by Jacqueline Cain
Photographs + Illustrations Courtesy Penguin Random House

In the 30 years since a group of childhood friends from Belgrade co-founded a bread bakery in Hyannis, Pain d’Avignon has become a symbol of quality. If a café stocks its pastry case with Pain d’Avignon scones and cookies or serves sandwiches on slices of the bakery’s classic sourdough, it tells astute eaters that it cares about freshness and flavor.
Pain d’Avignon might have started small but is now a wholesale giant, with its artisanal bagels, breads, croissants, and pastries shipped daily to farmer’s markets, cafés, restaurants, hotels, and large grocery chains throughout the Northeast. But that’s not all: they also operate a popular café in Hyannis serving breakfast and gourmet lunch; at night, it transitions into a fine French restaurant for dinner.
It’s alluring to learn that the iconic Cape Cod company is actually an American dream realized by happenstance at somebody’s mother’s summer house. This improbable backstory stars an interlocking network of Eastern European immigrants who were virtually responsible for the rise of artisan bread in the United States. Co-founder Uliks Fehmiu shares this compelling history in The Pain d’Avignon Baking Book: A War, an Unlikely Bakery, and a Master Class in Bread, co-written with Kathleen Hackett and published by Penguin Random House.
Prefacing the book’s 60 recipes is the Pain d’Avignon story, which unfolds in three “acts” set in Europe, Cape Cod, and New York City. Interestingly, Fehmiu was a theatre actor in Belgrade trying to avoid being drafted into the conflict that would become the Yugoslav Wars when he originally invested in Pain d’Avignon. He and his friends, co-founders Branislav Stamenkovic, Vojin Vujosevic, and Igor Ivanovic, began a new life by opening a tiny bakery on Cape Cod, living in a loft above the business and working round-the-clock hours.
Fehmiu’s page-turning recollections, along with evocative color illustrations, introduce characters like Pain d’Avignon’s “imperious” original baker, Hamdo, a Bosnian Muslim who trains the opening team in bread-baking basics “entirely by look and feel.” It elucidates how Cambridge company Iggy’s Bread of the World raised the bar for artisan bread on the East Coast, and how Fehmiu himself ended up becoming an expert. Despite the formulas, repetition, and consistency required of baking—especially on the level of growth-minded Pain d’Avignon—the former actor sees art in the pursuit and lays it all out for readers.
“We set out to tell the story of the trials and successes that have led us to where we are today and show firsthand how a keen sense of imagination will keep humanity moving forward,” Fehmiu says in a statement. “It paints a picture of creativity and imagination and how baking feeds those whimsies.”
And there’s plenty of whimsy to go around. The book features dozens of Pain d’Avignon’s signature breads, viennoiseries, sandwiches, and more.

We use fresh blueberries to make our scones, but frozen blueberries will do if they are the only option available to you.

INGREDIENTS

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) cold butter, preferably high-fat European-style (such as Plugra or Beurremont), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup half-and-half, plus more as needed
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 to 2 1/2 cups blueberries, preferably fresh
1 large egg, whisked

Position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line a half-sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Rub the cold butter cubes into the dry ingredients with your fingers, or use a plastic round-edged dough scraper or pastry cutter to cut the butter into the dry ingredients, working your way through the pieces until they are the size of pebbles. The mixture will resemble coarse sand and the butter will still be a bit chunky. Don’t overmix!

In a small bowl, whisk together the half-and-half and lemon zest and pour it into the flour mixture. Use the dough scraper in a chopping motion to incorporate the liquid. Mix until the dough appears shaggy; add a few more tablespoons of half-and-half if necessary.

Fold the blueberries into the dough with the scraper, proceeding gently as you work your way around the bowl to avoid crushing the fruit.

Once the fruit is evenly distributed, dump the dough out onto the work surface (dust with flour only if the dough is sticky). Use the scraper to incorporate any loose flour into the dough, then press it into a 1 1⁄2-inch-thick rectangle.

Dip a 3 1⁄2-inch-round biscuit cutter into a bit of flour to prevent the dough from sticking, then cut the scones out of the dough. Gather the scraps with your hands, handling gently, and turn the mass on its side and press into a 1 1⁄2-inch-thick rectangle. Cut out the remaining scones. Arrange the scones about 1 inch apart on the sheet pan. Brush each scone with the whisked egg and dust with a bit of sugar.

Bake until the edges are browned and the center is golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Put the sheet pan on a rack and let cool. Serve warm.

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