- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

PONT AVEN, France — I walk into the soothing, stone-lined interior of the oldest house in Pont Aven, a pretty town in southern Brittany famous for its association with the painter Paul Gauguin. A little group is seated awaiting me, three generations of the Jubin family. “Sit down and relax,” they say. And the story begins.

Only 50 years ago, Therese Adelaide Rio, now in her late 80s, was running the boulangerie (bakery) with her husband at Plouhinc, in the remote, forested interior of Brittany. Their wood-fired oven was at least a century old, and life was primitive. Electricity did not arrive until the 1960s.

“Country bread was all we made,” Mrs. Rio says. The exception came at the Aug. 15 festival of the Pardon of the Virgin, which was celebrated with the famous Far Breton, a batter pudding spiked with plums. Each pudding came in a distinctive dish, the easier to recognize when it was pulled from the communal oven. One woman even used a chamber pot.

“We had hundreds to bake and would fire up the oven two or three times to get them done, it took all day,” Mrs. Rio says. “The cafe was next door so everyone drank a glass or two while waiting; it was quite a party. When no one was looking, the dogs would nibble the puddings cooling on the ground.”

Her son Dominique Jubin takes up the story. “I was born in the bakery, as the saying goes. To have bread ready by 7 a.m. I had to knead my dough before midnight to give the levain (starter) time to rise.” Soon Mr. Jubin was not only working through the night, as many bakers still do, but making popular pastries in the daytime, such as his giant gateaux Bretons, a variant of pound cake.

Branching out, he opened a salon de the (tea cafe) next to the bakery. In the 1970s, multigrain flours came into style and with them, pains fantaisies. “Using seawater, I invented a loaf that needed no salt, it was very popular,” he says.

“Boulangerie and patisserie are very different,” he says, “pastry requires precision, but bakery cannot be explained with science. To be a good patissier, you must also be a boulanger.”

Such is the case with his son, Eric, who apprenticed with his father. Eric hit the fast track early. After graduating with his professional baker’s certificate at age 17, he achieved a similar qualification in pastry in six months. “But I’m only following my father’s example,” he says. “He was trained as a baker but later he learned pastry, too.”

After writing an application to the top pastry shops in Paris, Eric Jubin first snagged a temporary position, then a permanent one. He was working 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, paying his dues at minimum wage. “I was useful. I could turn my hand to anything, bread, pastry, chocolate, sugar work, and all the time I was learning.”

By age 20, he ended up in Paris at Fauchon, where he was responsible for decoration of all cakes and pastries.

After a few years back in Brittany helping his father, he took to the road, working in top establishments in Thailand, China, Qatar and the United States. “But you cannot keep running and have a family life,” he says.

So now he is in Pont Aven, baking the local galettes, a type of cookie flavored only with butter. His croquants, studded with almonds, are for dipping in a glass of cider or Calvados and stay crisp for weeks. His macaroons rival those of top Parisian bakeries, which is where he learned to make them. He has opened a section on chocolate in his shop, La Chocolaterie de Pont Aven.

While the younger Mr. Jubin is at work in back, his wife Lydie runs the front of the house. “Here one can stop and reflect,” he says. “I have time, I can take time. I can gather strawberries in the morning for my tarts at noon. There’s no city in the world where I can do that.”

Gateau Breton

1 cup butter, plus more for

greasing tart pan

3 egg yolks

1 whole egg, separated

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2½ cups flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon Calvados or rum

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water for glaze

Butter an 8-inch fluted tart pan with removable base. Set aside. Put 4 egg yolks in bowl of an electric mixer and scatter granulated and brown sugar on top. Leave 10 minutes so sugar reacts with egg yolks and “burns” them slightly. Cut butter in pieces and let it come to room temperature. Sift flour with baking powder and salt.

Beat egg yolks and sugar to mix them, then beat in egg white. Continue beating until mixture is light and leaves a ribbon trail when whisk is lifted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add room-temperature butter pieces and beat just until smooth. Beat in Calvados or rum.

Sift flour mixture over butter mixture and stir them together until just smooth.

Spread batter in tart pan and smooth top with your hand dipped in water. Brush surface with egg glaze and mark a lattice with tines of a fork held upright. Chill batter until firm, about 15 minutes. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Set tart pan on a baking sheet and place in preheated 375-degree oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake gateau until firm, golden brown and sides shrink from edges of pan, 45 to 55 minutes. Let gateau cool to tepid in pan, then unmold onto a rack to cool completely.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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