Some genuine good bread

The baker’s must be the first light on in the town. So the baker must open early. It is as if you ask someone, I really don’t know, a DJ to start work at 7 o’clock in the evening, or 6 o’clock in the evening. The work, this work here, this must be done in the morning, right!

On the banks of the Saône, right in the heart of Lyon, the bakery called Bob Richard is a business well known throughout the neighbourhood. A reputation which does not come from yesterday. This year the business is celebrating its 200th birthday. But it has a reputation which would be lost quickly if the bread were not good, and so it is at three in the morning that we met Bob in his bakery preparing his batches of products.

I say that as a general rule, I get up at two o’clock in the morning and that I work till half twelve, one o’clock in the afternoon and afterwards I start again, because I bake bread again in the afternoon, so I start again at four in the afternoon and until, yes, eight o’clock, or thereabouts, half seven or eight o’clock.

The first job in the morning is to prepare the sweet breads [1].

They are little croissants, and little pains au chocolat, it is for delivery to a hotel at six o’clock, half six, quarter to seven, so that, they are the first thing that I do and they have priority. A croissant which is all yellow, well, that’s not good. The butter is white, it is not yellow and the croissants which are quite yellow, like that, that is… the bakers who use that, that is frozen butter from the EC [2], the surplus of the EC, and in order not to break the butter market, they put vanilla into it, to make it pale, and so that is mandatory for the professionals. But it is butter which is frozen, and all that… personally I put butter AOC [3] in croissants, that is what gives its nice little flavour.

Putting the croissants into the big oven, mixing the dough, controlling the temperature, watching that nothing burns… the job of a baker needs the dexterity and the precision of a circus juggler.

Well I am making some… I am making two sorts of bread, here I am making a sort of baguette and then a country loaf.

So, an important thing for making bread when the weather is hot is having the water very cold. Because it is necessary… there is a thing to watch, it is the temperature of the dough. The bread dough must be between 24, I am going to say between 22oC and 26oC, coming out of the kneading trough, and as there is rubbing, that heats the dough, right. So, it is necessary… you see there I put the water at 2oC there and last year during the heat wave [4] I was putting ice in the bread.

But whoever says good bread, says before all, says good flour. For the flour Bob calls one his fellow craftsman, Arthur Rose, miller from the Minoterie Dupuy [5]. Arthur uses the Borsa method to ensure the quality of his flours:

The role of the miller is to buy a cereal and to change it into a flour of the cereal. So today we have several ways for milling cereal. The standard way uses rollers or a millstone wheel and does not give back to the flour all the nutritional value that we have in the grain, so the Borsa method allows us to retain these values. We are going to try to compare, right, we imagine it all in our head, an apple and then the grain of wheat. So with the apple we can imagine the skin, the grain of wheat has the equivalent, it is the bran, we can imagine the apple the flesh, in the wheat is it the almond, and between the flesh and the skin of the apple there is the pectin which is the richest part in the level of vitamins , etc. So in the grain of wheat there is the same part that we call the protein seat and in the Borsa process, to separate the protein seat from its bran, what does not happen in other methods, we are going the grate the envelope to separate the thick indigestible bran that we are going to sell for cattle feed from the protein seat, that is to say the flour has an exceptional fineness, it does not irritate the intestines.

There was a time when there were 50,000 mills, it was a tradition, that is to say that it was a bit like the bakers, it was father and son. Today, well, that tradition has changed, the norms of security have been really pushed to the limit, so that there are mills which do not have sufficient means to invest in their tools for production, so they prefer to sell their mill to large mills, so these large mills are going to close the small mills to make in some strategic locations, in some places where they are going to concentrate production to reduce costs.

With 35 employees, the mill of Arthur Rose remains on a human scale. It is the guarantee of a meticulous eye on the products which are going to go into the flour.

We have only flour, we have also many varieties around that, so we can bring aromas to the bread, by changing the flour, by mixing different varieties, that is to say you have wheat, you have rye, then you have seeds, seeds of flax, seeds of millet, of poppy, of sunflowers, and similarly other cereals, which we see appearing today which are a type of wheat, which are the kamut, the ancestor of hard wheat and which are the quinoa, for example, which is a grain which grows in Bolivia. So with three grains, three different cereals we can develop tastes in the bread which are truly exotic, tastes more… tastes from elsewhere, tastes which are going to bring aromas which we are going to find in other foods, like the quinoa which is going to make us thing of asparagus, the kamut which is going to give us a funny sort of sweet taste in the mouth, so you marry that with the fig and the fois gras [6], that goes well, what we now find in bread is breads with different aromas.

So we work directly with the producers, that is to say we are going to advise them, we are going… we are going to tell them our needs in terms of varieties, in terms of quality, as they are going to try their best to plant for us suitable cereals. But we do not grow them; our trade is simply being millers.

Afterwards, it is for the baker to bring added value to the product:

It is like wine, the more we can have slow fermentation, the more we can have aroma, the less we are going to knead the dough for a long time, the more we are going to keep the colour, so today it is necessary to come back to the times of kneading, a bit like former times, having the machines turn less quickly, kneading less quickly, to avoid oxygenating, to have too much air in the dough, as if we have too much air in the dough, well automatically later we are going to have holes. So it is necessary to knead a short time and allow the fermentation for a long time and work on the leavened dough with very little yeast.

All that is more expensive of course than industrial bread. But the queues which form in front of the bakery Richard bear witness that for good products there are always customers.

It is true that the handmade bread is more expensive than bread made in an industrial bakery and sold in a quick bread shop [7], or a hypermarket [8]. On the other hand, from the moment that the bread is ready, we see people paying a little bit more and coming back to the baker provided that it is good. We must not say either that because it is hand made by a master baker that the bread is good. There are master bakers who make very good bread while there others who make less good than the hypermarket. So we must find good addresses, it is a little like a restaurant today, a little bit like a guest house or a hotel, it is looking a little bit right and left what is happening and having the luck of having master bakers today who make very, very good bread, but that is no longer the majority. It is not because it has the sign “Master Baker” that the bread is automatically good.

Thanks to the professional attitude of Bob, the bakery Richard is included in these good addresses to note:

My parents were bakers, so I made bread with them till the age of nineteen or twenty, then afterwards I did a big pile of jobs and then, as you see, I came back to it.

What I wanted to do was to make again a bakery like it used to be, as it used to be in other times, well, that’s to say a place where everyone used to meet everyday, an everyday place, right, what is missing more and more in our towns, right!

The customers are there for the doors opening from six in the morning, that confirms that the objective has been met.

Personally I come here in the morning because I leave early, so it is important that there be a bakery open early in the morning, right.

And what’s more, they are very nice, so that spoils nothing.


And the bread is very good, he makes in an old way that you can scarcely find any today.

I don’t know, it’s cheerful, then that’s what they are doing here, right, making good bread. Well, that makes happiness and so that is a pleasure.

[1] Sweetbreads – buns such as brioches, croissants, and pains au chocolat

[2] EC – European Community – the forerunner of the European Union

[3] AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée – well defined regional product whose name is controlled

[4] Heat wave – the summer of 2003 was exceptionally warm in France

[5] http://www.minoteriedupuycouturier.fr

[6] Fois gras – Goose liver

[7] Type point chaud – A quick bread shop, which sells hot bread which has been prepared elsewhere

[8] Grande surface – hypermarket

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