Les Sœurs Sucrées – how bread is made

I can’t say I have been converted to drinking hot beverages from a bowl since living in France, though living above a bakery has made it difficult to avoid breakfast the French way. With the scent of coffee and pastry wafting out the door, mignardises and pâtisseries stacked high in the window, Les Sœurs Sucrées even has its own little salon de thé and has been my go-to for viennoiseries, baguettes and the occasional pâtisserie since I moved here. My first of many trips downstairs was the day after I moved in: after a lot of hand gesturing, Franglais, and exchanging of quizzical frowns between the blonde lady behind the till and myself, my nonplussed expression at ‘une tradition’ was ultimately met with a defeated smile. After giving up and the handing me the larger of the two baguette types in the bakery, some pink meringues in the display case caught my eye and six months down the line, Véronique agrees that she has probably sold me more 30 centime coquelicot meringues than anyone in Les Halles…

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Though pain de mie exists in France and the stereotype that all Parisians walk around with a baguette under their arm is (somewhat) exaggerated,  it is still considered one of the most iconic foodstuffs to represent the Hexagon… or is it? Because any baguette I bought would keep going stale more quickly than une tradi(tion), I asked Véronique why the tradition tasted so much better and lasted longer, and she replied saying, “…you can tell when the crust is good because they sing”. Met with another puzzled look, she invited me to look round the back of the bakery to see how proper bread is made.

The tradition is chewier and shorter than a baguette, and is made in a very specific way. Very precise amounts of… a mix of AOC-regulated farines panifiables de blé, eau potable, and levure de panification (or levain) are mixed in a pétrin to make a pâte and sel de cuisine is sometimes added at the end. The processes of rabat and pointage are carried out a certain number of times to help the bread rise.

The French ministry of Agriculture uses AOC, in this case the “Label Rouge”, to distinguish between flour that is raw, sans additif.

"Appellation d'origine contrôlée" label

“Appellation d’origine contrôlée” label

Margot (below) started working as an apprentice at the bakery at the age of fifteen and after two years, was doing paid work. Many pâtissiers like her work from a young age to become an expert, then go on to start their own pâtisseries. Here, Margot is in charge of the pétrissage and the pesage of the dough, which ensures the mie is soft and thick and the croûte is craquante and croustillante. The dough is then divided and undergoes tournage.

They are then left to rest in bacs left in the chambres de pousse in damp couches.

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Though their weight is equal, the baguette is cooked for less time than the tradition which results in two different types of bread – the longer cooking-time allows more steam to escape from the tradition’s mie into the croûte, thus creating a lighter, airier loaf

After they’ve been left to rise, Ben (below) “signs” the dough. He’s been working with bread for a very long time! He’s in charge of handling the boulangerie in the morning. The dough is then put into a special oven called a four à six bouches. The bread is cooked at between around 260 and 275 degrees, as the temperature of the bout is higher than the sole due to convection. As the bread’s cooking in the oven, you can see the steam pouring out, and after Ben took them out the oven, you really could hear them singing! they make a cracking, whistling sound.

And so the bread comes out looking like the picture on the right below, the baguette’s mie more airée with more and larger trous, and that of the tradition, more dense, crémeuse and dorée/jaune.

After finding out pretty much everything you need to know to make the best French baguette you can get, Véronique even showed me to the cellar, where all the pâtisserie takes place. 

It was the beginning of the year when I went, so there was a lot of pâte feuilletée around (for the galette des rois).

If you do ever happen to be passing through the area, definitely visit the bakery! It may not be the most famous in Paris or have an insanely large array of sweets, but you won’t find a welcome more chaleureuse anywhere else… if ever you’re passing by rue Coquillière, pop into Les Sœurs Sucrées!

Left: Tarte citron meringuée (lemon meringue pie) Right: Tarte aux framboises (raspberry tart), Foreground: Tarte aux Fraises (strawberry tart)

Tarte aux fraises (strawberry tart)

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