Michael Meets PAUL

DSC_0102 I love making bread … and since I found Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread baking miracle during one of those snow dramas, I’ve lost my touch with the dough. Oh, the bread’s great but gone is the love affair that is fed by a naturally rough relationship: the kneading of the dough. With Lahey’s recipe, you mostly wait.

Maxime Holder, grandson of the owner the 120-year-old French bakery PAUL introduced me to the French way of preparing a dough for bread … with a recipe that allows a long rise (seven hours as opposed to 12-18) and therefore needs to be kneaded. Thank you.

Let’s set the scene for this most productive media event … where we had to work for our treats. First off, the story is told in pictures at the following link to my foto Web Gallery: PAUL bread making class

In the first foto in this post are Amanda, MB, Maxime, and David. DSC_0120

If you take a look, you will see that Amanda McClements ( and I weren’t exactly rocket scientists when it came to making PAUL’s French dough. We had been invited by their local PR maven Lisa Amore who gets the credit for the fotos – she kept my camera busy while I tried to keep less than a 2-inch layer of dough on my fingers, hand and nearly my wrist.

We met at the bakery a week before the official opening at 801 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, in the Market Square Complex that also hosts the US Navy Memorial. Lisa had arranged for small groups of press to come in and learn first-hand what PAUL is all about … with Maxime Holder, the grandson of the founder and Groupe PAUL president/CEO; Philippe Sanchez, president/CEO of PAUL USA and David Dequeker, the company’s chef boulanger et patissier for its more than 500 bakery-cafes in 22 countries. The Penn Quarter location is the US flagship with another PAUL on the books to open this summer in Georgetown.

Amanda and I were the last two in …DSC_0151 and literally David had to rush out after our class to head to Dulles for a trip back to France for another store opening.

As you can see, we worked with a wet dough (so necessary for the proper open crumb) … and we were both familiar with the oozing blob that is the Lahey way. This has more body but not much as we tried to grab the flour, water, yeast and salt mixture off the table to start the kneading. David deftly grabbed his, let it stretch and then snapped it across the tabletop followed by another pull from the surface, a quarter-turn and then another snap to the table. He continued with a rapid-fire series of moves and it seemed within seconds he had dough that had come together, held its shape and looked ready for the rise. Amanda and I were in the middle of a sticky mess.

What was cool was they let us figure it out … get a feel for the dough and then to keep going until we could sense accomplishment. This was our time to learn and we stood opposite three Frenchmen letting us find our way. Too much fun! DSC_0204

After they set our dough aside, they brought out a properly proofed batch and we learned to form the boule, the baguette, a heart and Amanda braided a lovely loaf. We weren’t done … it was to the fabulous commercial bread oven where we used the peel to send in the dough and then to remove it when it was richly browned with its proper hollow pop when tapped after baking.

We took home the raw dough which went into the frig. The next morning I let it come to room temp and placed it into my dutch oven in a 450-degree oven … and voila … more French bread.

Hey, PAUL won me over (can you tell?) and I can’t wait to get back to try their pastries and of course … to bring home a baguette.

PAUL is open Monday – Friday: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday – Sunday: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

About the Author

Michael Birchenall is Editor and Publisher of Foodservice Monthly, a regional trade publication covering the foodservice industry of the Mid-Atlantic (DE, DC, MD, VA). Foodservice Monthly has been recognized as the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Allied Industry Member of the Year and by the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington as the Joan Hisaoka Associate Member of the Year.

Leave a Reply

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a Gravatar.