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If, as it appeared when I started reading this book, that Pascal Rigo's cookbook was to be about nothing more than bread (as Boulangerie in French means bakery), it would have been a worthy book. In that case, it would have been similar to Nancy Silverton's excellent `Breads from the La Brea Bakery'. But, it covers a much broader range of goods, including many things typically found in a Patisserie plus a wide range of `tartines' and sandwiches. Thus, it essentially covers the range of Silverton's three books on bread, pastry, and sandwiches, although not in a great a depth as Silverton in her three titles.
From the evidence of this book, it seems to me that the author's bakery, Boulangerie Bay Bread is one of the establishments which continues to keep San Francisco on the short list of American cities for really great cuisine. It is also evidence of the place of French baking as the first among equals with the two other great centers of European baking traditions, the Italians (primarily bread) and the Austrians (primarily pasteries).
In the making of bread, this book is not for the uncommitted. It starts with directions for making a classic `Levain Nature' or bread starter, including instructions for how to keep it alive, how to refresh it for use, and how to use it. This chapter brings back memories of the chapter in Tony Bourdain's `Kitchen Confidential' book which deals with a totally off the wall baker who maintained a really obnoxious sponge, but made terrific bread. But I digress. The next sections in the chapter on bread give recipes for various artisinal breads based on this starter. What is odd is that there is no recipe for baguettes, and no explanation for its absence. This chapter has the only really puzzling recipe instruction. In the list of ingredients for whole wheat bread, there is a call for six and a half to eight cups of organic whole-wheat flour. I immediately expected to see directions for preparing the dough with the Italian well method of bringing in only as much flour as you need, but there was nothing like that. The instruction is to simply dump all the flour into a large bowl and mix with starter, water, and salt. Very, very strange. With the emphasis on using organic wheat and European butter, I was surprised to find most measurements in volume rather than weight. This is odd, but it fits the direction of the book as covering a broad range of French baking and pastry products, not just bread. If bread is what you want, I recommend either Nancy Silverton's book cited above or Peter Reinhart's `The Baker's Apprentice' or Rose Levy Beranbaum's `The Bread Bible'. You can come back to Rigo's book for some specialties such as `Fougasse sur Plaque', the French answer to foccacia.
After bread comes Croissants and Pastries. The highlights of this chapter are the recipe for puff pastry, various types of croissants (actually created in Vienna, not Paris), brioche, and some pastries derived from brioche. If you are thrilled with the idea of making brioche, I recommend you check out Nancy Silverton's recipe. I believe it may be a bit better.
The next chapter presents savory tarts and sandwiches. Savory tarts are really France's answer to Italy's pizza and for someone who is adept at good pie dough (pate brisee), these tarts may be a lot easier than the pride of Naples flatbread and sauce. The highlight of this theme is the pizza du boulanger with tomatoes, olives, anchovies, and Parmesan on a pate brisee crust. The quiche Lorraine recipe without bacon is much less fussy than what one may find in most pastry shops. Tartines are open-faced sandwiches, many of which are a meal in themselves such as the Nicoise Open Faced Sandwich. As the name suggests, it is a Salad Nicoise done up on a large slice of Pain au Levain, a classic hard crusted bread. The sandwiches, tartines, and tarts in this chapter are worth the price of admission, which, for an oversized book of this caliber, is very reasonable.
The next chapter is house specialities headlined by pastries from Bordeaux, Rigo's home province in France (I found it especially charming that Rigo settled in San Francisco after a stint in Los Angles because `Frisco reminded him very much of his southwestern France). This chapter includes recipes for Madeleines, pound cakes, spice cakes, almond cookies, several types of macaroons, and a glamorous Chocolate Buche de Noel (Yule Log) plus a lemon version of same. Just for show, the author also includes a recipe for a chocolate Marquise. Good luck with this one. The author had to track down some near antique molds from the 1930's in order to make them. Interesting if you are really looking for a quest.
The next chapter covers country style pasteries starting with recipes for a sweet tart dough and pastry cream. The chapter primarily covers sweet tarts, galettes, and cakes.
The next chapter deals with crepes and starts with something of a puzzle. It calls large buckwheat crepes with savory filling a `galette'. I always thought a galette was made with a pate brisee type dough. Since the author says these galettes / crepes are from Brittany, it may be a regional thing. The chapter ends with some famous crepe recipes such as crepes Suzette.
The last chapter covers recipes suitable for children. The author says, they are not simplified, just naturally more suitable to less experienced hands.
Rigo's story of growing up in France and becoming a professional baker in the apprentice system repeats many similar stories of French culinary stars transplanting themselves to the United States. If you are really interested in making bread, come back to this book after reading Reinhart or Beranbaum. If you want yummy French classic pastries, this book is for you.