Friday, June 6, 2008

The Good Search

It may come as a surprise, but all French baguettes are not created equal. I used to think that I could walk into any old boulangerie in Paris and expect to find a delicious picnic-ready baguette every time. After a few months in Paris, and more than a few disappointing experiences, I've learned that you have to a bit more discerning. Not everyone in France knows how to make a good one. But with a little bit of time, research and a willingness to conduct first-hand taste tests, you too can find the perfect long, skinny loaf of white bread.

So, what makes a good baguette? For starters, it has to be crunchy on the outside. Noisy, crackling, hurt-the-roof-of-your-mouth crunchy. The inside should be just the opposite. It should be light and airy. In fact, the best ones don't really have much on the inside at all. It should almost melt in your mouth. There's nothing worse that a heavy baguette with a soft but tough exterior. Berk!

Once you find the perfect baguette, there are a number of different takes on this classic French staple that are worth checking out as well. For example, you might want to try a tradition, ficelle, aux céréales or bio. Some boulangeries also make a mean boule. And while it might take a while to find the perfect baguette, you should never lose hope. France is simply teeming with boulangeries. Keep looking. Your mouth will thank you.


christine gilbert said...

I heard an NPR story about this recently, they had someone show the reporter the perfect baguette.

But they didn't mention there were different kinds! Please do tell us more about these different types: tradition, ficelle, aux céréales or bio.

I am visiting Paris in July, once I get settled in Madrid. I'm actually writing a small travel piece on it. You'll have to give me the 'must see' list for Parisian bakeries. :)

Tanya said...

Wish I would have heard that NPR story...gonna look it up for sure.

I definitely have some good tips for French bakeries! Poilane is a very famous bread store in the 6th arrondissement. I've seen it in tons of books but have never made it over there myself. For a great afternoon tea and dessert you should try Laduree. There are a number of them in Paris. To die for hot chocolate too, like rich, melted chocolate in a cup. Expensive, but worth it. The best traditional baguette I've had so far I got from a boulangerie near the Rue du Bac metro. I'll have to get back to you on the name...Le Pareur is the one I go to all the time. Just off the Pont de Neuilly metro stop, take the rue du chateau and the place is just after the roundabout on the left side. Yellow awning. Awesome, amazing cheese store a couple doors down with a blue awning. You can't go wrong with the Tradition baguette from the bread store and a cheese from the cheese place for the perfect Parisian picnic. Take it up to the steps of the Grande Arche at La Defense and enjoy a traditional French meal in a modern French location.

A tradition baguette is a little heartier than a classic baguette. Kind of a stout, filling version of a baguette. Very good. A ficelle is the opposite: a longer, skinnier version of a baguette. "Ficelle" literally means "string" in French! A bio baguette is an organic baguette and an aux cereales is like a whole grain baguette with different grains in it. Kind of like buying a 12-grain loaf of bread in the US, but much better :-)

I'm happy to give you any advice on what to do and see in Paris. Let me know if you have questions! One of my favorite tips that I've already gotten good feedback on is to visit the museums at night rather than during the day. The Louvre stays open late on Fridays only and the Musee d'Orsay stays open late on Thursdays only. The lines are so much shorter if you even encounter them at all.

Nomadic Matt said...

Christine, why am I not surprised to find you here! lol

Stalking me all over the web!!

Tanya, your post made me hungry. I can't eat for two hours!!! grr but on another note, I'm even more excited to find good bread in France. Before I get to France, you will have to tell me the low down on paris...places to eat, drink, and be merry.