The Breads of Le Pain Quotidien
The first time I ever ate at Le Pain Quotidien was near the old town market in Nice, France. The cafe was charming, with excellent bread, spreads and other pickings. If you had suggested to me that it was a chain, I would have scoffed in disbelief. And yet, Le Pain Quotidien—whose name literally means "the daily bread"—has become a ubiquitous presence in the food industry, with upwards of 170 locations in 17 countries around the world. In fact, it was in Paris that I first realized LPQ was a chain, and even in that renown bread city with hundreds of independent bakeries, the shop's cozy tables were always crowded with happy customers.
This week, ICE students were introduced to the recipes behind the brand's success by none other than Le Pain Quotidien founder, Alain Coumont. Coumont recounted that he never had direct intentions to open a bakery, let alone establish a global brand. As a young chef in Brussels, Coumont struggled to find high quality pain au levain (also known as a "miche": a large, naturally leavened sourdough loaf). It made more sense economically to bake 150 loaves per day than the 5 or 6 that Coumont might need at his restaurant, so he opened a tiny storefront to sell the extra loaves.
Coumont's focus on quality product shaped his ambitions from then on, with each shop serving an enviable array of breads, baked goods and prepared tartines. For the first time, aspiring bakers can attempt his noteworthy recipes at home, with the release of Le Pain Quotidien Cookbook. See below a recipe for Coumont's chia seed muffin, a health-conscious spin on this often demonized breakfast sweet.
Chia Seed & Banana Muffins
Makes about 15 muffins
- 4 small ripe bananas (10oz/275g peeled weight), mashed
- 1 cup (8oz, 250g) soy yogurt
- 2/3 cup (5oz/150g) canola or soy oil
- 3/4 cup (6fl oz/175ml) agave syrup
- 1 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 tsp table salt
- 1 tsp vanilla sugar or liquid vanilla extract
- 1 2/3 cups (7oz/200g) chia seeds
For the topping: additional chia seeds, 1 banana (sliced on the diagonal)
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Line a muffin pan with 12-15 paper muffin liners.
- Place banana, yogurt, oil, agave syrup, eggs, salt and vanilla sugar into a bowl and mix to a smooth puree using a fork.
- Add the flour and baking powder and stir until just combined—be careful not to overmix or the muffins won't be light and airy. (You can also use a stand mixer with paddle attachment: put the bananas into the bowl first and paddle briefly to eliminate any lumps, add the liquids and sugar and process for 30 seconds, then add the flour and baking powder and process for another 15 seconds.)
- Stir the chia seeds into the mixture using a spatula and let stand for 20 minutes (this allows the seeds to plump, absorbing liquid in the batter).
- Pour the batter into the muffin pan, filling each liner to the top, then top with a sprinkle of chia seeds and slices of banana.
- Bake for 30 minutes, until risen and golden. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire track to cool completely.
Note: Coumont substituted squash for banana and fresh chopped strawberries for the sliced banana topping during his demonstration