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Messing with "Authentic" Baguettes

I've gotten in enough "spirited" discussions on CH over the years with the hounds who hew to the authentic to know what sharp elbows they have. (g) I've come at this (obviously) heretical idea of championing those who break away from the tried and true and push the food envelop just as far as it can be pushed. I've also tried the old "The customer is always right" attack, which seems not to carry much, if any, weight with the "authenticers" (riffing on the birthers here, just to tweak my long time foes...hee hee).

But now this latest article http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001... in the WSJ on the under baking of the sacred French baguette seems to be more ammunition in my quiver for the next time the "authentic" war breaks out here. See what you think and feel free to chime in on whatever side of the Mason-Dixon line you reside.

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  1. Oh dear Lord! I just printed out the WSJ article and gave it to my Frenchman. You see, the staff at every single supermarket in our area knows us--at Wegman's in KOP, the staff at the bread area runs away when they see him. He has spoken to the managers of various stores--has gone to various bakeries and complained that their "authentic" baguettes are fakes...and he has actually trained me AND my grown children on how to go into a store and squeeze the baguettes (just like the Charmin') until we find one that is "just right". THEN, when we come home we heat the loaf in a 350 degree oven for three minutes. Oh..and we never purchase the bread longer than 2 hours prior to dinner.
    I swear to you--last month we were in France. We actually drove from Paris to Garches just to get a great baguette (or three). Then...when we were in Cannes, he would make sure that we were at a certain bread shop across from Marche Forville at exactly 3:45 PM five out of nine days to make sure we go there when they had the "trad" baguette.
    I. Cannot. Make. This. Up. He is reading the article now with great disgust!

    8 Replies
    1. re: jarona

      Are you telling me that this is where the aphorism "Is nothing sacred?" came from? Or at least personifies it to the nth degree.

      1. re: Servorg

        LOL--He's mentioned many times that "zuh baguette eze sacred"...amazing!

      2. re: jarona

        Jarona- I assume by your KOP reference you're in the western burbs of Philly? If so, make a trip to North Wales some day and visit Alice's Bakery; they make real-deal baguettes.


        Full disclosure: I'm American, so these may not meet your Frenchman's exacting standards, but I do know they are better than Wegman's.

        1. re: gaffk

          Wow! Thanks for that link. Yeah...we're in Wayne so I'm sure it won't take long to go to North Wales. Hey. He will travel ANYWHERE for a decent baguette.

          1. re: jarona

            You can search Alice's on the Philly board if you want confirmation that it's pretty well acknowledged to be the best in the area.

        2. re: jarona

          I, for one, have an appreciation for this Frenchman of yours.
          Sure, the market will dictate what is sold overall but you will eventually find that there will be "specialty shop" that sell traditional baguettes just as there are "traditional" style ethnic restaurants serving food the way it's supposed to be prepared. These places may not necessarily do well at your local mall (where the "unwashed masses" tend to eat) but they are often successful in more densely populated areas. There will always be a market for the authentic. Like your Frenchman, those of us in search of it will just have to look a little harder.

          1. re: bobbert

            ......and now that summer is at an end, my project this winter is going to research how to attempt to create that elusive baguette. In fact..., much to the Frenchman's pleasure, I will be enrolling in a bread baking class on our next trip to Paris next year!

            1. re: bobbert

              Or do without.

              The speciality store idea works well when you live in an area that has enough demand to support the good stuff. If you live in an area that can't support it, you're SOL.

              I eat bread maybe once or twice a month. It's possible to get good bread where I live (a city of 7 million can support a lot of niche markets), but the hour to hour and a half round trip on public transportation for an acceptable loaf of bread makes it a special treat.

          2. "Authentic" is a crock of shit.

            As is "the customer is always right"

            The first is meaningless and the second just patent bollocks.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Harters

              I've always looked at the phrase "the customer is always right" as a concept that is alerting the business community that tastes are changing, and that the one(s) who understand that first will be best positioned to satisfy that change.

              Obviously this doesn't happen overnight. And often it isn't a complete change that will put you out of business if you don't start riding that wave. But sometimes it does. And widening ones business base is usually a good idea. Niche businesses can, and do exist. But they also tend to be and stay small.

              1. re: Harters

                It's a word. It has meaning. Look it up.

                1. re: Steve

                  Nah. Nice try, Steve, but I'm not biting this time. Have a good day.

                  1. re: Harters


                    What I said is true, which is where you have your underlying problem. But I understand; words can be very perplexing.

                    'I'm not biting'....Ah, but you did.

                    As far as the OP is concerned, I remember visiting a friend in Canet-Plage in 1985, and I went with him to visit his father in the mountainous town of Prades. He dad wore a beret and always kept a pocket knife to cut his baguette. He complained that the baguettes of the day were not like when he was young....

                    It does make me wonder if this is the case everywhere, even in villages with one boulangerie.

                    I have always felt that baguettes (from serious bakers) in the US were too tough, as if they were trying too hard to make a 'Crusty European Bread' but didn't understand the baguette, not getting the shatter and tenderness that used to be matter-of-fact in France, or least in the provinces, I have less experience in Paris.

                    1. re: Steve

                      Every one of the (many) baguettes I ate in France in 1977 were tooth-pullingly tough.

                      1. re: sandylc

                        A proper baguette should not make a good sandwich. It will be too tough for that. But take a knife and slice off a round? Your teeth are tearing into the interior first and it should not be that tough. The crust should shatter.

                        1. re: sandylc

                          For me , that is expected and perfect. For you ?
                          A crust that shatters, for creme brûlée yes, for bread not for me.

                          1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                            What do you think of sandwiches made with a baguette?

                            1. re: Steve

                              Easy, never use baguettes for sandwiches, as from Philadelphia seem to want my sandwiches on something like a Sarcone's seeded, almost regardless of sandwich. Baguette is to use great butter, maybe confiture, maybe even cheese smooshed on it, but for me, all about the bread.

                2. Regretfully l have to agree, while my 10 or so bakeries all over Paris do keep their baguette traditional as hard to chew as hardtack, thank God for this, most stores make a non-traditional baguette which is sort of Wonder Bread in a tube shape, not as bad as a Subway roll but getting there. Even the serious bakers, winners of the Meilleur de baguette, also make the soft loaf as well and it is a bit cheaper also.
                  Had noticed four French bakers came to Sarasota over a 5 year period and when they opened their bread was perfect, after 6 months it was very dummied down and for me inedible.

                  1. Ultimately, if you're baking/cooking for a living, you listen to what the customers want. I have an uncle who opened an "authentic" chinese restaurant and about went out of business. He changed it to american chinese, frozen dimsum, california rolls,...and stayed in business. The customer may not always be right but the market gets what it wants, on a macro scale.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: chowser

                      It brings to mind the Seinfeld episode with "Babu Bhatt" and Jerry's suggestion that he go completely authentic with his menu...

                      1. re: Servorg

                        Exactly--good reference. Some people only want to pretend to eat that cuisine (not that there's anything wrong with that).

                    2. This is very funny to me, as this afternoon I bought a "French baguette" at Trader Joe's and noticed only later that it had been par-baked. Put into a 450º oven for ten minutes did give us a nice bread - our gang was actually doing a Spanish meal, but when the wine and olive oil flow a Crusty Loaf is a Crusty Loaf - but a loaf with the life span of a mayfly has few attractions for me, and I don't care who adores it. After finishing the baking I cut this thing across into halves, and sliced one half for cheese and stuff. The second will get toasted for breakfast, after slicing.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Will Owen

                        As a follow-up to the above, when I brought the unused half home, I immediately did what the Bread Gurus expressly forbid: wrapped it in plastic! That was Friday night. This morning (Tuesday) I cut six diagonal slices off it and toasted them to have with scrambled eggs (very nice!). The rest went back into the plastic bag …

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          There are times when you want to make a lean bread keep longer. That's just life.

                          I have wrapped a baguette in plastic and then later wet it under the faucet and put it in a 375 preheated oven for a few minutes. Almost like fresh.

                      2. Authentic bourgeoisie food sounds like an oxymoron, no?
                        Said sacred baguette is a relatively modern invention.

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: Chowrin

                          I'm not sure why authentic bourgeoisie food is oxymoronic? After all, as the article explains, the baguette was developed because of the work place laws that protected French bakers from having to work the long, overnight hours necessary to make the round loaves.

                          So this invention from the 1920's is deeply rooted in the bourgeoisie class, and is an authentic French staple (or was, at least, given the shift to the new "white" baguette being asked for by the younger set).

                          1. re: Chowrin

                            Yes, relatively modern, although I have some notes dating to 1916 of what I assume to be a baguette. Or, at least, baguette-ish.

                            Gunner Rowland Luther, 92nd Howitzer Brigade, was sent off by his officer, to the village of Bray to buy all the bread he could find for his comrades. He came back with two big sackfuls. "They were about 18 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. They contained no salt".

                            I know the general area of Bray-sur-Somme quite well and have often bought sandwiches from boulangeries in the villages and towns around there. The bread is thinner than Luther describes, as baguettes we now recognise, with a crisp crust, but not an overly crisp and hard one - sounds like the ones described in the OP's link. Makes for a good sandwich, IMO.

                            1. re: Harters

                              How does the size in that area compare to a ficelle?

                              1. re: Steve

                                Thicker. Baguette sized, as I mentioned.

                                As a tangent, of a food from the area, a "ficelle picarde" isnt bread, but a savoury pancake rolled into a cylinder, containing mushroom and topped with a cheese sauce.

                            2. re: Chowrin

                              Most French food we champion these days is actually bourgeoisie cuisine. It can be divided among haute bourgeoisie and petit bourgeoisie, and the latter group may include the richer farmers whose cooking inspire so many of our cookbooks yearning for the so called simpler life.

                              The actual peasants ate a very limited and impoverished diet.

                              You'll find this to be the case with many cuisines world-wide.

                              1. re: Roland Parker

                                Slightly yes, and slightly no. the peasants ate a gorge/famine diet, because of lack of refrigeration -- and the effort involved in cooking a whole beast. Many dishes are festival foods.

                                1. re: Chowrin

                                  You're oversimplifying the subject and ignoring that for the genuine peasants - laborers on the estates of the wealthy and farms of the better off peasants, as well as the urban working classes, the diets was, while certainly seasonal, was extremely simple and based on a simple menu of cheap carbohydrates and basic vegetables with the rare bit of meat/offal. This was due not just to refrigeration but also out of economic necessity. So many of these people, well into the 19th century, did live on the fringe of starvation for the majority of their lives and were undernourished.

                                  The people who had the means to actually prepare something we can call a cuisine came from the bourgeoisie, which encompasses not just the rich but more prosperous farmers and tenants. They had the means and access to a range of produce, spices, meats and foodstuff to cook a wide variety of meals on a regular basis. That's not to say there aren't a few dishes that had its origins in peasantry cooking that found its way, with the aid of refinement, into the bourgeoisie kitchen. Since we're talking about baguettes, the traditional peasant and laborer of France didn't eat baguettes but a coarser, darker bread. White flour was always more expensive, and the earlier in the 19th and 18th century you go, substantially more expensive and beyond the means of many people.

                                  India is a good place to go to see what life was like in pre-21st century Europe. The bulk of the Indian population, who are agricultural peasants, eat nothing but rice and dal and a handful of vegetables. Meat is saved for special occasions such as festivals. It's only when you move into the kitchens of the better off sectors of society that you start seeing a more developed, more complex cuisine including many of the dishes we take for granted in Indian restaurants.

                                  1. re: Roland Parker

                                    I agree with much of what you say but the comparison to India may not be the best. A vast number of Indians are vegetarians and many more don't eat meat in the home. It's not necessarily a "festive" ingredient- it's just not culturally emphasized.

                            3. Since, as the 'Tao Te Ching' informs us "all experience is relative" everything then must be 'authentic'. When I lived in S. France every piece of baguette tasted the same as it did the day before to my palette. But it is obvious that each baguette must have been a different beast than the one laying beside it.
                              So I think the word "authentic" ought to refer only to one specific thing/thought/sound....baguette. Better to refer to something as 'very similar' to the baguette I had yesterday. Or not. Depending on what some one 'upstream' had thrown into the local water supply. The relative age of the yeast. The flour milled which came from a different field as the baker used the day before. The handling of the bread. And on and on.
                              'Authentic' ought to be used as carefully as using words like 'never' and 'always' and 'forever'. You know. Like Lao Tzu suggested small fish ought to be cooked. "Carefully".

                              1. And here is the corresponding post on the France board, if you want to see what the Chowhounds say on the other side: