on the weather that day. The smell as the bread comes out of the oven is fantastic, and makes this wonderful crackling noise as it acclimatises back to room temperature, they say that the bread is ‘singing’ to them. It’s a cheerful sound and I can’t wait until the next batch arrives to hear it again! An endless stream of customers can be heard in the background, with most of them seemingly asking for a Charloise – a testament to how good they are!
The afternoon was a much more relaxed time, the bread oven was left with just one of the individual ovens running in case he needs to bake an extra batch of bread, but we concentrate on making Chausson au Pomme, which is an apple puree inside of a flakey pastry shell. Unlike the bread which has to be produced freshly every day, these will keep in their uncooked form for several days, allowing him to bake them as and when he needs. In no time at all, the entire batch of 60 are rolled out, cut, filled, folded and with a flash of the knife he decorates the tops with a leaf motif. Before I know it, we’re finished and I ask him to do the only posed photos of the day behind his counter in the shop.
All taken with the Fuji X-Pro 1 with either the 18mm or 35mm. Mostly shot wide open simply due to the poor lighting conditions, camera and both lenses performed superbly despite getting a good dose of flour!
Lighting was very challenging as it changed very quickly between the different parts of his workshop, not only that but there was a strong mix of natural light and those horrible strip lights which made getting a good white balance pretty tricky. Aside from the afternoon shots I don’t think I shot anything below ISO1600 and was well above that for many shots, going up to 6400 at points.