Who doesn’t love the iconic photo of the man with beret and baguette on his bicycle, what the French refer to as the “beret-baguette” image that foreigners have of France. It’s charming, it speaks to all that is good in this rich and wonderful land.
Three Legends About the Origin
There are at least three legends about the origin of the baguette, and most likely just one truth. Some say that bakers during the reign of Napoléon 1 were asked to make a long bread that would easily fit in a soldiers’ backpack; others that the baguette is the fruit of an Austrian baker who opened his boulangerie in Paris in the early part of the 19th century and copied the bread he made back home; still another is that the baguette was invented to avoid strife among the Breton and the Auvergnat workers who were building the Paris metro in the early 20th century, because it could be broken without a knife, and knives were prohibited at the workplace.
The Real Story – We Think
The least colorful story is most likely the most true: the baguette was invented for Parisians who wanted fresh bread at any moment of the day. Bakers, who were prohibited under fair work laws from baking throughout the night, came up with a dough that rose quickly and baked even more quickly, so they could get some sleep AND satisfy their customers. And that is why today one can get a freshly baked baguette at any moment of the day.
Baguette Ordinaire – Baguette Tradition
Whatever its origin, the baguette is firmly entrenched in all of France. There are two distinct versions, the “baguette ordinaire” and “la tradition” or “baguette tradition”. By law the baguette is between 60 and 65 centimeters long and weighs between 200 and 250g; should anyone inspect the baker’s work and find a baguette that doesn’t satisfy these requirements, there are legal sanctions.
There is more. The dough of the ordinary baguette can contain many different ingredients including boosters, whiteners, vitamins, and more. It is mixed heartily and long so that the crumb of the loaf is bright white. It rises for enough time so that it puffs, but not enough to develop true yeast flavor, thus there are few holes in the crumb of a baguette, and it will keep for a matter of hours before turning hard and dry.
A baguette de tradition contains – by law – only four ingredients: water, flour, salt, yeast. The dough is mixed slowly so the strands of gluten don’t break; it rises slowly so that air holes form in the crumb.
For True Flavor, Here is What You Choose
Both versions of baguette are crisp and, depending on the baker, golden and shattery. But for true warm, yeasty bread flavor and a seductive golden crumb, “la tradition” is the baguette you’re after. It keeps overnight and is wonderful toasted and dunked into a morning bowl of coffee!