“Good Baguette, Bad Baguette”

March 23rd, 2012

Meg Zimbeck discusses the difference between artisan (left) and 'regular' baguettes

Story and photos by Stefanie Payne

…That’s right, there is a difference.  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 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, earns serious bragging rights (a favorite pastime of the region,) 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.  It is the use of living or “wild” yeast, that creates a long rise during baking that gives artisan baguettes a darker color, and ultimately the chewy, billowy texture that makes our mouths water. Artisan baguettes have more density and therefor are heavier, and are also chewier than industrially made baguettes. You will be able to spot previously frozen baguettes (made with standard, or inactive yeast) 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 at all times in all bakeries in the baguette capital of the world. If you think this article is rubbish and want to exclaim “pssht, a baguette is a baguette!” then request a “baguette” (standard yeast).  The price is just over a dollar.

But 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 language speaking skills are, 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 is 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 “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.  But lucky for you, you now know how to spot them!