It’s French, Dahlink

When is a convertible not a convertible?

When it’s the fresh crusty loaf of bread with cloud-like interior that the French call a baguette.  The most French of breads that actually has laws defining what is in the dough.

One might think that when prehistoric French painters wandered out of the Chauvet and Lascaux caves for lunch, they dined on baguettes and wooly mammoth nuggets.But, one would be wrong.

Baguettes are the relatively recent sum of experience, ingredients and technology of the baking world.  There wasn’t even a bread officially called “baguette” (meaning wand or stick in French) until the early 20th century.Fortunately, even though there are laws about baguettes, as far as I know, none of them prohibit us non-French rubes from enjoying them.  And, unlike your average loaf of Sunbeam, baguettes are sublime at every stage, from fresh out of the oven to old, hard and stale (just not furry—that’s no good for anybody).

Thus, the convertible-ness.So fresh it’s still warm: break off a hunk, and smear it with a big scoop of runny, buttery brie.  You eat enough of this and you will acquire a French accent.  You’ll also acquire a butt so big that you need two seats at the movies, but that’s a whole other conversation.Super fresh but room temperature: sharing a large piece with a friend on a veranda with butter, strawberry jam, and coffee (French press, of course) or thick creamy hot chocolate.  On this side of the Atlantic, the very best place to do this is Caffe Driade, in Chapel Hill.  Honest, it is one of the few supreme joys in this life that cost less than $20.

The top patio at Caffe Driade, in Chapel Hill.

Same day freshness: the jambon-beurre; a modest amount of very good butter, preferably from Brittany or Normandy, and thinly sliced top shelf ham.  Chef Vatinet, owner of Cary’s La Farm is a Gallic rebel who adds gruyere to his version.  It’s so delicious the not quite authentic recipe is not only forgiven, it’s welcome.

La Farm.

The days following baking have its own tasty gifts.

The simple: sliced into rounds painted with a bit of olive oil, seasoned and baked at 350 for 15-20 minutes, and you have crostini, a much more urbane vessel for dips and spreads than potato and corn chips.If you cut the bread into cubes, and toast them in a skillet with oil, herbs and salt and pepper you have croutons that will make you wonder why you ever bought those sawdust squares in the bag.And one of the greatest uses for any bread: pain perdu.  What a North Carolinian calls French toast, a resident of the Loire Valley calls, “lost bread”.  You make a custard with eggs and milk, flavor with brown sugar, vanilla, fresh nutmeg, and a pinch of salt.  Heat the oven to 375 and melt a dollop of butter in a skillet while you soak both sides of 1&1/2” slices in the custard.  When the butter’s foamy, cook the slices on both sides until golden. As they finish, lay them on a sheet pan you’ve fitted with a cooling rack.  When they’re all ready, bake in the oven until puffed and the custard’s cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.  Dress and devour.If you have a baguette, and can’t get to it while it’s fresh, freeze it.  When you’re ready, dampen the entire loaf, and cook in a 350-degree oven for 13 minutes.  Right before you put in the loaf, splash ½ cup of cold water into oven to bring up a burst of steam.  It will come out as fresh and crusty as day one, I promise.

Coco Chanel and Gigot.

Merci pour votre temps.



La Farm Formidable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALionel Vatinet is the devil.

And a magician.

Up until very recently, La Farm had one location in a strip mall on Cary Parkway.  In this small space, Chef Vatinet and staff turned out bread, pastries, candies, and other treats for their own retail sales and cafe.   They also made items for five local Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and their own, delicious food truck.

How they pulled off this miraculous feat of legerdemain is well beyond my imaginings.


The Kid’s favorite at La Farm.


…and, mine.

This week I spent some time at their new production facility for La Farm.  It’s in the old Sorrel building in downtown Cary, built in 1958.

In this airy, roomy space both the bread bakers and the pastry folks have tons elbow room.  But, in this building there is also space to play and experiment.  To do things like making their own graham crackers for a s’mores tart.


After stuffing us full of bread and sandwiches, this is the dessert spread they put out.  The s’mores tarts are the little meringue stars.  And aren’t those the prettiest macarons you ever saw?

But they didn’t just unlock the doors, move in equipment and get to work.  Chef Lionel and team looked at things that very few of us would even think of.

Like the air.  The retail space needs to be comfortable for customers 365 days a year.  The bread area needs to a little warm and humid, to rise dough without drying it out.  The pastry room needs to be cooler.  The air can’t blast down because it can make dough form a skin which will inhibit the fermentation.

Chef had an innovative air conditioning and venting system from Europe installed.

I spent some time speaking with his head pastry chef, Jim. I asked Chef Jim about the bags of orange butter cookies at the register.  When applying to cook at an establishment, a common practice is for the applicant to actually cook.  Jim baked his delicious little orange confections and got the job.

I have a recipe that is an homage to pastry Chef Jim and his citrus treat with a nod to a blueberry cookie from Trader Joes.  They’re a lemon-scented shortbread studded with dried blueberries.

Blueberry Lemon Shortbread Cookiesblueberry lemon shortbread1 & 1/3 cups butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dried blueberries, coarsely chopped


Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.

Put sugar and lemon zest into food processor and pulse until the sugar is very fine, and the zest has disappeared into the sugar.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and lemon juice.  Beat to combine. Stir blueberries into flour and add mixture, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.Pour dough onto surface and knead just until it comes together.  Divide dough in half, and roll each half into a log about 2 inches in diameter.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To bake: Heat oven to 275.  Slice logs into 1/2-inch thick rounds.  Place on sheet pans and bake for 60-75 minutes or cookies are very light golden and barely browned around the edges.

When done, slide parchment and cookies onto cooking rack.  Let them cool completely before removing from paper.

Makes approximately 36 cookies.La Farm can make a bread loving girl lose her head.  I could spend a full paycheck on and eat my body weight in those gorgeous, aromatic, delicious wares.

In addition to bread, cookies, and treats, Chef Lionel Vatinet serves up fresh temptations daily.Thanks for your time.