Saturday, 17 May 2008

La Fête du Pain

A beret topped man bicycling down a tree lined street with baguettes peeking out of his basket is easily conjured up at the mention of France. This past week, the mysteries of the baguette have been exposed at the Fête du Pain, which is taking place in front of Notre Dame through May 18th.

At the Fête, boulangers can be seen combining the components of the bread: flour, water, yeast, salt; rolling dough that has been mixed in huge temperature-controlled mixing bowls, hand-stretching the dough out onto baking sheets, and cooking the dough for approximately 2o minutes, forming crispy, perfectly browned baguettes.

If the process wasn’t completely understood under the big tents where this was all being staged, there was a film in a nearby smaller tent, showing the entire process from the growing of the wheat, to the testing the composition of the wheat to ensure the proper makeup of proteins. Wheat that doesn’t meet the standard is rejected. Lastly, the techniques of making the designs on the bread were demonstrated, with a teacher scolding a student for not having the design properly lined up on the baguette. Oh, the standards. It was an interesting film.

Other agricultural products tried to catch some attention during the fête. There was a sugar booth where a video tracing the process of refined sugar was shown. There was a milk and a cheese booth. I scored at the cheese booth by finding a book that gives a cheese tour of France. For example, the fact that le Livarot was the most consumed cheese in Normandy in the 1800’s, and was considered the “poor man’s meat” is just one detail found in the book. It suggests sights to see while savoring a region’s cheeses. Detailed descriptions of how the cheeses are made and thus, their unique flavors are delightful to read.

My daughter’s and son’s classes had the privilege of rolling out, shaping and later eating their own bread at the Fête du Pain. The boulangers and helpers were very warm and animated with the students. It was a fun field trip for the two of them, especially with time at the park and the zoo to fill out the day. Lucky kids!

Breadmaking takes a lot of concentration!

Enjoying the end product.

The whole class in a section of the bus. They were so quiet!

Animal races at the park.

The hands were eager to build at this "U.N. sandbox".

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