What Makes A Great French Baguette?

Meg Zimbeck of Paris By Mouth discusses the differences between artisan and and ‘regular’ baguettes

There is a difference between styles of the classic French baguette.  A fresh look at the most famous bread on earth, including: how to differentiate previously frozen from fresh, the artisan boulangeries that make them, the best time of day to buy, and other great info from a notable American food writer and guide living on the left bank in Paris.

Once a year in Paris, there is a competition to determine which boulangerie can craft the best baguette in the city.  The winner supplies the President of France with baguette for a year, and earns serious bragging rights among competitors while a line subsequently forms around the block of the bakery.

The ingredients involved in making a baguette are simple and few: water, flour, salt and yeast.  Use of living or “wild” yeast, creates what is called a long rise during baking that gives artisan baguettes the darker color and a more chewy texture than baguettes comprised of the same ingredients and standard, inactive yeast. Artisan baguettes have more density and are heavier than industrially made baguettes. You will be able to spot previously frozen, industrially made baguettes from the tiny dots that line the underside of the loaf, occurring when air-bubbles escape during reheating.

Chicken, salad, and grilled “baguette de tradicion”

How to Find the Real Deal

Both baguettes are available throughout the day in almost every boulangerie in the French capital.

“A baguette is a baguette!” Is this how you feel?  If so, request simply a “baguette” (standard yeast).  The price is just over a dollar.

If you want the real deal—the pièce de résistance, the baguettes that win contests and feed the French President—ask for “baguette de tradicion” (living yeast).  It won’t matter how bad your French is, they will appreciate you trying, and moreover, that you know this term at all.  The price is just over a dollar and a half.

Shelf life for a baguette should be five or six hours. And a word to the wise, save a few dimes by heading to the boulangerie in the afternoon.  This is when you can pick up what is equivalent to our American “day old” bread.

And a quick note on how to select a boulangerie.  Look for the term “Artisan.”  It will be proudly displayed on the store window.  This term basically means that they are bad-ass breadmakers and it is illegal for them to sell frozen baguettes.  Lucky for you, you now know how to spot the real deal!


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Categories: Europe, Food + Drink, On a fork, Stories

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