La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc
Women who run bakeries are a rare breed in France, and the number of bakers of either sex who use wood-burning ovens is even smaller. According to maître artisan boulanger Véronique Mauclerc, there are only four such ovens in France. Two of those ovens are in Paris, one at her bakery: , an historically listed property in the 19th arrondissement near the Parc des Buttes-Charmont.
The wood-fired oven is a massive early 20th Century construction of brick and cast iron with two major parts: the firebox (at knee level in the photo above) and the oven's interior, which requires two hours to heat. During the warmup period, Mlle. Mauclerc or her assistant needs to add wood very 15 minutes and periodically rotate a circular spout that sends hot air toward the back and sides of the oven until the baking stones are heated evenly.
Finally, when the oven has reached its peak temperature of 340° C (644° F), Mlle. Mauclerc can start loading bread dough into the interior with long wooden peels. Loading 100 loaves takes about 10 minutes, and the bread is baked after 20 minutes at an average temperature of 265° C (509° F). The oven holds its heat well: Even after baking and removal of the loaves, its temperature is normally at 210° C or 410° F.
Although the wood-fired oven is the centerpiece of La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc, it's not the only thing that makes the bakery special. Mlle. Mauclerc prides herself on using only organic ingredients, including wild airborne yeasts that take three weeks to ferment into a natural levain or starter. This approach requires more time than normal bread preparation does, with dough being prepared the evening before baking. Mlle. Mauclerc starts work around 2 a.m., and the first loaves go into the oven at 7 a.m., an hour before the boulangerie opens for the morning rush.
The wood oven is used mostly for larger loaves that benefit from the intense heat; baguettes, small breads, and pastries are baked in conventional ovens (although they, too, use organic flours and other natural ingredients). The pastries, by the way, are outstanding: We had a first-rate apple tart that was tasted like a country-style baked apple in a pastry shell, plus a brownie that had an ususual dry, crumbly texture with a powerful jolt of chocolate flavor.
We toured La Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc through a Meet the Parisians at Work program that's offered by by Meetingthefrench.com and the Paris Convention & Visitors Bureau. The bilingual visit to the bakery included samples of freshly made breads--among them, a tasty nut bread and a delicate brioche with saffron that was invented by Mlle. Mauclerc. The tour cost per person was a very reasonable nine euros.
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