France’s best baguettes

Baguettes at “Le Capitole” bakery in Nice, France, November 8, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

The baguette is the most popular loaf of French bread. There are 32,000 bakers and cake-makers (boulangers-pâtissiers) in France. Like so many things that the French take seriously, the profession is regulated. What this means is that you can’t make it up. Cela ne s’invente pas. There are rules and regulations around the fabrication of the humble baguette de pain and a professional association that sets the standards and governs the making and baking of our daily bread.

Every year, the Confédération Nationale de la Boulangerie-Pâtisserie Française holds a contest to crown the baker who makes the best ‘baguette de tradition’. Now, the traditional French stick is not to be confused with its lesser cousin, ‘la baguette industrielle’. The industrial or ordinary type of baguette can be found in every French supermarket or ‘point chaud’ and while some centimes cheaper is far inferior in terms of quality.

Traditional baguette is made by an artisan baker at a relatively small scale and according to a strict set of rules. The flour must be of a specific type (55), with nothing added other than yeast and salt, then kneaded for a minimal amount of time, weighed, divided and allowed to rise. It is then shaped by hand into the iconic long ‘baguette’ shape before being baked in an oven with a stone floor.

The criteria for the ‘best’ baguette are the following (20 points for each):

  • Aspect – the look or appearance of the loaf
  • Croûte (couleur/croustillant) – the colour and crustiness of the crust
  • Arôme – its flavour or taste
  • Mie (couleur / alvéolage) – the colour and cellular structure of the white, doughy part of the bread (which must not be overly dense)
  • Mâche – its chewiness or mouth feel
The word ‘alvéole’ comes from the cells of a bee-hive but its holes should be irregular.

The best baguette is somewhat irregular looking, with a nicely browned, crusty exterior and a soft, airy interior. It has a bit of character in terms of taste but is essentially a perfect backdrop for other flavours: cheese, sauces, pâtés…

This year’s top prizes at the national level were handed out in Paris on May 15th. The three top bakers are in Franche-Comté, Brittany and Ardèche: https://www.boulangerie.org/blog/concours-national-de-la-meilleure-baguette-de-tradition-francaise-les-resultats-2/

In April, the winners of the 25th annual competition in Paris were announced. The baguettes of this year’s winning baker, Fabrice Leroy, can be found at the Leroy-Monti bakery in Paris’s 12th arrondissement and also grace the president’s table at the Elysée Palace (if you are lucky enough to be invited). https://www.sortiraparis.com/news/in-paris/articles/190183-paris-best-baguette-winner-is-leroy-monti-bakery-in-the-12th-arrondissement/lang/en

How do you like your bread? Dense and doughy or light and fluffy?

21 thoughts on “France’s best baguettes

  1. There is something I can’t really understand about modern bread . I grew up in the 60s and spent half of my time in my Grands farm . They bought their bread ( one of the very few items they ever had to buy with salt and pepper) and this bread was, as in any countryside of the time, of a round shape and its weight was around 1 kg, sometimes 2 kg . Imagine this bread nearly didn’t change for a whole week, just a bit harder with a slight change of taste as days went by .
    As a kid used to towns bread I found the taste less enjoyable but IT COULD STAY A WEEK !

    Along the years, I noticed something was changing and since decades now I never encountered this good old bread, even in the countryside, even in “pain de tradition” called places . Though, in the Hippies communities I experimented there were people who still made the same quality . My conclusion : we are conned . Surprising isn’it ?

    Since you wrote about this “iconic” French baguette, I have to tell you it is a recent ubiquitous trend . In my chidhood, in the south-west at least , people seldom bought baguettes, they were exceptional . My parents, as everybody around, everyday bought “un 700”, a 700 grams bread . People alone or in couple bought “un 400”, while a baguette weights between 200 and 250 g . In Paris I noticed we could see more baguettes – and there were delicious to my kid’s spoilt taste, but they were staled after 1 day . The “700” and the “400” had a baguette shape, just thicker, big round breads were reserved to peasants ha ha . My conclusions : the baguette is another shitty trend these dumb Parisians spread into all France . And of course these dumb foreigners made another wrong conclusion about the real French .

    1. Ah, you are a crusty country bread type, then? I actually agree and prefer the bread that sort of bites back, although it’s true that the freshly baked white baguette just from the oven is lovely before it goes stale the next day (or even hours after). I think you’re right — it has to do with the so-called ‘refined’ tastes of the Parisian palette (probably also influenced by the English) and mass commercialization that took over modern bread making. Now the standard is such that there is very little room for the artisan to interpret or add value. I would love the kind of loaf you describe in a baguette shape as I like the crust the best.

      1. Well, as a kid I loved Parisian baguettes but we know what to think about children tastes . Growing up I realized that people decently bred hated this superficial and not lasting stuff, they were saying that everybody could taste it had not been made properly, like in a factory without all the right ingredients and timing . The fact this bread was ready for the dustbin hours later tended to make a point actually .
        Regarding the peasants, who were the wide majority of Frenchmen until post WWII, I could witness the only times when they were exposed to cities baguettes they just laughed and were full of contempt for the consumers and anger for the so-called “bakers” . You know, real bread had been their basic survival food for centuries .

  2. Light and fluffy all the way. I was introduced to the Parisian baguette back in 1974, and I’ve loved it ever since. When I visited Hungary, I found that the everyday bread was round, heavy and a dark brown. Bakers also made what was called a ‘buci’ [bootzi is the closest approximation]. It was a feather light roll very similar in texture to the French baguette.

    I loves what I loves. 😀

    1. And so should you! We should not have to defend our right to enjoy what appeals to our taste buds. I like something a bit darker with a crusty crust but light and airy inside. Still, the Parisian baguette has its undeniable charms. To each his own!

    2. You know, the “700s” people ate everywhere in towns decades ago looked and tasted like baguettes, they were only thicker and longer . What I hate is modern “bread” last a few hours instead of days . For sure quantity replaced quality one more time – and this used to be very anti-French in the past . Time and money saving killed craft work pride .

      1. I kind of remember that Parisian baguettes didn’t stay fresh all that long, even 45 years ago. That said though, I agree with you about the commercialization of bread. These days, unless you buy artisan bread, you have no idea what chemicals go into the bread you buy. 😦

  3. We found that it was more difficult to find a good baguette in Paris while we lived there. There were artisan bakery who didn’t do a good job at making baguettes. The standards (in my opinion) have gone way down; some artisan bread makers aren’t doing much better than what you find in the supermarche! But when you find a good one, then baguette is still the best though I like all kind of bread and make my own now… (Suzanne)

    1. That is interesting…I had sort of thought things were improving lately. When I first came to France there was only white baguettes, thicker ‘pains’ and country breads. Now we have ‘ficelles céreales’ and all sorts. I find the choices here in the Haute Savoie are not as good in many areas, such as produce and fish for example, but we are pretty lucky to have a rather decent bakery in our village! Good on you for making your own bread, Suzanne. I admire that!

  4. crusty and firm bien sûr, and Nicolas Cadoret, of Locmaria-Grand-Champ (56)shop there on my way to work sometimes, glad he won!! merci, salut!

  5. Pain de campagne and tangy. D’accord with those who express their frustration over les traditions that expire within hours—though those few hours can be delightful!

    1. Yes, tangy about describes the sourdough flavour of ‘levain’. The bread that goes stale so fast is sawdust in comparison. Thanks for chiming in!

  6. Interesting comment exchange today, with opinions on the state of bread in France.

    I’m not much of a bread eater. I have many vices and bread just isn’t one of them. Maybe it’s because I was brought up on bread that was kind of ‘meh’. Whenever I go to France though, it’s a different story. After a steady diet of France bread for 2 weeks last month (omg, sooooo gooooood), I’m back to ‘meh’ again.

    btw – make mine dense and chewy 🙂

    1. Yes, dense and chewy is the best! Wish I didn’t love it quite so much. I try not to eat too much bread (ie carbs) but there are times when I let myself go crazy. Life is short!

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