I’d like to introduce you to someone you may not have heard of: Véronique Mauclerc. But I hope on your next visit to Paris, or if you live here, you’ll make the trip to see her gorgeous and very special bakery.
Early each morning at Véronique’s boulangerie in the 19th arrondissement, the bleary bakers start mixing the organic flour at 2am after torching-up the wood-fired oven, only one of four in Paris (and there’s only two people that know how to fix it in the city.) So if you’re wondering what you’re doing in the middle of nowhere, it’s because an oven this special just can’t be moved.
And what a magnificent oven it is! As the morning continues, and perhaps the coffee kicks in, the bakers start adding wood until the temperature of the oven’s just right for baking bread, 275C (about 530F). Then each hand-shaped loaf is baked off to crackly-crusty perfection.
Her incredibly beautiful oven can hold up to 100 loaves at a time, but you’d never know she could reach such capacity when you see the small, carefully-crafted loaves of bread on display in the bakery, which is listed as a historic monument in Paris.
Véronique told me it’s extremely rare for a woman to be a boulanger. So much so that there doesn’t seem to be a feminine word for ‘boulanger’ in the French language. (Hey, let’s start one…how about it, France…boulangesse?…boulangeuse?)
Véronique trained at the École Supérieure de Cuisine Français in Paris before opening her bakery two years ago. And even though she’s been open a pretty short time, she won kudos from the Pudlo guide to Paris, which named her bakery the Boulangerie de l’Année for 2007, the best baker of the year in Paris, which is quite a feat in a city where there’s a heckuva lot of bakeries.
All Véronique’s bread and pastries are made with organic flour and none of her breads have yeast. Instead, she prefers to use levain, a natural sourdough starter, and most of the breads get two rises. The first is given a rest of 1½ hours, then the second takes up to 15 hours. In the tiny kitchen, she and her four bakers work at all hours to ramp up production. On weekends they go all-out, to triple production, to supply some of the organic markets of Paris.
If you stop in her bakery, you’re likely to see Véronique herself tending the ovens, mixing up flour and shaping one of the beautiful loaves that she’ll later pull out of her oven—crackly-hot on the outside, with the hearty, earthy taste of naturally-leavened bread.
Is she’s not worthy of cult-status, I don’t know who else in Paris is.
La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc
83, rue de Crimée (19th)
Tél: 01 42 40 64 55
Update: 10/08, A new location in Paris: 11, rue Poncelet (17th)