I first heard about this bread last spring, when I had lunch at Alain Passard’s temporary Végétable restaurant and a leaflet at the register piqued my curiosity.
La Paume (which means palm, as in “the palm of your hand”) is a naturally leavened bread created by Alain Passard, the chef from L’Arpège, and a family-owned flour mill just outside of Paris called Les Moulins Bourgeois. Passard shared the sourdough starter he’s been refining for years at his restaurant, while the mill provided the type of flour they needed, a light brown flour called farine bise (which has sadly nothing to do with kisses, as bise also means dark grey or greyish), halfway between white and whole-wheat. Together they created the recipe for this traditional hand-shaped loaf, a recipe that simply calls for flour, fresh water, levain and coarse grey salt. La Paume is now made and baked in about fifteen bakeries in and around Paris.
It’s not unusual for a flour mill to create a new bread, and then sell the process along with the flour to artisanal bread bakers. In fact, this type of collaboration started in the early 80′s, when the flour mills who provided authentic boulangeries got concerned about the competition from industrial bread sold at supermarkets. They wanted to heighten the quality of the bread that was made with their flour (and thus up the sales), and offered to provide technical instructions and marketing help: the bakeries that bought the recipe could place a sign outside (and sometimes make over the whole shop), use special paper bags, and benefit from the brand’s reputation.
They mostly worked on baguettes, and the first one to be so created was the Banette, followed by a slew of others, from the Campaillette to the Baguépi or the Flûte Gana. This was a real godsend at the time because the savoir-faire and taste for good bread had somehow been lost along the way (more about the fascinating history of bread here), and these products really contributed to the rebirth and generalization of quality bread. It would however be a mistake to place blind trust in these products, as not all of them are as artisanal as they look and sound. The quality can vary greatly from bakery to bakery even with the same recipe — your nostrils and taste buds will be the only judges.
I can’t help but regret that bread bakeries who have created the entire range of their breads themselves be now a rather rare occurence in Paris, but I have to admit I do love my Baguette des Prés — and now my Paume too, moist and flavorful with just the right density and crust, which I buy at the previously mentioned Coquelicot bakery.