music in the park san jose

.Authentic French Bakery Maison Benoit Arrives in Danville

Première French bakers respect the bread and perfect the pain suisse

music in the park san jose

A pain suisse pastry isn’t as rare a find as the Hope Diamond, but it’s seldom seen at Bay Area bakeries. The long-reigning crown prince of viennoiserie is, sans doute, the pain au chocolat. What differentiates the suisse from the chocolat is a voluptuous layer of vanilla pastry cream. That layer of cream prevents the layers of dough from drying out and provides a nesting place for the chocolate chips.

Lucile Espeillac, the head baker at Maison Benoit, has perfected the pain suisse. By some miraculous act of divine intervention, I arrived at the Danville bakery when the pastry was still warm from the oven. Crisp layers of laminated dough enveloped the mélange of pastry cream and chocolate on the verge of melting. I’m not suggesting that, like Taylor Swift fans waiting to purchase their golden tickets, customers line up outside to recreate that magic moment—but those who do will be richly rewarded.

Benoit Vialle opened his bakery after making a career change. He worked at Microsoft for 10 years before shifting gears to work in the fine wine industry. “But I came to a point where I just wanted to be my own boss, to do something I enjoy and not have to travel as much,” Vialle said. Born and raised in France, he also wanted to share his native culture with the community he lives in. 

To better understand production techniques, Vialle enrolled at L’École de Boulangerie et de Pâtisserie (EBP), a première baking school in Paris. “I didn’t become a pastry chef—it takes a lot of experience to do that very technical work,” he said. But while studying at EBP, he met Espeillac and the pastry chef Matthieu Maulun, and hired both of them.

In addition to pain suisse, Espeillac makes all of the bread and viennoiserie including croissants, pains au chocolat and pains aux raisins. Maulun makes desserts such as mille-feuilles, canelés, cakes, éclairs and the Paris-Brest, a puff pastry filled with a hazelnut praline. Vialle said, “We’re just making the classics, and we try to do them really well.”

Before coming to California, Espeillac was the head baker at La Tour d’Argent, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris. Maulun graduated with honors from a baking school in Bordeaux. Vialle believes that both bakers decided to leave France to work at Maison Benoit because, “it was exciting [for them] to launch a new business in California.” He added that they’ve been very demanding of themselves in terms of the quality of their work.

“When I was opening here, I wanted a head baker who would really be able to deliver the same level of quality I expect from a really good boulangerie in Paris, not an average one,” Vialle said. 

Besides lowering Mason Benoit’s carbon footprint, Vialle is intent on ensuring the quality of the baked goods by sourcing local ingredients, including flour from California.

“We do use butter from France for the croissants,” he said. “That’s hard to escape because the croissant has very specific qualities around elasticity and melting points.”

The bread program at Maison Benoit will expand when a third French baker joins the staff in March. Currently, Vialle is more interested in producing quality breads over quantity and variety. 

“I want bread to be made with mostly levain,” he said. “The whole wheat and country loaves are 100% levain, so there’s no yeast in them.”

The baguettes are made with poolish, which is a yeast that’s part of a slow fermentation process. Vialle said it’s important to him that they’re making bread in a traditional way.

“There’s a movement in France called ‘respectus panis,’” he said. “Essentially it’s to respect the bread. That means you want to give it as much time as it needs.”

Baguettes made à la poolish, according to Vialle, taste better and are easier to digest. 

As much as I could continue to rhapsodize about the pain suisse and Maulun’s mighty good mille-feuilles, Maison Benoit also serves equally delicious savory items such as quiche, tartines, croque monsieur and a ham sandwich stuffed to bursting with briny cornichons. In time, Vialle will add salads and a vegetarian sandwich to the menu. 

Maison Benoit, open Wed-Sun, 7am to 3pm; 402 Railroad Ave., Danville.


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