Daily Bread Making at Le Pain Quotidien:
Guest post by Anna Van Leemputten.
There is nothing more welcoming than the smell of freshly baked bread. There is something very reassuring about the smell, no matter where it catches you – from an early morning walk to entering a friend’s house. It is part of the fabric of life and baking bread can be one of those almost hypnotic businesses, taking the angst of life out on the dough and sitting down to a coffee and a chat as it rises. There is no massage treatment, no Yoga exercise, and no hour of quietly watching the world go by, that will leave you clearer of bad thoughts than the homely act of making bread. But it is an act that not many people feel confident in performing. The memory of rock hard loaves created as part of school Home Economics can mean many simply don’t attempt the act, lacking the confidence to create something edible, let alone appreciated.
Thus entering the newly opened Le Pain Quotidien in Bicester Shopping Village, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A large airy building it had a bustling atmosphere and welcoming staff, with beautifully laid out tables and an immediate homely welcome. I had not been to the shopping village for some time and thus walking the length of the area, from the covered parking, it was interesting to note the developments. The area around Bicester Village has grown exponentially with new road layouts and a new large Tesco’s opening to serve the housing that is rapidly surrounding it, as well as a newly opened station, providing a transport link from Oxford Parkway, and making it a 45-minute journey from central London.
More recently the village has been in the news as a restaurant in the centre suffered a fire and there are a large number of portacabins at one end. However, like the proverbial phoenix, Bicester has simply brushed itself down and carried on whilst the re-building work continues, with shops expanding to two floors and new labels arriving. Thus, Alain Coumont could not have opened this little haven of peace at a better time.
From the very start of the morning, this was about getting involved and being welcomed into the ‘family’. Having lived and worked in Belgium, I am used to the Speelgoed café atmosphere, where people share tables and good food and we were immediately introduced into the fold with Didier Tayoro, our expert chef and well-travelled mentor, guiding us through the process of making five seed sourdough bread. Standing around a long table with complete strangers this was a great way to ‘break the ice’.
The sourdough culture – also used in making friendship cake – had already been cultivated for us and we set to, to mix and knead the sticky dough. Little tricks were discussed, such as soaking the seeds to keep them moist during cooking, placing the kneaded dough into a floured basket so that it rises evenly, and placing the dough to cook in a hot casserole dish in order to get a softer crust.
Bread needs to rise and whilst ours was doing so we started on making spelt quinoa scones. I am vegan and, therefore, these were sampled later by my family but I believe that Almond milk could be used as a substitute for full-fat milk in this recipe, and there are many alternatives to egg. These were again quickly produced, with a sense of group achievement as we laid them out on baking trays.
The idea of trying vegan food can be antipathy to many but with the colourful and diverse food that was on offer during our lunch, it would be very easy to eat as a vegan and not be aware that you were doing so. For this reason Le Pain Quotidien is very popular in New York, as well as expanding into other countries, and it is easy to see why. The colours were vibrant – no stodge here – with fresh and welcoming vegetables and grains. I often find that dining out can be ‘stressful’ for someone on a restricted diet, such as myself, but there were no such issues here. Food should be talked over and savoured and it should encourage conversation, which is part of the attraction of this restaurant. It is certainly an experience in itself, with the added bonus of being well fed before shopping, rather than the stressful grab a snack or sandwich, of most shopping trips. It would certainly be a destination experience for a mother and daughter time-out or friends get-together.
Bicester Village is evolving. With a new restaurant such as this, it is becoming something that perhaps I should visit more often than once a year?
Le Pain Quotidien
50 Pingle Drive Bicester