March 27, 2013

A Day at Bouchon Bakery

This post is the first in a three-part series documenting the Bouchon Bakery Book Project team’s visit to Bouchon Bakery in Yountville.

Lemon tarts with perfectly toasted whisps of meringue, a spring-colored line up of French macarons and a glistening golden breakfast pastry spread. These are just some of the delicious sights that you’re greeted with at Bouchon Bakery. I haven’t even mentioned the heavenly smells that come from the kitchen next door and continue to whet your appetite as you make your way from the bread baking in front to the buttery pastries browning in back. 

Ten weeks into the project of baking our way through the Bouchon Bakery Book, our team had the incredible opportunity of visiting the Bakery kitchen and meeting the chefs. In the time spent testing recipes, we have unanimously and consistently praised the quality of the recipes and our ability to successfully execute everything to look as beautiful as photographer Deborah Jones depicted in the book. It is one thing to enjoy good pastries and attempt to make them ourselves but to then spend time with the people that make Bouchon Bakery flourish brings a whole new level of appreciation for the pastries.   

To Chef Matthew, Chef Janine, Sarah and Deborah, thank you.

Upon arrival in the morning we purchased a selection of treats so we could taste what we’re aspiring to create as we continue to work through the book. Clockwise from top left we had a pistachio citrus brioche, passionfruit macaron, “Oh No You Didn’t” a chocolate-covered version of the macaron because plain was not enough sweetness for breakfast and lastly, an almond croissant.

Led by Head Bread Baker, Chef Matthew McDonald we were whisked behind the counter and into the bread-making room where he explained the workings of the 16,000-pound deck oven. The steam generator creates enough moisture that at times it travels next door and fogs up the retail counter.

Bouchon Bakery not only provides bread for Bouchon Bistro next door and The French Laundry further down the street, a team will bake wholesale breads for shops in the Napa area. According to Chef Matthew, to keep up with production the oven is constantly running and there is always someone at the bakery working at every hour of the day.

When we entered the main kitchen, the bakers were hard at work shaping boules for proofing. One side of the space is devoted to breads and the other for pastries. Modest in size, the kitchen makes use of every inch of square footage so no matter where we looked there were sweets. Head Pastry Chef Janine Weissman explained that the bakery continues to produce more every year and has yet to reach the ceiling on production.

The sheeter was being used for croissant dough when we walked by. The machine rolls out the dough evenly and keeps all the layers of butter and dough in tact so the final product is very flaky. In front were huge slabs of butter that put my tiny 4-ounce blocks to shame.

Croissant Perfection

What happens with a less-than-perfect macaron? It becomes an “Oh No You Didn’t”, one of the treats we had at the start of the day. By hand, each one is enrobed in chocolate and finished with a sprinkling of sea salt. Once the chocolate has set, the treat is wrapped in colored foil.

The sign in the kitchen reads “Sense of Urgency”. Already tight quarters, we added 7 extra bodies to the space that day and the bakery staff remained focused as ever, working their way around us to get their tasks done.

We had a surprise that day as Deborah Jones, the photographer for the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, happened to be on site so she stopped by to shoot some of our visit. Watching her work was fascinating. We didn’t even notice she was there most of the time as she quietly maneuvered around us to get the best angles for her shots. Then she took the time to autograph our favorite images in the book. We have been so inspired by her photos that every week of baking we try and out-do ourselves styling and photographing our food in creative ways.

Chef Matthew loads the belt with baguettes that he demonstrated how to shape. As if we weren’t already indulged enough that day, we all got to shape our own baguettes as well. More in part two of this post series.

We ended the day out on the patio of Bouchon Bakery, chatting with Chef Matthew and autographing books. He signed ours and we signed his.

That day we learned a lot about the bakery and bread-making but the one thing that stuck with me was something Chef Matthew said just before leaving. After spending a good part of his afternoon with us, someone asked how long his day was, to which he replied “I wish I could say I leave when I want but I have an obligation to my team and to spend time with them. It is one of the things I love about what I do.” It is satisfying to hear that behind the exquisitely-made pastries that fill the cases and counters, the bakers have a real camaraderie through the love of their craft. It makes tasting there treats that much sweeter.

Part 2: In Conversation with Pastry Chef Janine Weissman
Photography credit: Jenn Yee

1 comment:

  1. It's so cool to visit establishments and take photos...thanks for sharing.