Special Dispatch: Dumouchel Bakery, Leeds
1 Ninelands Lane
0113 287 0055
by OJ Simpson
3.30am. A curious hinterland of time. Going to bed at this hour suggests youthful exuberance. Waking suggests madness, poor bladder control or, worse still, a career in TV and radio breakfast presenting, which often involves both.
So powerful is the peculiar ennui brought on by rising pre-dawn that even breakfast, the stoutest of institutions, loses its way. You may wake at 3.30am. You may eat shortly after. This will be the first thing you’ve eaten since waking. But no sound mind would label this a breakfast – such traditional definitions have no authority here.
Transposed to a nondescript industrial estate on the outskirts of a nondescript small town (itself somewhere on the outskirts of the rather more descript city of Leeds) and this effect is magnified a thousand times over. It is dark. I don’t quite know why I agreed to come, at this hour at least, and I am not sure what awaits me behind the door I have just knocked on. Whatever is about to happen, I do not feel very breakfasty.
That my mind should change so suddenly is testament to the power of the smell of baking. I have come to meet a renegade French baker, Thierry Dumouchel, and for reasons I do not fully understand, I have arrived at 4am – a time I suggested. Perhaps it is partly due to his annoyingly stereotypical but nevertheless highly effective Gallic charm, but as I walk into Dumouchel’s bakery I feel very breakfasty indeed. I have discovered the source of the region’s best continental breakfast fare.
Thierry’s two French assistants continue to busy themselves while I am given a short tour. The bulk of the bread has just been baked, and attention has turned to pastries. As I watch a piece of pastry the size of a ping pong table being cut into croissant segments, I am handed a piece of heaven. Pain au chocolat. Out of the oven just long enough for the chocolate within to have regained its snap, it is the freshest thing I have ever tasted – it has a lustrous glow about it and is filled with warm, scented air. It moves me. Five minutes earlier, I was pallid, weary, and held together by sheer force will. Now I am in heaven. I am a god and I have eaten the sun.
During my reverie, Thierry has been explaining many things about baking to me. Sadly, I have missed everything he said. (Except the following trivium: only croissants made with butter are allowed to be baked straight, any deviation from this and they must be baked curled into a crescent shape.)
My visit was not in vain, however. For one, with the morning comes the chance to ask for all important details to be reiterated to me via email. More importantly, I have seen with my own eyes the dedication, talent and outlandish French zeal required to produce the pastries I once took for granted. When you next bite into one, be it at a workaday 8.30am on the way to the office, or a leisurely 11 o’clock in the lavish surroundings of your favourite hotel, take pause and consider your pastry’s provenance.