THE BLOG

Baking Bread in France: Boulangerie Les Copains

06/24/2014 03:14 pm ET | Updated Aug 24, 2014

It's 8 a.m. on a Wednesday and a bird is singing outside my window. My roommate is an old friend from college and she's barely awake. There's a half-melted candle next to my bed, which consists of a mattress, on a wooden crate, on the floor. The sun has been up for hours and I'm already late for work.

Several months ago my friend Deepa told me about an organization called World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms, or WWOOF for short. Her description was as follows: You choose an organic farm somewhere in the world, email them and ask to stay for two to four weeks, and then travel there and lend a hand in exchange for room and board. It's a system that falls exactly in line with the type of barter economy organic farms often create.

I have, for years, dreamed of living the idyllic country life: fresh air, good food, living off mother earth. All the phrases that would make a Whole Foods executive proud. The only issue is that, when faced with the opportunity (a World Wide Opportunity), all I could think about was the reality I had seen in Jordan and Egypt, Florida and California. Farming is hard work.

But a few weeks later I received an email from Deepa. She had registered for a WWOOF brochure and found a farm in Normandy, France that specializes in organic bread baking. Boulangerie Les Co-pains, or "The bakery of friends" (pain also means bread). The Boulangerie is run as a co-op between four members who have dedicated their lives to organic flour, whole grains, and a wood-burning oven. And it was in this bakery that I awoke Wednesday morning.

A French pastry chef once told me that the kitchen attracts different species of humans. The spic-and-span pâtissiers, the burly butchers, the army of cooks. The bakers, he said, were an elusive breed, waking up long before the sun and toiling away in a hot oven, only to disappear just as everyone else began their day. When Deepa and I woke up at 8 a.m., we had already missed the first shift of bread baking.

But unlike city bakeries, the Boulangerie runs all day, six days a week. So we crawled out of the treehouse (I didn't mention -- we live in a tree house) and followed the scent of fresh bread across a field of cherry trees, past a horse and a donkey, and through a pebbled courtyard to the fournil (baking room). And there, we waited to make bread.

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