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Star baguette baker Yann Ledoux outside Bread Story

Proustian Moment

The Best Baguette in New York

Star baker Yann Ledoux has a new kitchen. And not a minute too soon.

When Maison Kayser filed for bankruptcy and sadly closed doors in NYC, Yann Ledoux, its then head baker, took the best baguette in NYC with him. 

For a few miserable months, many New Yorkers were left to scramble, trying other store-bought versions out of desperation or frantically searching YouTube for videos on the art of bread making. But fortunately, not for too long. This past June, Yann opened Bread Story, a small French bakery nestled between 15th and 16th streets on 1st Avenue in Stuyvesant Town. 

Enter Bread Story and you’re immediately swaddled by the wonderful smell of warm bread, mouth-watering croissants and brioches, a Proustian recollection of madeleines and melting butter, the welcoming fizz of espresso machines, and the ballet of employees working behind the counter. 

You might notice an old-fashioned chalkboard on the left wall behind the casing that coddles the irresistible viennoiseries and pastries, right above the basket of baguettes.

Written in chalk is a list of times; for some, meaningless white numbers on a blackboard, but to the connoisseur, the ideal moments to purchase straight out of the oven that warm long, thin loaf with a delicious-honey-golden-brown-crispy-crunchy-crackly exterior and a creamy-soft-white-delightfully-moist interior with two irresistible pointy tips; the loaf that conjures up images of a first trip to Paris; the only loaf whose integrity is commemorated in the annals of French law.  

Star baguette baker Yann Ledoux outside Bread Story
Star baguette baker Yann Ledoux outside Bread Story
Delectable pastries on display at Bread Story.
Delectable pastries being prepared and on display at Bread Story.
Baguettes on display at Bread Story in New York
Baguettes on display at Bread Story in New York

Born and raised in Normandy, France, Yann headed for Paris where he trained under the tutelage of Eric Kayser of Maison Kayser fame. He continued on to Dubai to instruct some of the future’s most promising bakers. The talented Normand then moved to New York to lead product development and manage Kayser’s bakers, married his wife Sandrine, a senior hair stylist at Julien Farel Restore Salon Spa & Fitness, with whom he had their first child, Ana, and the family moved to StuyTown.  

Seated at the store’s small counter while sipping an espresso, Yann humbly shares his bread story. The baker who supplies Le Bernardin with baguette is not one to proffer his accomplishments, though the accolades are plentiful: notably “Grand Prix Best Baguette” and “Best Pain au Chocolat” awards from a highly-prestigious international jury of bakers.

As Yann is talking, a couple of kids behind him are pointing at a tray of pain aux raisins in the open kitchen separated from them by a pane of glass. While it might appear hectic and cramped by the size of the enormous ovens and refrigerators and by virtue of the sheer number of items being made, the kitchen is so well orchestrated that no elbows touch nor masks come undone.

By 8:12am, the bakers have been at it for hours: pulling huge amounts of butter from refrigerators, flour from containers and chopping local fruits, vegetables, nuts and cheeses for various delicacies. For a new batch of baguette, Yann grabs some of the liquid “starter levain,” kept downstairs in a large vat where it’s periodically “fed” for replenishment, and then infuses his artisanship and passion until the dough is kneaded to perfection.  

So, “What’s the secret to making a perfect baguette,” I ask with hesitation (after all, this is akin to requesting the original Coca-Cola recipe). Yann’s face lights up, “It’s all in the flour! The flour here tends to be over-treated,” he explains. “It’s so over-processed that essentially, it’s not alive anymore. You need a wheat flour that is still breathing, that has energy, like the flour they have in France. Or in Québec which is where we get ours from.” (The flour comes from Saint-Polycarpe, a municipality just east of the Québec-Ontario border.) 

“And the rest?” I wonder. More passion. Dedication, and clearly, so much craftsmanship.

“It’s all in the flour! ... You need a wheat flour that is still breathing, that has energy, like the flour they have in France.”

Before we part ways, Yann reminisces about the Kayser bakery on the Upper East Side, where he was as much a fixture as the families lining up before school.

After Kayser shuttered, the barista and most of the staff came downtown to Bread Story. It wasn’t long before the Upper East Side families followed suit, round-tripping from uptown, often strollers in tow in a time of pandemic no less, to get the very best baguette possible! And maybe a couple of tartes aux poires, or a croissant au jambon et fromage, or a quiche aux lardons… 

With a warm baguette in hand, my compass is set on home, just a few blocks away. Having returned from France two weeks ago, my palate is still fresh with the taste of a young, Parisian baguette. My competitive side is ready to shoot down anything that dares to compare itself to what the boulangerie on the rue Madame sells.

But all it takes is one small bite of the pointy part of the scrumptious loaf, or of thecrouton,as it’s called, and I’m back on the streets of the 6th arrondissement, chomping away at this beautiful piece of heritage, hoping that as I get closer and closer to my door, no one will notice, especially not my son, that there will most likely be nothing left except for the other “crouton,” the other end, or the “quignon,” as it’s also called. Nothing left on which to slather some room-temperature butter and a nice slice of ham with a couple of cornichons; nothing on which to throw a couple of pieces of chocolate for an afternoon snack. Yikes.

I head back to Bread Story for two more baguettes this time. And, quelle chance, the tartes aux pommes are ready to be savored.

Bread Story is located at 264 1st Avenue in Manhattan. Check out bread-story.com for “Bread Story of the Month,” which gives a bit of history on a delicious item every month. 

 

Photos courtesy of Bread Story

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