le Boulanger de Monge

Because of the congés d’été, almost every boulangerie in Paris shuts down for one month of vacation. Luckily it’s carefully coordinated with the other bakeries in each neighborhood so that Parisians never have to go too far to find fresh bread daily, one of life’s necessities in France.

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le Boulanger de Monge

I see it as an excuse to leave the confines of my quartier and try other bakeries. Now that the weather in Paris has cooled down enough so that taking a stroll is possible without ending up feeling like you just crossed the desert, ending up drenched in sweat, I mètroed across Paris to a bakery on the rue des Martyrs which Clotilde confided had the best baguette aux cereales in Paris.

But as I arrived (after having to exit the first mètro due to a breakdown, then taking one bus and two mètros, which took about an hour including the time it took me persuading each driver and station agent to let me through using the canceled ticket I’d validated at the first mètro), the window shades were drawn and on the door was the all-too-familiar sign “Fermature pour les Congés”.

“Zut!”

Make that…“Merde!”

So yesterday, I hiked up towards the Pantheon to the rue Mouffetard, a rather well-known market street that I generally avoid since it’s rather pricey. Nevertheless, there’s some great places on that street and I wanted to return to le Boulanger de Monge.

(Update 10/08: Both Octave and Xavier Quere are now closed.)

On page #1 of Le Guide des Boulangeries de Paris, there are only three bakeries in Paris given the lofty 3-star status, and le Boulanger de Monge is one of the lucky few. It’s located at a busy intersection and there’s generally a queue of locals waiting for their daily bread. My first visit was a few months back with my friend Frank, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t won over.

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In the window was a multi-layer cake, similar to a Napolean, with alternating layers of puff pastry and cream. Draped across the top were the broken end-shards of the cakes, which I suppose were meant to be decorative, but was suprisingly clunky and amateurish. The tarte aux pommes looked better, but tasted somewhat sec and not-really-all-that-interesting (especially in a city full of very interesting tartes aux pommes.) Perhaps it serves me right for ordering apple tart when apples aren’t in season. But since Frank wrote the book on apples, it just seemed like the right alignment of elements.

But what I came for was the bread.

Le Boulanger de Monge is an open bakery. The bakers are right there beside the patrons making the bread, everything in plain view; the organic flour, the bakers (dusted with organic flour), and the wood-fired ovens with crackly, fresh-baked bread emerging every so often. I loved the look of the levain bread, which is slashed prior to baking so comes out with a crusty sunburst baked into the surface. It’s perhaps the most beautiful bread I’ve seen in Paris. But when I got home and tasted it, I missed the sourdough-tang characteristic of my favorite levain bread from Poilâne (which deserves the 3-stars it got from the same guide), as well as the Bay Area’s Acme bakery. The bread also had a cake-like texture that crumbled when you cut it, rather than gluten-y nooks and crannies and holes, the appeal of well-crafted bread.

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Yesterday I thought I would try their pain aux cereales, since as many of you know I am smitten with hearty breads chock-full grains and seeds. It cost a whopping 2.60€ for the small loaf they bundled up for me. From the looks of the exterior, I didn’t have high hopes for the loaf but ordered it anyways. When I hurried home and sliced it open, there were so few grains that I wondered where they got off calling it aux ceriales?

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I suppose that I should have simply ordered a baguette, since that’s how these bread guides judge bakeries in Paris, so perhaps I need to go back since the third-time may be the proverbial charm. They did have beautiful looking little round cakes, which I will try next time; the chocolate ones in particular look rich and tasty.



Le Boulanger de Monge
123, rue Monge, 5th
M: Les Gobelins or Censier-Daubenton
tel: 01 43 37 54 20
Closed Monday

(They have a few other addresses in Paris as well.)

6 comments

  • David,

    As a baker in the Bay Area and who just visited Paris back in April, I knew for a while that the people in France don’t like their breads too sour. Was there any trace of sourness at all in the levain bread? Maybe a teeny bit?

    Spencer

  • You’re right Spencer, the French don’t like their sourdough too ‘sour’ (a Parisian friend says that pain Poilane levain is too sour by the second day, but I think it’s even better!)

    Generally, the French palate is more subtle than the American palate: we Americans tend to like things with lots of spices (cinnamon comes to mind…) and heat (such as incendiary Mexican food). But I’ve had levain at other boulangeries in Paris that was more sour than at le Boulanger de Monge. Did you go there when you were here? I’m anxious to hear what you think (and, being a baker, where else did you like or dislike the bread?)

    David

  • David,

    Well, I did visit Poilane bakery. I bought a miche there and took it back home with me to give it to my friends at the bakery. When we sampled it at the bakery, it wasn’t that sour at all, and one of my co-workers was disappointed in it. Now…mind you that the miche was sitting in my house for 2 days until I took it to the bakery. I was told that sourdough bread gets more sour as it ages, but the by time we cut into it…the sourness just wasn’t there. It seems that most bakeries use a tiny bit of baker’s yeast with their levain breads. I sampled bread from Eric Kayser’s bakery, and it was very good, and the bread didn’t get stale until the 4th day.

    Spencer

  • I just found out last weekend that Acme’s Levain is actually made from spelt flour. I never knew before although we eat it all the time. It is the ultimate favourite bread in San Francisco of my French ‘other half’. Personally I am not so keen on sourdough but in the end, living here, I guess I jut have to kuckle down and get a little bit used to it.

  • What a disappointing (and arduous) search for a decent loaf. Cakey bread? Ick. I make levain, and it has never been cakey and crumbly. I really enjoyed reading about your quest. But I definitely wouldn’t have waited until the third trip to try one of those little chocolate cakes. Yum. : )

  • We use their bread at the Crillon – because we won’t have our own boulanger until maybe next year. We always blast it in a hot oven to give it a crisper crust – or slice the miches/boules/big round country breads and toast them under the salamander to accompany various dishes – like foie gras. Sadly I have to agree that they’re not amongst the best bread I’ve had in Paris. I wonder if they’re a victim of their own success – because I’ve heard from reliable sources that they were once really good. And I hate to generalise, but in my experience, great bread guys – or girls – don’t make great cakes – and vice-versa. Maybe it’s the difference in the metiers. But having said that – Maison Kayser makes some of my favourite bread and tarts in Paris!