Within two blocks from my apartment are 3 different bakeries. Even in the 21st century it is still very common in France for people to buy their daily bread from the local bakery. Baguettes are always popular, always fresh. French nutritionists, contrary to American diet fads, recommend the equivalent of 1 baguette per day for women and 1 1/2 baguette (or it’s equivalent) for men. That’s 2 feet of white, crusty, thick bread everyday and everyday, I see men and women leaving the bakeries with 2, 3 or even an arm load of baguettes for a day’s portion. Baguettes usually last no more than two days before they become so rock hard they could be used as a weapon.
The husband and I don’t go much for baguettes, we often get our carbs through pasta, rice, potatoes, pate feuilletée. Instead of baguettes we go for the pain cereal, a wheat bread with oats and grains baked in. It comes in a smaller portions and lasts a tad longer. Anyway, the hygienically wrapped, bleached-white, preservative filled bread is a rarity in France.
But what to eat when it’s in the morning, when you’re on the run, when you want something to fill you up and don’t want to have to carry two feet of bread around with you all day?
My personal favorite is the pain raisin. Traditionally this is like the American cinnamon roll without the frosting. Crusty like a croissant on the outside, in the center of the swirl is a rich, fresh cream, with raisins dotting the bread throughout. The cream isn’t too sweet, it’s not sour, and it has a yellow-off-whitish look to it that is simply inviting.
Nowadays, many bakeries have begun to skip the thick layer of cream and instead have a softer sweet bread dotted with raisins, a strange almost bread-like crust along with the trademark swirl. “Blech!” I say to them. If I wanted a brioche, I’d order a brioche.
However, there is a tiny little bakery right off the northwest corner Place Liberté in Toulon. Across from L’Etoile de l’Inde, this little bakery was once owned by an elderly man and his wife, and they’ve recently re-done the place and now (I believe) it’s being run by their children. (I’ll put up a better photo when there aren’t patrons eating right out front.)
They don’t bake much, but what they do bake is top notch. Their pain raisin are always creamy, crunchy on the outside, soft and light in the middle, with just enough raisins so that you can pretend you’re eating healthy while getting your sugar ration for the morning.
I stopped in there today on the way to work, not usually hungry in the mornings, I couldn’t resist when I saw the two lonesome pastries sitting in their window cases, waiting to be picked up by a girl who can’t help herself when it comes to the smell of baking sweet breads. It was delightful, it was filling and it was gone within the 10 minute walk to work.
I almost debated another indulgence from the bakery next to my office – for comparison purposes of course – but then reminded myself that their pain raisin – while soft and light – just doesn’t have that creaminess that is traditional to the pastry and such a rare find.