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The American Boulangerie, a cookbook for home bakers

Pascal Rigo’s early years in a little village near Bordeaux, France, sound idyllic from a food-lover’s perspective, although parts of it might break a few child labour laws nowadays.

“It started when I was seven years old,” he writes. “I would show up at the [village] bakery every Saturday afternoon and hang around for an hour or two, watching every­thing and talking with ‘the guys’. The bakers didn’t seem to mind having me around. I didn’t get in the way, but I don’t think I was much help at first. I guess you could say I was more like a mascot. After a while, though, [the bakery owner] Audouin figured out that I might actually be able to take some work off his hands, and I got my first real assignment, helping with the galette des rois. At Boulangerie Audouin, this cake, which is usually made only at Christmastime was a year-round speciality, and my official entree into the business was filling the puff pastry with frangipane cream. Eventually, I was allowed to cut the pastry rounds myself and put the trays in the oven … and judge the exact moment when they were perfectly baked …

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“By the time I was eleven, I had been allowed to cut my first loaf of bread … In my mid-teens, M. Audouin sold his bakery and I got a job in the next town over … Well, I shouldn’t really say ‘job’ because I was paid in bread, croissants, and an occasional kick in the butt.”

After university and then earning the baking certificat d’aptitude professionnelle – which is required to open a bakery in France – Rigo writes that the economic situation in his country in the 1980s led him to try his luck in the United States, first in Los Angeles, then in San Francisco. He opened Bay Bread, bought a flour mill and opened a boulangerie, which was an immediate success.

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The book starts with recipes for bread, which makes sense – a boulangerie wouldn’t be a boulangerie if it didn’t make bread. The very first recipe is levain nature – a natural bread starter that gets its flavour and leavening power from wild yeast. Other chapters are devoted to viennoiserie (croissants and their variants, puff pastry and brioche, and recipes that use these doughs); quiches, tartines and sandwiches; house specialities; country-style pastries; sweet and savoury crepes; and children’s pastries.

As promised in the title of the book, the recipes are easy enough for home bakers: probably the hardest ingredient to find would be the beeswax needed to brush the copper moulds for canneles. Other recipes include gateau Basque; bittersweet choco­late cake; buche de Noel; rustic apple tart; chocolate-orange pound cake; goat cheese tart with pears; and chocolate truffles.

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