At last count, there are 1263 bakeries in Paris.
On just about every street, there’s at least one, if not two, or even three bakeries. Some of them are very good, a few are perhaps not so fabulous, and several are excellent. Parisians eat a lot of bread, far more than their American counterparts.
Visitors often wonder, “How come we don’t have bakeries like this is America?”
“Because people won’t eat bread in America anymore. Everyone’s afraid of it.” I respond
Tragically, most nod in agreement.
Luckily there’s not too much of that nonsense here in Paris. From early in the morning, until the last baguette de levain is handed across the counter for dinner, you’ll find folks en queue, lined up impatiently waiting to get their daily bread.
And for some reason, I’m always in front of the most impatient one, who firmly keeps nudging me forward. My strategy against those Parisian pests is to gently innocently start backing up, which kinda freaks them out and invariably causes a chain reaction, since the person behind them is usually pressed up against them as well, nudging them forward too.
It causes a certain amount of shuffling and mild hysteria, but tant pis.
Anyone who wants to get that close to me better buy me a drink first.
Or at least a loaf of bread.
But when there’s a bakery as good as 140 in town, Parisians have good reason to get pushy about their bread. And neighborhood residents buy stop here once, or even twice daily to get theirs. And like many of them, I’m happy to stand my ground for a crisp, golden baguette de campagne that feels crisp and warm when it’s handed over the counter to me. Or for the buttery-mouthful of a flaky croissant that shatters into a gazillion crackly shards when you bite into it.
These are some of the daily rituals that go on around here, of which I’m frequently guilty of taking part.
(The pushing part I’m still getting used to.)
Although I don’t live close enough to 140 to go two or three times a day, it’s one of the handful of bakeries here that I’ll happily scamper across the city to visit. Aside from their numeric name, which always gives me a chuckle, they bake some of the best breads in Paris. And recently, I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes of this top-notch boulangerie.
140 was the winner of of both the Best Baguette in Paris in 2001, which made them the exclusive suppliers of baguettes to the Palais Elysée (presidential home) for 2001, as well as taking second place in the Best Croissant in Paris too. In a city crammed with 1263 bakeries, both are quite a feat. But in spite of some of their well-bred clients, 140 is a very neighborhood-oriented place, and most of the clients are locals, who are undoubtedly thrilled to have such a great bakery they can go to within minutes.
Each morning the head baker Monsieur Demoncy races through the bakery, overseeing the progress of an endless stream of bread being pulled in and out of the wood-fired oven, as well as lots of chocolate-filled pain au chocolat and eggy broiche. In other rooms, the delectable, and more refined cakes and pastries get prepared for their bakery next door, le Pâtisserie de L’Église.
Monsieur Demoncy is the son of the owners, whose mother first started working at the bakery over thirty years ago, then eventually bought it with her husband. But now they leave the day-to-day operations to their son, who moves through the kitchens at breakneck speed. But they also occasionally take the time to share the art of breadmaking, teaching classes too.
The storefront of the bakery is tiny, just a little rustic counter piled with loaves of earthy breads, so I was stunned to see how enormous the kitchens were. And I mean kitchens in the plural since for their pastry shop next door, they also make their own ice cream in one dedicated space, and sweet confections and sugary candies in another. I got to sample some of their very respectable just-dipped dark chocolates and a few abundantly-filled truffles as well as their glistening candied chestnuts, called marrons glaces, which appear every year in Paris just in time for Christmas.
Since the Demoncy family is from Brittany, naturally there’s a good selection of the hyper-buttery pastries that the region is known for, perhaps the most famous being the rich kouign amann. When confronted with a caramelized slab of kouign amman, most folks (even in France) will look at it, pat their stomachs and say “pas bon pour le regime” (“not good for the diet”).
But within a few seconds, their chins will invariably be littered with flakes and sweet little bits of what is perhaps the most butter-rich pastry in the world.
The version here is slightly more refined than you might find in the countryside, being intended for Parisians, but it’s every bit as good as one of the many (okay…very many) I sampled in Brittany.
I was most captivated by this Omellette Norvegian, a multi-layered ‘cake’ of ice cream, rum-marinated raisins, and….well, actually, the bakery is kind enough to post little signs letting you know what’s inside, underneath those dramatic swoops of sweet, caramelized meringue.
140 is also a glacier, churning out house made ice creams and sorbets non-stop throughout the year, which I’m happy to wait patiently in line for as well.
No matter who’s rubbing up behind me.
140, rue de Belleville (20th)
T:01 46 36 92 47
http://www.caradou.com/“>Pâtisserie de L’Église
11, rue du Jourdain
T: 01 46 36 66 08