My typical breakfast routine in France is a fresh croissant with butter and preserves and accompanied by a cup of café au lait.
But in Bordeaux, I broke with routine and enjoyed my most memorable French breakfast in the company of friends and seated at the baker’s table of Au Pétrin Moissagais. There we ate thick slices of hearty Gascon bread still warm from an oven that has been fired daily since the time of Louis XV (1765), eight years before the Boston Tea Party.
Serge Combarieu is the master baker there. He started making bread at the age of 12 in nearby Gascony. This bread artisan rises early and lights the fire in the oven just as the last night owls of Bordeaux are going to bed. Throughout the night and into the morning, he and his team will bake countless loaves of bread, each taking 90 minutes to attain their signature hard thick crust.
Before World War II, bread was bought once a fortnight, so it had to be preserved. A thick crust encases all the wonderful aromas as it helps in preserving the loaf for days.
The bakery is located in Bordeaux’s historical Chartrons District at 72 Cours de la Martinique, near Rue de Notre Dame.
As Monsieur Combarieu’s loaves cooled on racks, his ancient oven continued to turn out scores of baguettes that will be packed into flour sacks and delivered to local cafes. Later, Gascon rolls, fougasse, boules, croissants, and a few sweets – chocolate, apple, brioche flavored with rum and lemon – emerged..
10-ft long wooden paddles retrieve the golden loaves from the back of the oven.
By 7:30 am, an appetizing array of fresh pastries were cooling in baskets placed on a long baker’s table in the center of the bakery. The bricked room with its arched ceiling remained warm from the heat of the oven which has just been shut down for the day. The aroma of fresh bread saturated the air as the front entrace was unlocked.
The massive oven was installed during the reign of Louis XV in 1765.
Our foursome arrived just as the doors opened. We were the first customers of the day and the staff, seeing the eagerness on our faces, cleared a spot on the baker’s table where we feasted on warm bread slices smeared with melting golden French butter and topped with scarlet strawberry preserves. Next came flaky croissants, fruit-filled brioche, and endless bowls of piping hot café au lait. Tea will have to wait today.
Breakfast at the baker’s table, only a few feet from the still-warm oven, is a bread lover’s dream.
Fortified for our day’s adventures and loaded down with boxes of pastries to accompany our afternoon tea, we waddled back out into the bright morning sunshine. I felt as if we had just walked off the set of a Masterpiece Theatre filmproduction. What a delicious memory that was.
The Sunday morning Quai Chartons outdoor market is filled with fresh produce and other culinary delights from the region.
If you are in Bordeaux on Sunday morning, be sure to turn toward the river as you exit the bakery and walk a short few blocks to the open air market at Quai Chartrons where you will find fresh local fruits, vegetables, pastries, cheeses (like those below), seafood, crepes, sweets, paella and more food vendors than you can sample in one day.
The highlight for me was eating a plate of fresh local oysters accompanied by a glass of Bordeaux Sauvignon Blanc for the bargain price of ten euros. Freshly baked bread, oysters, wine – every day should begin this way!
Local cow’s milk cheese decorated with fern ash. Too beautiful to eat!
For more information on nibbling and drinking your way through Bordeaux, you might enjoy: