We recently looked at the French obsession with picking up freshly-baked bread every day from a neighbourhood boulangerie. If you’re staying in Paris, then getting hold of a baguette is the easy part, though—whether you’re in the Marais or anywhere else, just walk into a French bakery and you’ll see dozens of them lined up behind the counter just waiting for you.
baguette de tradition
Today, though, we want to take a look at just what it is that makes French bread so special. First of all, there are some rather strict rules about just what constitutes the all-important baguette de tradition.
The baker has to bake the entire loaf on the premises, without resorting to any bought-in frozen dough. The list of basic ingredients is always the same: wheat flour, water, yeast and a pinch of salt, although individual bakers are free to alter the exact proportions according to their own recipe.
After that, they have to make their own dough, proof it and knead it—with all of this work still done by hand. The bread can then go in the oven to be baked at temperatures of up to 500 °C (almost 900 °F). Less than half an hour later, the baguettes are ready and just how we like them: nice and warm, with a crisp crust and a soft, airy centre.
We’re glad that so many of France’s bakers are willing to get up at the crack of dawn every day to bake fresh bread so we don’t have to. But even if you wanted to try and copy the basic recipe, you couldn’t: the name artisan boulanger, or ‘craftsman baker’, which you’ll see on bakers’ shops everywhere, is a protected by French law. Bakers are only allowed to use it after extensive training. It’s actually illegal for anybody else to use the name—just as it’s illegal to pass off as a baguette de tradition anything that doesn’t meet the criteria set out above.
Trying a baguette
So, it’s always wise to beware of imitations, but you can find the real thing here in Paris from your local boulangerie.