How Do You Like Your Baguette?

France’s Bread Lovers Have A New Idea—and It’s Half-Baked

The Famously Crusty Baguette Goes Soft As Customers Demand a Doughier Loaf

One of the great symbols of French gastronomy is under siege as customers demand a doughier loaf.

PARIS—Dominique Anract, a baker in Paris’s 16th arrondissement, sells about 1,500 baguettes every day, and most of them he wouldn’t want to eat himself.

The vast majority of his customers, he says, choose the whitest, least-baked baguette on display. So he and his team take 90% of the loaves out of the oven before they are done.

“If those were for me, we’d keep them all in two to three minutes longer,” he says. “But that’s not my call—it’s the customer’s.”

One of the great symbols of French gastronomy is under siege. Renowned for its distinctive shape and crusty exterior, the baguette risks becoming known for something else, too: being undercooked and doughy.

Rémi Héluin, the founder of Painrisien, a blog about Parisian bakeries, estimates that 80% of the 230 shops he has reviewed underbake most of their baguettes. “They’ve got to keep the customer satisfied,” he says.

Patrons have plenty of reasons for their preference—and they’re not necessarily half-baked. For Camille Oger, a 30-year-old freelance reporter, eating a well-baked baguette can be a painful experience. “It’s hard to munch,” she says, “and it hurts your gums and palate.” Less-baked loaves “won’t break your teeth,” she adds.

Pura Garcia, a retiree and a regular at Mr. Anract’s bakery, says a well-done baguette gets stale way too quickly. “If you don’t eat it within the hour, it’ll feel like it’s a day old,” she says. Many other customers say they ask for a “white baguette” because it will taste better reheated at home.

The shift in public taste has sparked some outrage in a country so synonymous with the thin, elongated stick.

“Crustiness is the trademark of French bread,” says Jean-Philippe de Tonnac, a French writer and bread enthusiast. “It won’t be as good if it’s not well baked.”

Steven Kaplan, a Cornell University professor of history and author of several books on French bread, says the baguette’s distinctive texture and flavor come from a chemical reaction—called the Maillard effect—that occurs toward the end of the baking process. Without it, a baguette is no more than a tasteless mush, which sometimes—counterintuitively—can be harder to chew.

“The baguette is gradually morphing into something else,” says Mr. Kaplan. “I’m seeing in front of my eyes, the eclipse of one of the great objects of French national heritage.”

Bakers say proper baking time allows for an exchange of flavor between the crumb (the inside of the bread) and the crust, and creates the perfect balance that makes the baguette so special: a crisp, caramelized crust enveloping a soft, airy crumb.

Though consumption of bread in France has been declining since the 1950s, bread is still a staple. Many people eat bread with most meals, viewing it almost as an extension of the knife and fork in pushing food around the plate. French research center Crédoc found that 98% of the French eat bread every day.

The French are particular fans of the baguette, which accounts for three-quarters of all bread consumption, according to France’s National Bread Observatory, which studies and promotes bread.

Despite its honored status, the ubiquitous loaf isn’t even a century old.

The baguette as we know it dates to the 1920s and was a byproduct of a protective labor law that prevented French bakers from working between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. That made it impossible to prepare traditional round loaves by breakfast time. Bakers had to turn to a new kind of bread, whose thin shape made it faster to prepare and bake. The baguette—French for “little stick”—quickly became a breakfast essential throughout France.

In recent years, the corner shop baker has had to adapt, amid growing competition from industrial food companies and supermarkets, which can sell a baguette for about a third of the price. They have also tweaked their product line to attract new customers, rolling out the more artisanal “baguette de tradition,” at a price of $1.30 to $1.90.

In a bid to protect the industry, French law dictates what ingredients can be used to make these baguettes (essentially, wheat flour, water, salt and yeast) and limits the use of the name —or bakery—to shops where bread is made and baked on the premises.

But the law doesn’t weigh in on one key diktat: how long the baguette should stay in the oven.

Though cooking time can be influenced by such things as weather and humidity, bakers agree that a typical baguette takes about 20 to 25 minutes to bake. Mr. Kaplan says he doubts the pale, lifeless loaves he sees in so many Parisian bakeries sat in the oven for more than 17 minutes.

Eating undercooked bread can have unglamorous side effects, experts say. Laurence Sailliet, a Paris nutritionist, says warm, underbaked bread can cause heartburn and flatulence, in part because its crumb isn’t airy enough for digestive enzymes to penetrate it effectively during chewing. That thick, elastic crumb is a bit like chewing gum, she says, “but the difference is, you don’t swallow the gum.”

Mr. Anract, the baker in the 16th arrondissement—an administrative district of Paris and a largely wealthy neighborhood famous for its museums, 19th-century buildings and impressive avenues—says he realizes that a few minutes more would result in the ideal crust, but he doesn’t want to risk insulting his customers. “People are in and out of the bakery in seconds—you don’t really have time to give them a lecture,” he says.

Some boulangers, however, are determined.

Frédéric Pichard, a Parisian baker famous for his thin, extremely crusty baguette, regularly opens his bakehouse to patrons. He shows them how the bread is formed and baked, and he tells customers how to taste it. “Everybody in France at least knows the basics of wine-tasting, but people have never really been taught how to taste bread,” he says. Bread tasting usually involves cutting a baguette lengthwise, smelling its crumb (which often has hints of nuts, raisins or dried apricot), feeling its texture, tearing off a piece and chewing it slowly.

Franck Debieu, who runs a bakery in Sceaux, a small town south of Paris, tries to be in his shop as often as possible to gently coax his clientele toward a more bronzed baguette. His sales staff, which always includes a baker at the counter, is trained on how to handle requests for “white” baguettes, usually by handing customers a properly baked loaf and suggesting they try it.

Mr. Debieu says his peers who underbake their bread are delusional. “The customer doesn’t know what’s best…It’s the baker’s job to educate him.”

(Source:  David Marcelis-Wall Street Journey)

IN NICE:  Best baguette Alpes-Maritime bakery is Le Niçoise (Pierre Bourdonnet) – See my article here

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Boeuf Bourguignon

With the approach of cooler, Fall temperatures, this recipe is a French classic – hearty, delicious, and facile (easy) – Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 persons:

  • 1kg of beef: shoulder, shank or blade
  • 2 onions + 4 cloves
  • 200 g of smoked lardons
  • 2 soup spoons of flour
  • 30cl of beef broth
  • 1 bottle of red wine of Burgundy (Bourgogne)
  • 3 carrots
  • oil, salt, pepper, bouquet garni, 2 cloves of garlic

Preparation

Let the meat marinate overnight in pieces of 50g approximately with 1 onion dotted with cloves, the bouquet garni, and the carrots cut in 3 or 4.

In a cast iron stewpot, brown the meat in a bit of oil, lardons, onions and meat, then sprinkle with the flour and cook a few minutes.  Then add all the other ingredients, the wine, the broth, and let it simmer for approximately 3 hours (it is cooked when the meat is tender)

Serve with boiled potatoes or tagliatelli pastas with butter and a good red wine of Burgundy (Bourgogne).

Source/credit: French Today

A French Birthday Luncheon

Cooking for someone makes me nervous – cooking for someone French (first time) makes me extremely nervous!  So it was that we were hosting a family birthday luncheon for my French beau-père (father-in-law) with my belle-mère (mother-in-law) and her son and his girlfriend in attendence. I made sure this time that I set the table correctly, as I am left-handed, and planned everything except for the birthday cake that was being bought and brought.

So, how did it go this time? (I even asked my French neighbor to check the table setting to be sure.) Everyone said all went fine, but I didn’t have dessert forks on the table (had forgotten that I needed to wash the forks used for the appetizer) – oups!  So, for me, it still wasn’t exactly without a glitch, as I would have liked.

Maybe the (next) third time will be the charm??!!

champagne glasses

champagne glasses

my stove

my stove

table setting

table setting

appetizer plate

appetizer plate

Lemon fava beans & melon with gaspacho

Lemon fava beans & melon with gaspacho

Fish tajine

Fish tajine

cheese plate

cheese plate

cake

cake

the birthday guy

the birthday Guy

How To Speak French? C’est amusant!

I am a strong proponent of learning to speak French, especially if you live here.  My language learning took years, with many starts and stops along the way, as described in the book, “Solitary Desire.”  As a former teacher of French, I can attest that foreign language learning is an ongoing process – with progress mainly through practice, practice, and more practice.

C’est en forgeant que l’on devient forgeron!    (practice makes perfect)

But really, does it truly become perfect??  Je crois que non !

I find this video amusing and very entertaining!  What’s your take?

Piazza Papa in Old Nice

A nice lunch, situtated in the Cours Saleya in the Old Town of Nice.  The service and food were both good with a fair price for summer in this high tourist area of Nice.  Not a fancy place and had a variety of items on the menu – one of the restaurants out of the extensive lineup that are found on both sides of the Cours Saleya.  A quick, nice Nice lunch!

If at first you don’t succeed…

It was Friday morning, with the market in Valbonne in full swing and a lot of people shopping and milling about.  I was doing a “meet the author” book event at the English Book Centre in Valbonne for my books “Solitary Desire – One Woman’s Journey to France” and “Sun, Sea & Savoir-Faire – A Travel Focus on the French Riviera.”   Thanks to Lin Wolff, owner and operator – I was graciously hosted and well-positioned in front of the shop ready to meet and greet customers.

Lin had casually mentioned that even when well-known author, Stephen Clarke, had done a book signing at her shop, it had been difficult to get business!  So, what were my expectations?  Basically, to enjoy the lovely morning and profit from a little publicity, rather than book sales.  Unfortunately, there was building work, with a noisy cement mixer, next door to the bookstore, so my trailer video music, as a way to hopefully attract curiosity and attention to my table, was drowned out.  No worries – I just greeted those who walked by, talked at length to a few, handed out business cards, and people watched.  All in all, it was a very pleasant, sunny morning in a lovely town – success can be measured in various ways!

So, ……I’ll try again, and so I did the following month.  Thanks to Lin, I hosted a mid-summer aperitif book event in the late afternoonAgain, it was very quiet, as I sat in the shade in front of the bookstore waiting for passers-by.  Fortunately, the cement mixer was long gone.  I ended up meeting some very nice expat couples and two lovely women, one who had driven from Cannes specifically to meet me.  All in all, a personally rewarding afternoon for the success of meeting new people – priceless!

Entrance

English Book Centre

Owner, Lin Wolff

Owner, Lin Wolff

Book table

Author, Kim Defforge