Alain Coumont is one of the world’s leading chefs and bakers, and recently released his new book Le Pain Quotidien. We caught up with him to find out a little more about his career in baking and his top tips for becoming a better baker…
How and when did you first become interested in baking?
My grand-aunt was baking pie every weekend for the Sunday family dinner, and I was fascinated what could be made with flour, butter, sugar and fresh fruits from the garden. I started to watch her and learn what she she doing.
What was the first thing you remember baking?
I baked my first apple turnover when I was 2 years old.
What’s your favourite baking recipe?
Bread, with great flour and enough time (8 hours).
What’s your favourite type of bread to make?
A simple dough of finely milled stone ground wheat flour, 75% hydration, 1 gram of yeast per kilo of flour, mix 1 or 2 minutes and then let it rest for 18 hours at room temperature. And then bake on stone.
Why did you decide to open your own bakery?
In 1990 in Brussels, I had a hard-time finding good bread for my restaurant, so I bought an oven and mixer, and start baking in a garage, opened a tiny shop, bought an old pine communal table and the rest just developed from there.
What are your top tips for anyone just getting started in baking?
Go for it, learn for your mistakes!
What are your top tips for making pastry?
Pastry compared with cooking, it’s science versus intuition, so get yourself some good scales. I love the gold trader scales going to the 0,001 gram, especially when you need a gram of salt or a ½ gram of cinnamon.
What are your top tips for baking bread?
Minimum 70% hydration and leave at least 3 hours for the dough to rest before baking.
Why is using organic ingredients so important?
We know that conventional farming pollutes rivers, kills bees, depletes the top soil of black dirt. But we don’t know (or don’t want to know) the effect on human heath…
How did you come up with the recipes for your new book Le Pain Quotidien?
A lot of experimentation in the family kitchen, sometimes the family rave about a dish, meaning it’s a hit, so the book is a compilation of those hits.
How do you think baking techniques differ around the world?
It’s about the local grains, corn in Mexico, rice in China, buckwheat in Brittany, rye in Germany…. And then the GDP per capita dictates the price of the oven. It could be a sheet of tin heated by wood on a road side in Lebanon or a high tech oven in the West. But today it’s a global place, so you find good baguette in Shanghai and perfect Nan in Kuwait.
What do you have planned next?
Baking with exotic grains, experiencing with fermentation, low tech way of making bread. Baking with a thermal solar oven.
Le Pain Quotidien by Alan Coumont /Jean-Pierre Gabriel, published by Mitchell Beazley, £20 www.octopusbooks.co.uk