680 - Eric Kayzer

If you want to find out more about the beauty and simplicity of producing sublime flavoursome bread using traditional methods the French baker is Éric Kayser (you can see his step by step recipes for the perfect baguette here) published the Larousse Book of Bread earlier this year. He is a 5th generation French baker who is, in France, one of the most well known and respected bakers in the country.  In the UK he is relatively unknown (in comparison to celebrity bakers such as Paul Hollywood) so we were delighted when customer, and Telegraph journalist Sudi Pigott offered to give is the low down on Éric.

Éric Kayser for BakeryBits by SUDI PIGOTT

“Being a good baker means making a little miracle every day: transforming simple foods, flour, salt, leaven and water into complex and varying flavours. We're like alchemists.  That's my passion and I want to share it and introduce it round the world,”  says Eric Kayser when we meet at Wholefoods Kensington to launch his The Larousse Book of Bread and see him in action.

Hailed as one of France's best bakers, Eric Kayser was born into a family of bakers in Franche-Comte.  At age 18 , he became a Compagnon of the prestigious Compagnons du Tour de France of baking.  In 1994, he invented the Fermento Levain with fellow baker Patrick Castagna.  The machine allows for the continuous use of liquid leaven, a breakthrough in baking which is now used at bakeries around the world.

Eric opened his first Maison Kayser in Paris in 1996 in Rue de Monge (his signature pastry Tarte de Monge, ultra-fine shortbread, fromage blanc, red fruits is named after this location).  There are now more than 100 bakeries around the world in thirteen countries: twenty in Paris, five in New York and others in Greece, Portugal, Russia, Japan, Ukraine, Morocco, Senegal, South Korea, Lebanon, the UAE, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He is currently finalising the location of his first London bakery.LE LAROUSSE DU PAIN 2013

In person, Eric is charming, intense and focussed.  I love the idea that in Paris he sometimes takes his own bread to restaurants.  “Life is too short for poor bread” he insists.  He shows us how good bread with proper texture should chirp like a bird.  He uses his whole hand to squeeze a slice of bread and encourages us that bread should be sniffed like a good glass of wine to see if it has depth of aroma and flavour.  He claims that a good loaf should contain more than 200 different flavours and is a firm advocate of baking to a deep golden brown for intensity of flavour by creating pleny of steam.

He believes that around the late nineties, the French, like the British, tired of souless commercial products rediscovered proper artisan bread made using natural leavens and quality flours. “Artisan bakers are getting better and better again now as customers know what they are after and demand quality.” The law is rather different in France.  Since 1997 a baker can only be called an artisan if they mix and bake on the same premises without freezing or otherwise storing the dough. There are also regulations regarding how much yeast can be added to a natural levain bread for the loaf to retain its sourdough stature.  Changes that will hopefully come about in the UK with the proposed Honest Loaf Act.

I like his story that traditionally French homebakers would leave their sourdough to prove under the mattress and know it was ready when the springs pushed in and woke them up.  Today, it is far more scientific.  As Eric says:  “I suggest you manage your dough, don't let it manage you.”

Now in France more and more people are wanting to bake at home too.  “It is only through making bread ourselves that we can truly understand what bread is.  People today are seeking authenticity in all kinds of things,” he explains.  “And what could be better than bread, when it is made honestly, with no trickery or artifice, to convey this feeling of authenticity.”    Ideally bread should be completely hand made though his recipes do give instructions for using a hand-mixer.  “When you do something with your hand, your brain is free.  It is like when I am running it makes me feel powerful.”

The detail of the book is incredibly impressive explaining how essential it is to start with the best ingredients.  Kayser goes into considerable detail explaining how to choose flours according to their protein level, gluten content and the quantity of mineral-rich husks.  He recommends using sea salt with its bigger, better salt crystals, white colour and higher iron content.  Ideally, he likes to use unsalted, farmers' butter too.  Kayser gives extremely thorough descriptions of how fermentation works, the first rise, the second and how to prepare and keep sourdough starters going so that they don't taste overly sour and make starters using apples or grapes.  A twenty year old mother starter from the Parisian bakeries is used to make sourdough in all his bakeries.   Even the baguette is a combination of sourdough starter and fresh yeast, croissants and brioche too – all starting with at least a 10 hour fermentation.  “I really like the lactic, almost hazelnut taste using natural levain brings to all products” affirms Kayser.

We're treated to a couple of hands-on demos from Kayser.  I'm intrigued by the way he mixes the water and salt into the flour using his index finger and squeezing and pulling the dough with all his fingers, pushing it down, reshaping it, pulling it again, aerating it to incorporate oxygen.  As he kneads, he explains how the structure of the dough changes, becoming smoother and stronger.  Absolutely every process is shown in Massimo Pessina's close-up step-by-step photographs which make the book incredibly valuable.  I just wish there were introductions to each recipe with a little personal anecdote.

The Larousse Book of Bread by Eric Kayser by Eric Kayser is published by Phaidon

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