My Baguette is Back!

baguette

Disappointment can take many forms.

Some people are unhappy with their lawmakers. Others experience unemployment, infidelity, natural disasters, wrongful arrest, declining stock prices, or social injustices.

And then there’s the poor folks that face cultural challenges on a daily basis, and have to deal with disagreeable bank tellers, reams of bureaucratic paperwork, and a France Telecom form promising a refund, but with absolutely no information on where to return it to.

Me?

I’ve got bigger problems around here. Much bigger.

It’s my daily bread.

The problem began a few years ago, when my local boulangerie closed for their annual summer vacances. I wasn’t miffed that they’d closed for five weeks, leaving me stranded without bread. What ruined it for me was when they reopened, their baguettes sucked.

Like, really really sucked. C’est vraiment nul.

Stop me if I’ve written about this, but when I moved here, my corner bakery had the best baguette I’d ever had: light, feathery, and airy inside, with a brittle, crackly-brown crust that shattered into a zillion little bits when I broke off the quignon. It’s flavor was complex and elusive— lightly wheaty, a wee-bit tangy, with hints of apricot and vanilla. In short, it was the perfect foil for any cheese, a great envelope for a hunk of pâté and a smear of grainy mustard, or cut thinly into rounds and baked with olive oil then scraped with fresh garlic hot out of the oven.

I still contend that they make the best croissant in Paris (even though the morning of Romain’s birthday, they ran out of them by 9am), but after their vacation way back when, their baguettes were flabby and pallid. The worst. So I was surprised when I went in yesterday for no other reason except that I felt I should give them another chance.

I ordered a baguette tradition, a bâton of bread which is hand-formed and contains levain, a natural starter, so it not only keeps longer than a baguette ordinaire, but has a slightly-tangy taste. When I hefted it, I was optimistic as it felt firm and sturdy, and was still warm. I carried it outside, ripped off the quignon, and stuffed the end in my mouth.

Even if it wasn’t still warm from the oven, my whole body reacted when I chewed on that crusty little knob, and I immediately took notice&mdas:was my baguette back? So I bought another one today just to see if it was a fluke, and it wasn’t.

So have a good weekend everybody. It’s only Saturday, so far mine’s going pretty well.

That is, as long as tomorrow’s loaf keeps the tradition going.



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35 comments

  • November 22, 2008 11:23am

    A good baguette just a hop, skip and a jump from your house is certainly reason to celebrate. My big thrill, living just outside nyc(jersey city) is to have found a bakery in walking distance with excellent italian loaves. Every so often I discover a loaf there that makes my day. Scroll down this post to see these wonderfully, soft “pizza” loaves which made my day.

    http://www.izzyeats.com/2008/08/working-up-appetite-weekend-of.html

    I find that wherever I go, I manage to find something to serve as my daily bread but I definitely envy you your choices. For if your corner bakery’s baguette sucks, you can probably find a decent substitute within 5 minutes.

  • November 22, 2008 11:29am

    izzy’s mama: While it’s true there are indeed plenty of bakeries around here, I was tired of having to walk 3 blocks out of my way each time I bought a loaf of bread elsewhere so I didn’t have to pass by their shop carrying another bakery’s baguette under my arm!

  • Murasaki Shikibu
    November 22, 2008 11:49am

    Glad to hear your baguette is back. I can understand your shock and disappointment too when they went bad.

  • November 22, 2008 11:55am

    what an optimistic post – well, optimistic of you to randomly give them another chance. hope is alive! and you’ve got good bread again. sweet.

  • November 22, 2008 12:07pm

    Au Levain du Marais is the closest boulangerie to my house, and I, too, fell in love with their croissant. I’ve been happily eating their (usually still-warm) pain tradition since I moved to the neighborhood in April, and have yet to be displeased. So glad to hear that the baguette badness was just a hiccup.

  • November 22, 2008 12:11pm

    Your sad tale has all the earmarks of a new, not-very-good baker in the kitchen, oui? Who just got fired.

  • November 22, 2008 12:30pm

    OH, to have a french bakery close. The closest I come is from my oven on occasion thanks to Peter Reinhart. My baguettes probably aren’t as good as yours but they’re pretty good for rural Ohio!

  • Susan
    November 22, 2008 12:35pm

    I’m glad the baguette is back! Maybe someone didn’t mind the starter while everyone was on holiday?

  • Jill
    November 22, 2008 1:37pm

    I remember a time when I was sent to go buy bread for dinner – a long walk. On the way home I decided just to try a little bit of the crunchy end. Then the inside soft fluff was visible, so I had just a little. Then a little more. And when I got back there was hardly any left. I should have just turned around to get another one.

  • November 22, 2008 1:41pm

    That’s good — I would have been devastated to lose something so lovely and essential as well… I’m still looking in our neighborhood for knee-weakening baguettes – I’m so picky!! And then what will one girl do with one whole baguette?? I feel like they should make half-ones for people like me.

  • November 22, 2008 1:43pm

    I’m pretty convinced that the baguette is a dying art form. I can get really good pain céréale, fabulous pain Aveyronnais, wonderful pain de vignerons, but a baguette? I’m always disappointed. It’s one the simplest breads there is, but one of the most difficult breads to get right.

  • November 22, 2008 1:46pm

    radish: Well, you have good coffee in your neighborhood&mdashso there!

    Actually, it’s funny, because in bakeries here in France, they’ll happily sell you a half of a baguette…which costs 42 centimes. In the US, I don’t think anyone would get out of their seat for 42 cents!

  • November 22, 2008 2:02pm

    I love the bread in Paris but they do sell small baguettes here in CA. By La Brea Bakery, I do believe.

  • Susan
    November 22, 2008 3:02pm

    Jill — I had the same experience once many years ago. A friend and I were on our way home from a different metro stop than usual. We joined the queue to buy a demi-baguette, and each of us tore off a little nibble as we left the store. As soon as we each tasted that bread we stopped dead in our tracks and looked at each other. Without a word we turned around and went back to the end of the queue for more. When a baguette is that good, who counts carbs?!

  • November 22, 2008 4:00pm

    Hooray, so happy for your great news. I agree with the poster who remarked on your optimism in having given them another chance. So glad that this story has a happy ending!

  • November 22, 2008 4:33pm

    I’m not as fortunate as you David, we can get some bread if you venture into Manhattan to a few good bakeries, but then why? I just make my own baguettes, feed the starter the night before wake a few hours earlier and bam it’s a done deal!

  • Stéphane
    November 22, 2008 4:55pm

    You should keep track of who is actually baking. I know that my baker in Meudon makes great bread Monday through Saturday but his “remplaçant” on Sundays is terrible, the bread is invariably dry and dense. Sometimes the baker himself is manning the register, you can get some great info from those people. A few years ago my baker even gave me a behind-the-scenes tour of the place.

  • Nancy
    November 22, 2008 5:26pm

    David–this comment is about your being on KCRW GoodFood today. I always enjoy when you are on. You talked about chocolate and cumin. I was in Paris two weeks ago and went in to Chocolats Mussy on Rue du Bourg-Tibourg. The mr, and I got a box of chocolates, jellies, chocalate bark with dried fruit and some chocolate and cumin. All was yummy except the chocolate with cumin. It made the chocolate taste like nothing. We had dinner at Les Cotelette that night and they were serving tripe. The mr. thinks the frrench liking tripe is the same as the french liking the chocolate with cumin.

  • Randy Goldberg
    November 22, 2008 5:43pm

    @Susan: that was my first thought, too – someone forgot to take care of the levain while they were away.

  • November 23, 2008 3:30am

    I used to get a traditional baguette at Breadbar in Los Angeles every week or so. I’d munch on it all day while sitting in my cubicle. Happy times.

  • November 23, 2008 3:55am

    funny how a little detail can make a really good (or awful) day :)
    It’s quite hard to find a good baguette in Paris, but the “Tradition” one is a “valeur sûre” as we say in french

  • November 23, 2008 9:22am

    I’m glad you got your baguette back. There are few things in life as wonderful as a fresh baguette.

  • November 23, 2008 9:36am

    I’d kill for a good baguette about now. I’m in Mexico and the breads so far are all soft crusted, unless they’ve been toasted to a nearly blackened crisp.

    But if that’s the trade off for this weather, and this view…. I think I’ll live. ;^)

  • November 23, 2008 11:27am

    Three blocks, you poor thing!

  • November 23, 2008 12:04pm

    oooohhh… i am dying here… i miss the bread. and you know what else i miss? the walk out to get the bread. bread under one arm and the newspaper under the other.

  • Sandra
    November 23, 2008 3:08pm

    I’m glad your boulangerie is open again. We would love to find a source of decent crusty bread, any kind in Boston. And any one reading this from MA, could point out some, I’d be grateful. Anything that passes for a baguette or Italian bread here is only so-so. There are one or two places that are okay and one needs to travel from Boston’s “south shore” areas to get them. Of course, you could come visit your cousin and bring some—-hint, hint……

  • Angela
    November 23, 2008 3:27pm

    Sandra, I am in Boston as well, and cannot find a good baguette. With my husband moving here from Paris (which allowed me to travel there every few months) I only get a good baguette once a year when we go to visit his family. Even L’Espalier doesn’t have a decent baguette. The only restaurant in this country that had a real, true baguette – texture, taste, everything – was L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas.

    So, yes, please, any baguettes in Boston, please speak up!

    Sorry for hijacking your blog, David. I read you all the time.

  • November 24, 2008 3:07pm

    YUMMY… YUMMY…. YUMMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I have Thanksgiving on the brain and that gorgeous baguette makes me want to create an entire stuffing recipe around it. Mmmm…

    So glad your daily bread is back in the game! Makes me wish I lived next door. ;)

    XOXOXOX,

    ~ Paula
    (of Ambrosia Quest)

  • Kristen Frederickson
    November 25, 2008 5:55am

    I’ve just discovered your blog, David, via Casey at Margin Notes, and I’m addicted, all the way from London (where we DO have really good baguettes all over the place). I’m about to have a cookery person come to me in my very own kitchen and teach me to make bread, because on my own I’m scared! Once I get over the fear, I’ll buy one of your cookbooks and really bake something. I recently took a week-long writing course with Tamasin Day-Lewis and she’s very annoyed with me for being so baking challenged…

  • November 25, 2008 6:34am

    Thank God you got your baguette back, David. Maybe they had to have a little time to develop some character in a new levain after being gone over the summer. In any case, I totally understand the way a boulanger that makes good bread can affect your quality of life in a neighborhood. We lived above a mediocre boulangerie and used to walk 5 minutes away to get good bread. Walking in the cold because you need good bread was a necessary evil. We moved to our current place 5 years ago and have the best boulanger in town just on the corner. It makes a huge difference in the quality of life in a neighborhood. Having it close by is really the best.

  • November 25, 2008 8:30am

    That looks like the baguette we bought daily at the bakery at the corner of Rue de Monttessuy and Avenue de la Bourdennais at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Same bag and everything. And the taste and texture – ooh la la!

  • Gwen K.
    November 25, 2008 3:52pm

    Mmm, that baguette looks fantastic. I recently had a similarly joyful moment when I discovered a Kosher bakery seven blocks up from my apartment (okay, in Washington Heights, really no baguttes to be had!). I walked in and saw loaf after loaf of the most glorious challah imaginable! And it tasted as good as it looked. Good bread is a life necessity! :)

  • November 26, 2008 8:42pm

    Congratulations! I mean it. I know how important good bread is! And to have it, then lose it is worse than never having it at all!

  • Lars
    December 2, 2008 11:55pm

    I agree with Angela’s comment above.

    The bread (mini baguette?) I tasted at Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier was the best I ever had. And yes, I’ve been to France and ate a different baguette every day for weeks. I have searched many, many books and can’t find JR’s recipe.

    Does anyone know it?

    Supposedly L20 may have similar bread.

  • December 3, 2008 1:59pm

    Lars & Angela: I ate at L’Atelier a few years back, but don’t remember the baguettes. The macarons, however, were fabulous. I’d be happy to go back and check out the bread.

    Maybe someone can take up a collection and send me back on a ‘search & reconnaisance’ mission! ; )