Photo by Terrence Henry
Bread, when done right, is hard to beat. The right baguette or boule, with a crust that cracks and pops, and a crumb (the soft inner portion of the bread) that pulls apart like cotton candy--yeasty and moist cobwebs that practically melt in your mouth--can be euphoric.[Curator's note: Some people like cotton candy for a crumb, including our estimable writer! I agree about the pull-apart part, but like a little chew and heft. Everything else, right on.] A good baguette will entice you to try a bit as you leave the bakery; a great baguette will disappear well before you make it home.
But bread, when done anything other than right, can be downright devastating.
Washington, D.C., suffers from a dearth of quality bakeries, and I fear the same may be true for Buenos Aires. While there are plenty of bakeries in this city, and they make some truly fine pastries and cookies (which I'll post about later), I have yet to run into a great, or even good, baguette.
It's really not that hard to make a good boule or baguette, even at home, and especially when you have an antique bread oven at your disposal.
My hopes were built up for L'Epi Boulangerie, a French bakery in the Chacarita neighborhood. The place was started by two French expat bakers, Bruno Gillot and Olivier Hanocq, who found an old wood-burning bread oven dating to 1911 and opened their boulangerie to much acclaim. But like so many fallen greats, for their next step the two decided to become TV chefs. Their show, "Boulangerie: Con Bruno y Olivier" airs every weekday on Argentina's answer to the Food Network, El Gourmet. (Click here to watch a segment where they make "Foie Gras and Roasted Potato Sandwiches".)
The show is delightful.
Their bakery is not.
Perhaps Bruno and Olivier aren't at their boulangerie much any more, being too busy with their TV show. Perhaps that could explain the surly, indifferent staff at the counter, who refuse to allow paying customers to use the restroom, and then complain when you don't have exact change. Perhaps that could be the reason why their baguette Parisienne sure looked like the real thing, but made you understand upon tasting it how a dog must feel after that first bite into a hot dog chew-toy. The baguette's crust didn't crackle: it bent back. And its crumb was a dense, dry wasteland, lacking any true flavor.
Photo by Terrence Henry
But perhaps I'm being too hard on L'Epi. They do, after all, make some pleasant pastries, like the pain au chocolat above, and a wonderfully dark and molasses-rich honey bread.
But it's really not that hard to make a good boule or baguette, even at home, and especially when you have an antique bread oven at your disposal. So while I plan to go back and give Bruno and Olivier a second shot, for now I am wondering what the real story is behind this disappointment.
Roseti 1769, Chacarita, Buenos Aires