La Paume

La Paume

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.

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  • http://papillesetpupilles.blogspot.com/ papilles et pupilles

    what a wonderful bread !

  • Debbie

    Very interesting to hear about a part white, part whole grain loaf being baked commercially. It’s a style of bread we eat regularly at home, but I’ve never seen it sold here in the States. Occasionally you can find an artisinal loaf with a minor amount of whole wheat added for flavor or a 100 percent whole wheat loaf.

    I bake my own bread and it’s always some variation of whole wheat, white combination bread, usually a 75:25 ratio with a little extra gluten to help the rise. I also love mixed flour pasta, though pasta seems to work better with the 50:50 ratio used in your Paume.

    Sitting here eating New York-style cocoa, coffee, molasses, raisin infused pumpernickle with poppyseed spread on top. Yum.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful loaf, Clotilde. I’ve just recently discovered your blog and enjoy it immensely.

  • Neil

    Clotilde, I first ran into a similar loaf in Sarasota, FL many years ago – the bakery called it country French. Like Debbie, when I bake, it is the one I make most often. I am fond of the European style breads with crust and texture. It is not something readily found here in Memphis.

  • http://lindystoast.com lindy

    This is an exteremely interesting approach to artisan bread.I have seen nothing like this marketing approach in the US.It raises so many questions- not that I expect you to necessarily be able to answer them all.

    I wonder, do the mills ever inspect the bakeries to see if the directions are followed properly? What if a baker has an innovation he or she thinks improves the bread? Are they permitted to use it?

    Must they then call it by another name?

    Are these recipes and levains available to home bakers, or only in bulk to commercial bakers?

    I wish that bread history site had an English version.

  • http://80breakfasts.blogspot.com joey

    What lovely looking bread…I love bread that looks like that…all homey and rustic :) Interesting process, this collaboration…

    I’ve been a long-time semi-lurker here. Your’s was the 2nd blog I ever visited and it has been a joy to read from the very beginning. I have no idea why it took me so long leave an actual comment…but I’ll be dropping a line more often :)

    You have such a beautiful site Clotilde…it’s really an inspiration!

  • http://www.jayateas.com/blog/ Sunil Joshi

    Bread is my favorite, and sourdough bread is my favorite among breads. So when I read about La Paume, my mouth started watering. Its almost impossible to get good sourdough bread here in Princeton. We have a wonderful little bakery in town called Witherspoon Bakery which bakes some delicous breads, but their sourdough breads are not the best.

    I have tried to bake sourdough bread myself in my house, but lacking a decent oven, my breads always turnout slightly discolored pale cousins of what you have shown here. Alas, I wish I had access to a bread like the one described here! Or at least a recepie for baking something like this at home.

  • Alisa

    I so love knowing the back stories!
    (This does bring up the question of the name La Jeu de Paume, for a musée…..)

  • rachel Keller

    This is making me feel so fortunate to live in the SF bay area, as this is exactly the type of bread I buy every week, not only from the market I frequent that carries it, but sometimes extravagantly from the bakery itself at the Ferry building farmers’ market. I’m sure you remember Acme Bread, Clotilde. I wonder what you thought of it. I love their Levain, I feel more secure when I have a loaf of it around the house and it keeps for days! They have just come out with a 100% whole wheat version, also good, even more rustic…

  • http://www.zenfoodism.com/ Beth – The Zen Foodist

    That bread looks scrumptious. I wish I could reach into the photo and tear off a big hunk of it!

  • http://glutenfreegirl.blogspot.com shauna

    Well, it’s moments like these that I actually feel grateful that I’m not in Paris. Often, I long to be there, strolling down those streets in the liquid light.

    But looking at that bread made me so hungry for it that I would desperately wish to have it. And not being able to eat gluten, I’d just have to look at it, smell it, hunger for it.

    Ah, better than it’s just a photograph for me.

    Wonderful job as always, Clotilde.

  • joan

    the photo of the restaurant Vegetable…the light fittings look like stylised wine glasses..that is if they ARE the light fittings :-).

    ah, bread….heavenly food…olive oil is also heavenly..:-)

  • http://www.robertgray5.com Denn

    I frequent that carries it, but sometimes extravagantly from the bakery itself at the Ferry building farmers’ market. I’m sure you remember Acme Bread, Clotilde. I wonder what you thought of it. I love their Levain, I feel more secure when I have a loaf of it around the house and it keeps for days! They have just come out with a 100% whole wheat version, also good, even more rustic…

  • http://www.ruckusboys.com Kate

    This is an exteremely interesting approach to artisan bread.I have seen nothing like this marketing approach in the US.It raises so many questions- not that I expect you to necessarily be able to answer them all.

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