The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

An other one from Montreal, Quebec, Canada

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Ghobz's picture

An other one from Montreal, Quebec, Canada


I'm an other new member from Montreal. Well, actually, I live in suburbia, on Montreal's South-Shore, a 20 mn drive from down-town when the bridges are not strangled by traffic or closed because they menace to collapse in the Saint-Laurent river. So while we're lucky enough to have excellent bakeries around, there are just not enough of them to cater to the population of the greater Montreal with every-day freshly baked bread (as it's the case in most of France's towns for example). If we want good, fresh, artisanal bread on a daily basis here, we would have to drive an awful lot or to be awfully patient in mind-blowing, depressing traffic jams or deal for hours with a totally dysfunctionnal, expensive bus/metro system (such a mess...)

I immigrated from France to Canada 16 years ago and I can't, to this day and for the life of me, get used to industrial sliced bread, or "levain-flavoured" fake "artisan" bread. Since artisanal bread isn't a luxury or a "once a month" treat in my culture , I need it every day on our table and in the lunch boxes of the men I love: A husband and 3 sons for whom I'm fortunate enough to be able to "make home", full time, having the choice to renounce to work outside. Therefore, I bake every day so not to drive the 40 km (25 miles) to the nearest traditional bakery several times a week.

Once a month, I go to a local bakery supplier and buy organic flours and grains, bulk. It's sustainable for us to function like that since we're a family of 5 and we can go through a 20 kg (44 pounds) bag of flour before it even thinks to go stale. When the boys were younger, I had to carefully manage freezer space to keep organic flours fresh. Not any more since they grew up, their appetite grew accordingly, and they added the appetite of their pre-teen or teenager's friends to the family food supply equation.

I always baked with fresh yeast when living in France. While growing up, it wasn't so much the lack of good bakeries that brought me to bake a lot, but the fact that we were a big household, a family with 8 kids and parents with an extensive social life (not rare to have 12 to 30 unexpected, unannounced guest on any given week-end, a perpetual open house). Not one of us sibblings wanted to walk around with 10 to 15 baguettes from the bakery to our home. We had our share of finger pointing and bad jokes about our occasional haul as well as furious stares from the bakery's client in line behind us, watching us empty the shelves. Also, my mother had to find ways to feed us on a reasonable budget and buying retail was expensive. So she taught us to bake and imposed bread baking among our numerous chores. We took turns all year long, school or no school, day-in and day-out, to produce enough bread for our crowded table (french bread, ethnic flat breads, sweat doughs, pie shells, and so on).

Once settled here in Montreal, I had to switch to instant yeast (extremly difficult to find fresh cake-yeast here, unless you want to buy it by the 2 pound package). Now, equiped with a honest library from french and american artisan bread author, I'm trying to make a transition from commercial yeast to levain. I rarely knead and bake the same day, unless I'm making pain de mie or an american classic loaf, both of which are my "I'm in such a hurry" breads, my version of "fast food bread" of sort. I make pain de campagne or baguette or pain de ménage often, and those necessitate to work the dough over a 24 hours++ span. So the "timing" and technical part of the process is ok for me to adapt to. It's the "gut feeling" of working with levain that I still miss and can't seem to acquire as easily as I thought I would. Actually, I'm quite suprised and caught off-guard by the temperamental nature of wild-yeast baking.

So here I am, with a big gap to fill in my baking repertoire, and hoping I develop skills in wild yeast bread making. And since community relationships are as a necessary stapple as bread in my culture, I will be glad to document and try to render in usable recipes my instinctive baking, drawn from the traditional homemaker education I got growing up in a moroccan family installed in France since the early 50's and therefore infused with french homemaking traditions.

Glad to be here.

PaddyL's picture

God help you, you poor thing, having to faces the bridges for bread!  I know it's terrible, and the traffic on the Island is even worse; I, for one, am not looking forward to winter.  I've made starters with just flour and water and they came out very well, though the one I stuck with is a buttermilk starter that has some commercial yeast in it.  There's a reasonably good patisserie up the street from us, their pain au levain being one of their best breads, but you probably won't be able to make bread as they do in France without using French flour and a French oven, unless you can figure out how to inject steam into your oven.  Hang around here on this site long enough and you'll be able to make good artisinal bread in no time.  I look forward to hearing about your attempts!  Good luck.

Ghobz's picture

Oh, don't mention winter time just yet please. We felt prisonners in our town this summer, when there was no snow or ice to worry about. I can imagine we'll feel even more isolated during the winter months. Each and every little normal life event has to be carefully planned according to the news we have about the state of the bridges and their accessibility. We live near Mercier bridge and imagine that, the next option to get on the island is... you guessed it, Champlain bridge! Impromptu lunch with a friend on the Plateau? Foget it! Want some good cheese from Atwater market? Don't even think about it unless you plan to spend the entire day on the island to make the most of rush-hour open access on both sides of the bridge.

I wish we were less dependant on the Island, but we're not. You reminded me, I'd better stock up on flours and grains from Farinex so I don't have to go monthly during winter.

I'm not necessarily looking to reproduce the taste of french bread because, you're right, it would be quite difficult to do so. I can have Type 55 flour here but why bother? Quebec's mills produce high quality flours allowing to obtain all the attributes of excellent bread. And to be honest, when I visit my family in France, while I'm delighted to buy and eat good artisanal bread there, I find Quebec's artisanal bread isn't less desirable, not at all. There are nuances it the texture and taste, but I can't say I find one to be better than the other, just a bit different. It's the same, I must add, when it comes to vegetables or fruits or pasta... A bell pepper here tastes different from a bell pepper in France, same for carrots or garlic, or veal or chicken. And then when I go to Morocco visit my family there, everything tastes different again, not totally different of course but flavors and textures have different nuances.

Thank you for your welcome.

callmejs's picture

I like your idea of buying in bulk, specially after hearing you guys talk about winter...  How is the flour at Farinex?  Possible to get an account with them without a registered company name?

Ghobz's picture

Farinex has a very large selection of flours, for all tastes and baker's styles. I buy mostly from their organic selection, with few exceptions like Moulin de Soulanges Baguette Flour. You don't need a registered company account if you go there and buy at their reception desk. It costs them to cater to us, non registered client with low-quantities purchases but they still accept to sell us (the small quantities we buy do not generate enough money to cover the labour cost to serve us since they're organised to sell large quantities). So it's important to go there prepared with a list, complete with the reference of each product you want, so the receptionnist doesn't have to spend too much time helping you. Once there with your wish list you made from their listing on their web-site, she will tell you the price for each item and you can decide what you buy. They won't give you pricing by phone or email if you don't have an account but the receptionnist (a very welcoming and nice person) will give that info when you're there. Once the receptionist issues your invoice and you pay it, you go to the warehouse (adjacent building) and wait for them to fetch your items, you put them in you car and you're done.

Pay attention to the quantities when you choose your items on their website. You don't want to find yourself with 200 pounds of anything.