When Francois Danielo sticks his paddle in the oven to pull out another batch of loaves, you can see the joy in his eyes. After a detour that took a couple of decades, he's finally doing the job he loves. He discovered baking when he was 13, making cakes and pastries in his family's kitchen in Brittany. Summers, he worked in his uncle's boulangerie baking baguettes and other very white, very French loaves.
He wanted to be a baker, but his father said, "Why don't you stay in school for a little while longer." So Francois became a mechanical engineer, moving to the States to work in California and New York. But the baking bug was still inside, and it flowered when he took an international bread class at the French Culinary Institute. He quit his job, worked at bakeries around the city, and began to plan. In July, he opened his bakery, La Boulangerie, in Forest Hills. It's evidently a good-bread-deprived neighborhood, because on weekends the line is out the door.
My favorite of La Boulangerie's breads is its pain bordelais, a big rustic boule that comes out of the oven streaked with lines from the beehive-shaped rising basket. Francois bakes his bordelais until it's just blackened, the char giving the crust a slightly bitter, slightly caramelized flavor. Inside, the crumb is glossy, with good hole structure and the slight tang of a mild sourdough. It's not a loaf designed for delicate finger food; instead, you want to hack off a chunk, top it with a slab of cheese, and take a big bite. Wash it down with a French saison beer, and you're in peasant heaven.
Normally, I don't go ecstatic over baguettes--they're mostly tubes of crust enclosing a lot of hot air to me--but I make an exception for La Boulangerie's. All of its baguettes are excellent, with a nice, crispy crust and fluffy dough with good body. But I particularly love the afternoon crop of baguettes. The dough is slightly different than the morning loaves, and it's given a much longer fermentation. The result is a glossy (that word again!) and aromatic crumb with big holes perfect for holding gobs of good butter. It's my choice for top of the next "Best NYC Baguettes" list.
A Forest Hills baker cannot live by French bread alone, so Francois adapts some of his dough to his local customer base. La Boulangerie's pain aux cereales is a five-grain bread par excellence, loaded with rolled oats and sesame, flax, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds. The oven heat toasts the grains on the crust, highlighting their nut seed flavor and crunch.
La Boulangerie is only a few months old, so Francois is still playing with recipes and learning the tastes of his customers. His newest loaf is a 100 percent whole wheat bread is a wide flattened boule with a moist crumb and a great nutty flavor. He's also working on a traditional pain de seigle, the classic French rye and wheat flour loaf. All of his breads are worth a taste. The proof is on the shelf, or not on the shelf--if you don't get there early, particularly on weekends, they're gone.