Land of boulangeries goes gluten-free

A man with loaves of baguette near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France.
A man with loaves of baguette near the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • Paris' ubiquitous corner boulangeries have long been temples to gluten, with their baguettes, croissants and decadent patisseries. And yet, of all food trends, it is gluten-free that is taking hold.

In Paris, you can now find bakeries selling breads and sweet creations made, as the French say, "sans gluten".

Specialised cafes offer gluten- free sandwiches and gluten-free goods have taken over their own aisle at the supermarket.

The city's gluten-free pioneer is pastry chef Marie Tagliaferro, who along with her husband Francois, opened Helmut Newcake, a pastry shop less than a 10-minute walk from the Galeries Lafayette in the Ninth Arrondissement.

Tagliaferro was given a diagnosis of coeliac disease while attending pastry school and wanted to offer gluten-free alternatives of French classics to people such as her who cannot eat wheat.

She now makes delicate fruit tarts and eclairs and even the cream-filled double-decker religieuses typical of the traditional boulangerie.

Lauded for taste and texture that is indistinguishable from their gluten-dependent cousins, her take on the classics has brought tears of joy, literally, to gluten-averse customers.

"In the world of pastry, gluten- free is coming into its own," said Tagliaferro, who also supplies cakes and pastries to hotels and restaurants in the city.

You can also find artisanal leavened breads made with flours such as rice and buckwheat at Chambelland, which opened in the spring of 2014 in the 11th Arrondissement, in an area known for being a hub for food businesses.

Nearby, there is a fishmonger, four butchers, four bakeries, a speciality food shop and a cheese merchant.

The French call these businesses "commerce de bouche", literally "business of the mouth".

It was the culinary possibilities of baking with grains other than wheat that inspired the owners Nathaniel Doboin and Thomas Teffri-Chambelland.

"With other grains, you can offer another experience," Doboin said.

"It's another aroma, another texture, another shape."

Teffri-Chambelland, a well- known baker, had won accolades for wheat loaves, and gluten-free was a new challenge.

"This attracts the curious," said Doboin, who left an advertising career. They even started their own gluten-free flour mill in the south of France.

At Chambelland, as at La Maison Kayser and Helmut Newcake, they do not use the food-grade gums, starches and preservatives that are the norm in North American glutenfree products.

Chambelland's reputation for quality has drawn the attention of one of France's most renowned chefs today.

Alain Ducasse serves Chambelland's pain aux cinq grains (the five grains being buckwheat, sunflower, gold and brown flax, poppy seed and sesame) with salted butter in two of his Parisian restaurants.

Maybe it is the quality of these gluten-free products that helps them appeal to those who are not forced to eat this way. But there is also a perception that to cut wheat from one's diet is healthier.

"It's a wave, I think, coming from the United States," said David Lebovitz, an expatriate American food blogger and cookbook author most recently of My Paris Kitchen.

However, at least for now, there is one pastry that remains elusive to even the most talented of gluten- free bakers.

The light, flaky croissant whose crispy crust and soft, almost chewy insides are too utterly dependent on gluten to replicate - that is, without adding gums, starches and preservatives that these bakers will not use.

As Ms Elodie de Montbron of La Maison Kayser put it: "You can't try to copy everything."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 10, 2016, with the headline 'Land of boulangeries goes gluten-free'. Subscribe