Everyone knows a French baguette. If you are very French you buy one from the boulangerie and walk down the Paris streets ripping chunks off to eat. We join them in doing so and feel a wee bit French ourselves.
We find varying qualities of French baguette from different boulangeries and the result is that we become actually quite fussy about this french tradition. We can look at them and keep walking to the next boulangerie if we think the standard is less than appealing.
French bread is required by French law to avoid preservatives, can you believe it?
And as a result, bread goes stale in under 24 hours. Thus baking baguettes is a daily occurrence, unlike sourdough bread which is baked generally once or twice a week, due to the natural preservatives in a sour dough starter.
Authentic French bread requires a poolish starter. Poolish means Polish in French; i.e. ‘from Poland’, not Mr Sheen or Pledge.
Poolish is a starter made from the same ingredients as the dough, but is left to develop for a long time. Traditionally, poolish is left overnight, but if you are in a hurry you can get away with only leaving it for a few hours. The poolish is then mixed in with the rest of the ingredients, and mixed to dough.
From this point, the process is very similar to baking ordinary bread. Poolish imparts a unique flavour, and improves the development of the bread dough and distinguishes the French baguette from the “French Sticks” at New World in Queenstown, New Zealand.
However, even within France there is a very big difference between a traditional baguette and a ‘supermarket’ baguette.
Try if at all possible to track down a local baker that makes the former. It is hard to describe the difference visually, but the traditional loaf will smell much more strongly of bread, the crust will tend to be darker, the interior is a cream colour rather than white and the interior texture is much less consistent. The former is infinitely more pleasurable than the latter!
In 2011 and for four of the last five years a bakery in Montmartre has taken home the top prize. The 2011 winner is Pascal Barillon of Au Levain d’Antan. The 52 year-old baker won a 4000€ cash prize and a contract to keep President Nicolas Sarkozy (and Carla, if she eats them) in fresh baguettes throughout the coming year.
So that boulangerie, or Montmartre in general, is where to go if you want the best.
A freshly baked baguette is simply too mouth watering to be resisted and it is not unusual to se many people sitting on a park bench in Paris enjoying baguette and wine. We are happy to join the crowd.
Try garlic-y herbed soft spreadable Bousin cheese or Fois Gras on baguette. It’s to die for.
And of course as they say in France – Bon Appétit! Or Bon baguette!