When Paris shuts down in the August heat, baguettes are hard to find

When Paris shuts down in the August heat, baguettes are hard to find
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Unemployed Sylvie Debelemania sweats in the Paris heat.  Traditional baguette dough requires special care in hot weather.  (Photo by Adrienne Surprenant/MyOP for The Washington Post)
Unemployed Sylvie Debelemania sweats in the Paris heat. Traditional baguette dough requires special care in hot weather. (Photo 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 Five minutes walk Some people in a bakery prefer one of two or three on their street. Don’t want to cross the road? Nothing to worry about. In many places, there is a boulangerie on either side.

But these are not normal times. August in Paris.

This is the period when most Parisians escape the city for their month-long annual vacation. and the baguette capital – home to more than 1,000 bakeries and patisseries — a boulangerie can feel like a desert.

In the city’s 15th arrondissement, the usually five-minute mission required a 15- or, som deu, 20-minute trek in the summer heat this past week — at least for this correspondent, an untrained baguette hunter. Three of the 7 bakeries in the neighborhood have already closed, with more planned in the coming days

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The government has long sought to avoid such disasters. As bread was considered vital to the capital, bakers faced restrictions in the 1790s when they closed their shops. Only since 2015, when the rules were finally relaxed, have all Parisian bakers been free to join the August exodus.

There are still those who are lagging behind. Being able to produce bread during the hottest time of the year is a source of pride, says baker Adriano Farano. But I admit that this summer seems harder than previous ones.

“We have wheat prices going up, fuel prices going up and of course fuel prices going up,” he said.

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It is very hot in Paris. When bakers are working with 450-degree ovens and no air conditioning during a heat wave, when they have to run to stay ahead of melting butter, when they’re trying to avoid soggy baguettes and “Stringy bread disease,” it’s not hard to see why they might decide to head for the coast or the mountains.

This week at Frederic Comin Bakery, recently awarded for The best baguette in the capital, the black shutters were drawn behind the sign: “Official supplier of the Elysée” Presidential Palace. There was no indication when the bakery would open. (Many French government officials will not return to the capital before August 24.)

A few hundred meters down the road, a competitor had pasted an image of a beach umbrella with stars hanging over the front door. “Happy Holidays,” a sign greeted those left behind.

In France, where bread shortages partly led to the storming of the Bastille and the end of the monarchy, bread has occupied a special status as both a national symbol and a strictly regulated nutrient. To avoid famine or another revolution in the capital, the French government decreed in 1798 that the availability of bread must be ensured.

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In its most modern form, this decree reflected that half of all Parisian bakeries were open in July, the other half in August, distributed evenly across the capital. Unemployed people who went on leave are legally required to post signs directing people to the nearest open options. Violators risked 11 euros a day.

Although Average daily intake Bread has dropped from 800 grams in 1875 to about 80 grams, with bakeries deeply embedded in the country’s culture. The TV show “France’s best bakery,” in its ninth season, attracts millions of viewers During the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, boulangeries were considered essential businesses and a visit to the bakery was a permitted activity.

But France is also a country with workers’ rights movements and respect for holidays. And in 2014, as a part Laws designed to facilitate corporate practiceThe government scrapped the on-call requirement for the unemployed.

Sylvie Debelemanier, who sells dozens of different artisan breads, was closing her shop for the rest of the month on Friday. He said it was largely a financial decision. Rising costs have already squeezed his profit margins, forcing him to price his baguettes from 1.20 to 1.30 euros. And in August, he said, bakeries outside of prime tourist locations can’t count on too many customers.

“A lot of people haven’t gone on vacation in two years because of Covid,” he said. “Everybody wants to leave. All the customers are fed up with Paris.”

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Like most Parisian bakeries, his shop – Boulangerie de Belles Manières – has no air conditioning. He worked there through multiple heat waves this summer, tending to hot ovens when outside temperatures exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. She found that it helped to wear loose clothing and she tried to drink more water. But he said perhaps the most effective coping method was psychological.

“No use buzzing all day,” he said. “I tell myself it’s cold—and it works.”

Summer heat isn’t just uncomfortable. This can mess with the baking chemistry.

“Butter is very, very sensitive to heat,” says William Boutin, 37, at Pastry Instructor At La Cuisine Paris, who spent the morning teaching students the art of croissants and still had some dough on his cheeks. French butter can begin to melt at 82 degrees – much lower than the temperatures the capital has seen recently.

Heat also affects the dough, accelerating its growth. If the heat speeds up the proofing process too much, the loaves may lose their desired texture, become dense, or they may develop undesirable flavors. Boutin says the fast-rising dough is also complex in terms of shape.

For some pastry-makers and bakeries, this has prompted difficult choices.

“Some of them in Paris decided not to sell during the heat wave — and — not to make viennoiserie”, Boutin said, referring to products like croissants and pains or chocolate. “If you don’t have good air conditioning, you have to speed up your work.”

Other bakers hoped that by working hard and fast, they could beat the heat. They experimented by reducing the water and yeast in their dough and shortening the kneading and resting phases.

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According to French bakery magazine La Toque, they researched how to avoid “stringy bread disease” – a bacterial contamination partly linked to heat waves and characterized by bread with a “sour smell of rotten fruit”, which is dedicated to Series of articles The difficult relationship between bread and heat waves.

And yet some bakers were frustrated by loaves sitting in the heat and humidity Too soft By mid-afternoon.

Adaptation is key, says Farano.

He does not use butter on his bread, which allows him to avoid some of the problems that plague colleagues.

Produced by Pan Vivo Bakery Natural sourdough bread From an ancient wheat variety and has found a growing fan base among Parisians looking for a healthier alternative to the dominant white baguette bread. Some of her breads include Corsican herbs, others are filled with dried figs or dark chocolate.

“Our clients, once they start eating this bread, they can’t go back,” he said, adding to the steady flow of customers, many of them visibly excited for the shop to open.

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

But his mission in August in Paris was also successful. Sideris bought a “livia” with olives and rosemary and a “figata” with dried figs. Gripping the loaves tightly, he flashed a wide smile.

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