La crise de la baguette

Bread

A while back, a food editor in the states asked me to send him daily some ideas for articles that I might want to write-up for them. I thought about it for quite a while, then sent a response for an article with recipes for using up leftover bread, which I tentatively titled: The French Bread Crisis. They kindly responded, thanking me for the idea, but passed on the story. I’m not sure why, but maybe it was because they couldn’t imagine anyone in France having leftover bread lying around.

To avoid this crise, a number of people remarked in the previous post on French supermarkets that they bought Harry’s “American Bread” because the puffy, pre-sliced white loaves lasted quite a bit longer than regular French bread. But I’m still perplexed because what’s the point of living in France if you don’t eat French bread?

Oddly, though, if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself hardly ever eating fresh bread – even if you buy your bread fresh daily from your local boulangerie. You’re probably scratching your head at that one – just as those editors were likely scratching their heads when my proposal landed in their Inbox – but think about it: If you live alone, you buy a baguette and eat few some with lunch, then some with dinner. Seeing as it’s really not possible to eat a whole loaf in a single night by yourself (although I’ve come close), you’re going to have some leftover.

I opt for baguette de tradition (or campagne), hand-shaped baguettes made with sourdough, which keep an extra day or so longer than a regular baguette ordinaire. It’s hard to find a good baguette ordinaire whereas most bakeries in Paris make good a very decent baguette tradition.

So you buy a fresh baguette in the afternoon for dinner, which you wrap up and eat the next day. Then getting back to my timeline, you have some bread leftover the next day, which you eat for breakfast. But here’s the rub: You’ve got the whole thing carefully planned out and have calculated how much bread you’re going to eat at each meal. Then something happens that throws the whole thing into turmoil.

Let’s say you go out to lunch with friends. Do you cancel just so you can stay home and maintain your baguette schedule? Or most bread bakeries are closed in Paris for two days. So you have to go elsewhere and if you head up to the 10th or something, you probably go to a place like Du Pain et des Idées and pick up a pain aux cereales, which lasts longer than three meals, which again, throws the whole thing off. Or let’s say you have a house guest for ten days and on day #1, he slices into the fresh baguette for breakfast, leaving the stub of yesterday’s baguette in that awkward stage between fresh and too stale to slice. No one wants to eat bread that’s not at it’s best when just around the corner, they’re pulling out fresh loaves from the oven while you’re giving your teeth a workout with a two day-old loaf. No matter how carefully planned your strategy is, something is bound to come up like a dinner party or a lunch with friends that’s going to screw the whole thing up.

I haven’t figured out an effective solution. Some folks freeze their bread, but my freezer is packed full toujours. Plus then you’re stuck eating previously frozen bread all the time, which negates having eight bakeries within a two block radius. You can also buy a half a baguette, but I like the heft of carrying a full-length baguette home because the half-size ones screw up my balance.

(The half-size ones, though, do fit better in a bicycle basket which is better because just one trip down a cobblestone street, and that full-size baguette is gonna be hopping around more than a fifty-something year old man who’s been neglecting to take his Saw Palmetto, and is trying to make it home quickly.)

But I think I finally may have hit upon a way out. Starting today, I’m now engaged in a little live-together experiment for the next ten days. Aside from a quick trip to the pharmacy this morning for a dix jours supply of le Prozac, I’m hoping that I will have finally found a solution during that time since there will be two of us to tackle the overload of bread. If not, my next address in Paris will be at the hôpital psychiatrique. (Or vice versa, is more like it.) Although I wonder if they serve baguettes over there. And if so, I wonder how they handle the leftovers? If you don’t hear from me in the next ten days, I’ll let you know.

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163 comments

  • Allesandra
    June 23, 2011 1:58pm

    I suffer from the same crise!? After tossing countless stale baguettes over the past few years, I have found a solution. If I am on my own, I buy only a demi-tradition and I wrap it a plastic shopping bag. That way it stays fresh enough for me to eat it (toasted) over the course of 2-3 days.

  • June 23, 2011 9:55pm

    for me, stale bread equates to one of the tastiest and filling (summer) salads ever – the panzanella salad from italy. never fails !

  • Bronwyn
    June 23, 2011 11:35pm

    Failing the need to eat something delicious like pain perdu or bruschetta, my leftover bread goes first into the food-processor to get turned into breadcrumbs, then into the freezer. I then have fresh breadcrumbs with which to make stuffing at any time. This also solves the other problem of needing day old bread for stuffing and having no old bread in the house. Freshly bought bread tends to turn into doughy lumps in the processor.

  • June 24, 2011 2:43pm

    Use leftover bread with cheese fondues?

    In Singapore, we have ‘Roti John’ where the baguette is halved, dipped in egg and fried. Instead of meats, sandwich with onion omelet, paint it red with ketchup and eat the cholesterol laden snack using a fork and knife.

  • June 27, 2011 10:41pm

    Hilarious! And it really is a problem…. When I studied abroad in Paris and lived with a host family, the four of us would eat part of a fresh baguette with dinner. Whatever was leftover was eaten for breakfast the next day. It would already be getting stale and my host mother always, always set out the toaster at breakfast.

  • paula
    June 28, 2011 7:47am

    At last I’m submitting my comments. I love your sense of humour and your style of writing. I have read a couple of your books and of course get your weekly email. I lived in Paris with my family for 7 years and kind of got to know what goes on in this wonderful “city of light”.
    Exactement! Why would you freeze bread if you have all these wonderful bakeries in your neighbourhood? Of course in Aout you might have to do this as everything closes down in each area.
    I now live in Sydney and have not been able to find any baguette as good as most in Paris. I used to see some of the cabin crews from American airlines schlepping their bread back with them to the States. I guess if you try to refresh it in an oven it might perk up, but it can never become the real thing.
    All the best
    Paula

  • June 28, 2011 9:06am

    loved this! i’m a firm believer in reincarnation for good food.

    since it keeps so well frozen i usually i toss leftover bread in the freezer while it’s still fresh (and i keep quite a variety of bread in the freezer to accommodate preferences in my household of six). if i have old bread sitting out, i don’t like to freeze it because it confuses my system. so usually i’ll make parmesan toasts: slice it, grind some pepper over, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with coarsely grated parmesan and broil until it starts to brown. makes a great complement to soup or salad. when i have them around i’ll munch on a few with my morning cuppa – a very satisfying breakfast.

  • Claire
    June 28, 2011 8:09pm

    Two comments bread crumbs and fowl, meaning friends chickens or the ducks in the river. Ahhh the country!

  • Claire
    June 28, 2011 8:11pm

    I hate to admit I buy Harry’s no crust bread for my children’s peanut butter and jelly sandwichs or grilled cheese, why haven’t they come up with the no crust bread in the US yet? Complet of course!

  • Lori
    July 3, 2011 5:09pm

    Just back from traveling in Spain (Andalucia really) and discovered salmorejo, a type of gazpacho made with bread and topped with boiled egg and jamon.

  • July 4, 2011 1:28am

    “Seeing as it’s really not possible to eat a whole loaf in a single night by yourself”

    Amateur!!!

    My family’s love of French Bread is so deep. It’s a known fact that a baguette could never make it home without a bite taken it out of it. My dad always insisted on carrying the grocery bag with the baguette sticking out of it and would just lean over and have a few bites on the way from the car to the house.

    I’m a graphic designer and have been working on designing a family crest for our clan. The center of the crest has two baguettes crossed; one with a big bite taken out of the top in memory of my late father.

  • July 6, 2011 3:23pm

    I LOVE THIS POST!!! I used to live in Paris and this truly was une vrais crise! Looking forward to your après dix jours solution.

  • Olivier L.
    July 6, 2011 11:55pm

    I have the exact same issue!!! and I haven’t found a solution yet ;-) I moved back to France after 10 years in UK and thought I could just eat a whole baguette every day. Few month later I realised my belly had grown dramatically and I am trying to eat 2/3 of a baguette per day. Half is just not possible ;-)