Monday, December 1, 2014

Marseille: Boulangerie Dame Farine

I was planning to do a Meet the Baker post on my friend Marie-Christine Aractingi who recently opened a bakery in Marseille, France, but circumstances went against us. The Toussaint holiday weekend was around the corner and Marie had a hectic week. Both the lab and the shop were unusually busy and we couldn't do a proper interview. But the Man and I were in the city visiting friends who have two sons, age fifteen and nine. These kids have the proverbial growing boy appetite which means we brought home a lot of bread every time we stopped by...
...and bread is very eloquent at Dame Farine.
In fact it can't stop talking and it says a lot about the baker. So if you ever find yourself in Marseille, a city of mind-blowing contrasts which I personally find both hard to fall for and impossible to dismiss, make a beeline for 77 avenue de la Corse, not far from the Vieux Port and Palais du Pharo. and get a loaf or two. Your tastebuds will thank you. Plus you may meet la boulangère! If you do, please say hi! to her for me.
In the hands of a skilled baker, bread not only talks, it sings. Take Marie's petit-épeautre intégral (whole-grain einkorn) for instance. Buy a loaf and cut yourself a slice (or rip off a chunk if you can't wait), close your eyes, bring it to your mouth and bite.
Chances are you will find yourself transported to the hills of Haute-Provence, the very ones you roamed in your imagination if you ever read Marcel Pagnol's souvenirs or watched Jean de Florette or Manon des sources. I have had einkorn before but nothing that ever approached the flavor of this one, grown in a hardscrabble land where the sun is fierce and water elusive. The bread reminds me of pain d'épices (even though it contains no spices or sweetener)  but mostly, it brings back the drives south in the summers of my childhood when the first clue that the grandes vacances (summer vacation) had indeed arrived was the scent of the maquis (the pervasive Mediterranean scrubland) drifting in through the open car windows. However you don't need blasts from the past to love Marie's petit-épeautrethe aforementioned boys couldn't get enough of it. I was impressed. Especially because the bread is whole-grain and they are raised mostly on baguettes. Of course it helps that, despite their tender age, they are both erstwhile gourmets with a devouring interest (pun intended!) in experiencing new tastes.
Also strongly evocative of terroir is Marie's fougasse aux olives. While petit-épeautre takes you to Provence's fragrant and stony hills, the fougasse brings to mind cobblestoned streets lined with colorful market stalls and lazy lunches under the vine arbor. The olives are plump and plentiful (I love it when a baker is generous with ingredients) and the crumb-crust ratio is spot-on perfect, so that buying a couple of loaves (or more) is the only way to make sure there'll be some left at mealtime.

Baguettes au levain: one white, one wholegrain
At Dame Farine, all flours and most ingredients are organic and locally sourced. The bread is hand-crafted in small batches. The levains are mild, the mixer is gentle, fermentation is long. Even though the bakery is located on a busy avenue, it feels like an old-fashioned village boulangerie: locals come in, greet the baker, leave with bread and brioche; kids examine the display of sweet rolls and carefully select their after-school snacks.
There is laughter and gossip. People linger and ask questions. The city isn't familiar yet with the flours Marie likes to use: kamut, spelt, rye, buckwheat, chestnut. Some customers are more daring than others but all look and wonder and you can see in the timid ones' eyes that they are sorely tempted and that, one day, they too might take a wild leap into the unknown.
It doesn't hurt that the baker is a poet and that her breads carry inspired names. The whole-grain kamut is miche Cléopâtre, the big rustic white loaf Petit-Poucet (Little Tom Thumb) and, in a stroke of genius, the whole-wheat is called Soleil Levain (soleil levant means "rising sun.") When I saw that, I couldn't resist brightening up our day by taking home a chunk.
On our last visit we left with half-a-dozen castagnous (Marie comes up with a different seasonal roll every week). Made from chestnut flour and whole chestnuts, they taste like an old-fashioned French Christmas. Guess who made short work of those!

Castagnous (chestnut rolls)
There is a wonderful feeling of community around the new bakery. The neighborhood tradespeople threw a block party when it opened. The mayor gave a toast. Friends came from Aix. There were flowers and smiles. Tears of emotion too. Word of mouth is doing the rest with help from the media. Locals have started saying "tu" to Marie, to kiss her on both cheeks, to ask how she is doing. She is getting to know them, to remember who likes his or her baguette bien cuite (dark) and who deplores the crisp crust but still comes back for more. On Saturdays, some customers arrive in late afternoon and leave with armfuls of loaves, a sure sign they live in other boroughs or maybe in the suburbs and are stocking up for the week before heading home. She loves interacting with them all.
Delphine, one of Marie's new neighbors, runs a safranière (a saffron farm) in nearby Aubagne. We visited her on a gorgeous Saturday morning (more about that in an upcoming post) and were delighted to see that the bread used in the tasting came from Dame Farine. Bread made with local grains, spread with locally-grown-saffron-infused jams: we were eating the landscape. It tasted marvelous.

5 comments:

  1. Hi MC,
    What wonderful looking loaves. This indeed is one very talented young woman and I love to see that in a professional world that is primarily male dominated. Please tell me what loaf is it that you have posted in the 6th photo down from the top. Very rustic looking with flour on top and fougasse in the background. I am thinking it is the Einkorn loaf but am not sure as it differs in appearance from the loaf that she is holding so proudly in her hands. It looks scrumptious and I am curious if it is 100% einkorn or a blend of other flours as well, if you can tell me without giving away her 'secrets'.
    As always, thank you for sharing this with us - a peek into this young woman's world. I am glad that the community has embraced her and her bakery. I wish her many years of being a blessing in the community where she has chosen to feed her 'neighbors'. :)
    Take Care,
    JanetH

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  2. Hello JanetH and thank you for your comment. I too am very glad to see more young women join the profession. The lighter bags of flour and smaller mixers are a big help! To answer your question, I think the loaf you are wondering about is the buckwheat (sarrasin). The einkorn looks very different (see pic 9, bread labeled Pain du coin) and the big one she holds in her hands is the Petit Poucet (T65 wheat flour + levain). I will ask Marie if she could mind telling us a bit more about the buckwheat.

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  3. Hi again JanetH, so I asked Marie and she said: 35% buckwheat, 30% rye starter. The rest is T80 (high-extraction wheat flour).

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  4. Hi MC,
    Thanks for the pointer. Now another question - is the crumb shot in photo # 10 the einkorn loaf? I have einkorn berries and have used it in loaves up to 30% but my crumb looks different - I love hers so maybe I shall up the % and see what I get.
    Thanks for asking her about the loaf in # 6. I love the looks of it too. I have yet to bake with buckwheat - not a common grain here and it does have quite a distinctive flavor….but now I am tempted especially knowing she combined with with a rye sour which does make sense in terms of compatibility of flavor/texture in my mind.
    A side note - One of the loaves that is a favorite with a lot of the people I bake for in the Fall is one from your site - the Maple-Oatmeal loaf you wrote about years ago. Noah Elber is its creator. I always mean to let you know when the complements start coming in but, alas, I get busy and it doesn't get done. So thank you for highlighting that baker too….but I do love all the baker's you write about….each one adding a new twist and personality to the mix.
    Thanks again for your original post and your research as well.
    JanetH

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  5. You are welcome, JanetH, and yes, photo # 10 shows the einkorn crumb. Amazing when you think it is 100% whole-grain.
    So glad to hear about Noah's maple-oat! It is such a good bread, I am not surprised people like it.
    Happy baking! You are a true baker-trooper!

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