Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Searching for the Perfect Baguette? The Perfect Baguette is a Baguette de Tradition Française.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman
Updated March 2018

Baguettes de Tradition
The traditional baguette

The traditional French baguette is made without preservatives or any other additions. It is much more than a long, thin, tasty, loaf of bread, even though it is only pure wheat flour, water and salt. Once you have tasted a traditional French baguette then going back to a French supermarket for a baguette made with frozen dough will not be easy.
N.B. Many up-market supermarkets do offer artisanal baguettes made with a wide variety of flours; these baguettes come from local boulangeries that are brought in to make sure the supermarket’s customers need not go anywhere else.

Pick up a baguette on the way to the cash register.
A baguette is what most visitors to France mean when they ask for French bread, and that it certainly is.  For many French citizens, especially Parisians, breakfast without a baguette is hardly breakfast.  A standard baguette is almost 70 cms long and weighs 250 grams; croissants are saved for the weekend,    

Carrying home a fresh baguette. `
However, baguettes may not be on every French family’s breakfast table. Baguettes and other thin breads like the ficelle, do not keep well.  These thin breads will be fresh for just a few hours. A large loaf like the pain boule, which was until the arrival of the baguette, considered "the French bread"  will last for two or three days.  Furthermore, the baguette is considered a Parisian bread and a local bread will automatically be preferred in some regions. Nevertheless, nearly all French hotels offer overseas visitors a baguette for breakfast.  (For more about breakfast in France click here).
A pain boule.
The bread on many breakfast tables outside Paris.
Photograph courtesy of kochtopf

Until a few years ago if you got up early you would see people standing in line for baguettes and other breads outside a local boulangerie, a bakery. That still happens, but today there are less and less corner bakeries and many families have to buy their bread the night before. Buying bread the night before, especially a thin baguette means the bread is not 100% fresh in the morning. For more about other French breads click here.
Part of a perfect breakfast.
The recipe for a baguette de tradition
Baguettes in the supermarket and chain bakeries are baked on the premises from pre-shaped frozen dough.  Traditional French baguettes, despite their higher prices, are produced by privately owned boulangeries who have very demanding customers. 
A baguette de tradition is made with pure wheat flour, water and salt, and no additives at all. A baguette de tradition must be baked on the day it is sold and the dough cannot have been frozen.  The bakers order their flour from mills they know personally and consider the water used in the bakery to be crucial.  Along with the ingredients noted above goes the baker’s proprietary "chef", the starter, that is the yeast culture.  There are bakers who have the same chef for many years, some for over thirty years. From year to year their "chef", their own yeast starter, and their source of water will keep their customers' returning for their baguettes’ unique taste.        

Baguettes ready for the oven

Natural yeasts used by these bakers provide that je ne sais quoi found in traditional baguettes.  When bakers look for natural yeasts they wait until they find the one that provides the difference. Yeasts are floating all around us and traditional bakers look for natural yeasts in fields, vineyards and elsewhere, they do not buy commercial yeasts. They check the results of their yeasts in trial runs of their bread again and again; they cannot let a new yeast become their chef unless they are 101% sure that it is right for their bread. Even so, regular customers will notice the change/

Bread baking competitions.
 In the larger towns and cities of France, there are competitions for the best baguette de tradition, as well as other breads; these are competitions for professional bakers. The French Government Tourist Office can advise you when different cities have their bread and other baking competitions; they will tell you who are the organizers, and which competitions welcome outside visitors.

The annual Paris competition for baguettes de tradition.
The annual Paris competition for baguettes de tradition is organized by the Chambre Professionnelle des Artisans Boulangers Pâtissiers de Paris, the Chamber of the Bakers and Pastry-cooks of Paris.  This chamber is a relatively new organization that was founded in 1801.  From the date alone, you may be sure that they know what they are doing and they take their competitions very seriously.

A boulangerie selling traditional baguettes
Photograph courtesy of myaha
The Parisian baguette competition is called the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris; the winner is granted the title of Master de la Baguette Parisienne, the Master of the Parisian Baguette and supplies the French President with bread for a whole year

If you have access to a French speaker call the Chambre Professionnelle des Artisans Boulangers Pâtissiers de Paris at Tél: or send a Fax to: Ask for the dates of this year’s competition so you can attend or find the winner and runner’s up of last year’s competition so you try their baguettes.
The Paris Tourist Information Office will, with difficulty also provide the dates for the next competition

The same organizers have a competition for the best croissant. In all these competitions it is other professionals who judge the winning bread and pastries. These competitions are the real thing; they are all blind tastings held in the presence of the competitors
The world’s most important baking competition

The world’s most important baking competition is the Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, the World Cup of Pastry competition held in the city of Lyon, France.  For more information click or copy paste on this English language website.

This World Cup is held bi-annually in the city of Lyon and visitors may also attend. You may order tickets on the web but order early as the number of tickets for non-professionals are limited.                
N.B. On a French menu, the word baguette may also be used to describe other stick shaped foods, usually short, thin, sticks of fried or baked vegetables.

For more about nearly all the French breads click on this link:

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind The French Menu.
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1 comment:

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