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.

163 comments

  • The Swiss have a bread soup recipe, where you pour hot milk and nutmeg and not sure what else over hard bread cubes…

  • I have two solutions when we holiday in France.
    Firstly, I really like toast so cut slices (sometimes lengthways) to toast over the gas flame in our caravan (my parents used to take a toaster with them, but we manage without!).
    The second solution is to have a bag of bits for ‘les canards’ – although if you are keeping for this purpose we have found that French ducks are very sensibly not keen on rock hard bread!
    You can then be absolutely guilt free over wasting the ends.
    hopeeternal
    ‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’

  • I have to say, the best solution I have found is freezing the baguette. It really is just about perfect when you defrost it. You do, however, need space in your freezer to do this!

  • the difficult life of David fighting the tragedy of French Baguettes going stale :)

    as usual very well written but how about some tips for your readers on HOW to use that stale bread? I have gone and made ‘Fotzelschnitten’, or fried bread in your land… with freshly made compott of also left-over rhubarb and strawberries or a mélange of raspberries from my garden and anything bought on the market that goes with them… or apple purrée to the slightly sugared and cinnamonned slices…

  • I live 25 miles from fresh baguettes. I take them home, slice them up, put little squares of parchment paper and put them between each slice. Freeze 4 slices in ziplock. It freezes and thaws better and I always have some good bread ready for bruschetta. Today grilled pear, blue cheese w ricotta. By the way, the editor was wrong as this was a good post! Ciao for now!

  • “maintain your baguette schedule” *lol* I almost fell off my chair!

    I think the only solution is to get used to buy only half a baguette.
    It’s guilt free ever after!

    Or you leave the other half to the birds. I have read, though, that living with city pigeons fed baguettes is not a victim-free situation.

    Btw, I often keep myself from starving by cutting a leftover baguette into cubes, toss them with good olive oil, a little sea salt and hot pepper flakes and lots of fresh basil, then cube some ripe tomatoes, mix bread and tomatoes well, to make a nice amalgam, add a few dashes of balsamic vinegar and, voila’, dinner’s ready! A bit of mozzarella or feta in the house makes for a real feast. ;-)

  • My solution has always been la demi-baguette.

    “Une demi-baguette pas trop cuite, s’il vous plaît Madame!”

    Easy, no waste and cost effective/efficient when alone or when you’re the only one eating bread.

    David

  • I guess your blog settings top out at 100 comments, as there are only five showing of the 105 comments. Kind of like when the car odometer only went up to 99,999, then would roll over to zero. You really connected with this topic!

  • I don’t know what your problem is, David. In my student days in France, I had NO problem finishing off an entire baguette in one sitting for a weekend breakfast. Maybe it was the Normandy butter, or the jar of Confiture Bonne Maman aux Oranges Ameres liberally spread over it, but that baby went down with no problem. Besides, what about Le Stuffing Americain, or Le Bread Pudding? Must be something a used baguette is good for. Thanx for another great post.

  • My grandmother used the stale bread to make pain perdu. In fact the name pain perdu means bread that has gone stale – lost – perdu.

    My father would sometimes use it in bread soup – something a bit like onion soup with too may chunks of soggy stale bread. I can’t say I recommend this one.

    And many an old lady in France takes her stale bread to the park and feeds the birds…

  • Really think you need to get out more David……..!

  • David, you don’t know me. But it feels like I know you. Thank you for your hilarious insights! You make me laugh. I read The Sweet Life in Paris before visiting the city for the first time. I love your perspective and humor. Keep on writing!

  • Toast made from Harry’s or similar breads is like cardboard. It doesn’t even taste like bread! Pain perdu seems a pretty standard way of using up stale bread, though I’ve never been a huge fan of it. I know people who also throw it into their onion soup. Because it’s so stale the bread becomes pleasingly soft and chewy when it hits the soup, and adds a lot of texture. Or you could just toast it in the morning before spreading with jam. Funnily enough I always buy Italian or French bread, even though it gets stale so much faster than sliced bread. I eat so much of it that only the last few slices get stale, then I just grill them with olive oil and rub them with garlic and eat as an accompaniment to whatever else I’m eating. Impossible to gauge that it was once inedible.

  • Oh your post made me laugh and cry at the same time. I desperately miss those left over bits of bread I would accrue in France. My favorite use was French toast or bread smeared with nutella for breakfast the next morning. If there was too much left over, it was stored in the freezer and then made into savory bread pudding. I now live in Hawaii. The sweet bread here does make a great French toast but I would do anything to have that collection of day old French bread again.

  • My solution is to use a food processor. Firstly to chop up fresh parsley, oregano or a mixture of herbs with a clove or not of garlic. Then add the chopped up bread with some salt and pepper. Pulse to breadcrumbs and then add a tablespoon of olive oil. Place in a ziplok bag or other airtight container and freeze until needed.

    I use these crumbs, straight from the freezer, to coat a croquette mixture of thick bechamel sauce with left over cheeses such as gruyere, cheddar and parmesan which I then gently fry in ghee or olive oil, delicious with a salad of bitter leaves. They are partiicularly good to coat salmon cakes and to sprinkle on top of a fish pie or a melange of half cooked vegetables, which have been bathed with oil and baked in the oven till crisp. These crumbs are virtuoulsy frugal and delicious.

  • Heather: Some good friends of mine live in Hawaii and whenever they come to France, the first thing they want is crispy bread. They just can’t get enough of it (and meat). I guess the humidity there makes is hard for bread to maintain a good crust. Perhaps I should trade them for some kalua pork? ; )

    Cyndy: I have the comments set so after 100, it goes to another page so that the site loads faster for readers. My server doesn’t like me anymore so am looking for a faster solution – and I’ve asked my stylish web designer to come up with something a little spiffier to designate where the other pages of comments are.

    Frenchie&Yankee: I’m firmly against pas trop cuite (not too cooked) baguettes, since so many people order them that way, it’s become hard to find a crisp baguette ordinaire in Paris.

    (Although my take on that is that people want non-crisp baguettes because they’re tired of all the vacuuming up after dinner!)

    Steph: Yes, I love that book. I’ve made Brown Bread Ice Cream inspired by their recipe – although it doesn’t really work for baguettes…

  • I’d like to have this problem……..haha. I doubt that I would, if I lived in Paris. I’d be wearing that bread and butter on my hips for sure! My biggest downfall, is french bread ( as french as I can find here that is in San Diego) smeared with butter.

    However, when I have been invited out, and no room for bread after dinner elsewhere, I will make it into garlic bread and toss in the freezer. This also makes for a delicious pairing with leftover steak for a sandwich – but in my house these days – there is never much left over, certainly not steak or bread or even garlic bread.

    Fun subject!

  • David,

    I just made my first ice cream ever – your amazing peach! It was incredibly delicious! http://www.createamazingmeals.com/2011/06/david-lebovitzs-peach-ice-cream.html

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    And thanks for sharing this story!
    All the best!

  • My solutions for leftover bread include croutons for salad, bread soup and bread pudding and its savory cousin, stradas.

  • Ah, the great leftover bread dilemma. A half baguette used to be a good solution, but now that I have kids, we really need about 3/4 of a baguette. Sometimes I freeze the bits, but I inevitably forget about them and they pile up. If only there was a leftover bread pick-up in Paris like for the “encombrants”…

  • We leave our baguette ends out to go hard, then give them to our schnauzer as a treat. It’s the only foodstuff she doesn’t manage to wolf down in a matter of milliseconds! Not sure if that says more about the bread or the dog…

  • Think of the bakers that have to (sometimes) throw away bread! or worst – viennoiserie! sadly, not anything can be “recycled” (croutons, bread for fondu, pain perdu).
    BTW, Appolonia Poilane has a new book about bread based recipes.

  • eran: French bakeries feature “Bostock”, leftover brioche, sliced, and smeared with almond paste and baked. (I put a recipe in my book Ready for Dessert, since it’s one of my favorite things.)

    Bakeries also feature almond-filled croissants, which are leftover croissants filled with almond paste, dipped in syrup and re-baked. They’re incredibly good…but also a little dangerously so! : )

  • “what’s the point of living in France if you don’t eat French bread?” French kissing of course! ;) (or french fries- tough to choose between the 2 especially if bread is off the table)

  • I second Mel P.’s Semmelknödel idea. You don’t even need to freeze the bread, just make sure you slice it before it becomes rock hard. If your slices have become very dry just up the amount of milk until they are well hydrated.
    I personally don’t like the soggy outer layer of Semmelknödel cooked in water, that’s why I add an additional egg and bake the whole thing in a browny pan at 180°C.

  • I actually give our stale leftovers to my MIL’s donkeys. I mean, there’s day-old, and there’s Colorado stale, which you could beat your husband with. My bread often gets to the Colorado stale point, which turns into bread crumbs or goes to the animals. But, I would highly recommend Catalan pa amb tomaquet (pan con tomate) for day-old bread (or even 2 day old bread, depending).

    By the way, thank you so much for your blog. It helps me make sense of so many things that don’t here in France, food-related and not!

  • David, I thought about this more last night.
    What you need is a “sac à pain en tissu” also known as a “huche à pain en tissu”. Basically, a cloth bread bag/bin. It keeps the bread fresh.
    Google it on Google France, you will find places to buy one.

    David

  • Good crusty “French Bread” is non-existent in Florida, it seems like people are happy eating the stuff that comes pre-sliced in a plastic bag. You know, the stuff that is so bland that mold doesn’t even like to grow on it. Once in a while when we find the time and resolve to we drive about 1.5 north to Ocala, where a small shop makes organic baguette. It is really good and through it may seem ridiculous for someone who can buy baguette in every corner, it is worth the trip! Anyhow, the point of my story is what they do with their left over bread. They turn it into bread pudding!!! All sorts of variations of it. From chocolate to blueberry and it comes with a delicious vanilla sauce. I hope they don’t ever come up with any other ideas for their left over bread. ;)

  • My solution is the same as Carole Baker’s. I just whiz up any left over bits of bread, whether it’s brioche rolls, French bread or even good old hot dog rolls (I know, perish the thought! But you all know you need hot dog rolls when you get a craving for a hot dog. And there are always two more rolls in the pkg than there are hot dogs.) and keep a baggie in the freezer.

    In the cooler weather, I use them in meatballs and meatloaf. Lately I’ve been using them as the base for grilled, stuffed zucchini. Toss in some onion, garlic, parsley, Parmesan cheese and olive oil and stuff zucchini. Throw them on the grill and voila. A great, easy side for warmer weather.

  • Am I dreaming when I have memories of the demie baguette on more than one solo trip to Paris ?

  • You are absolutely right, why would you purchase bread from any place but a boulangerie? I only buy a demi-tradition and try not to finish it, but lately that has not been possible. If I have any leftover, I’ve been freezing it. I must tell you that I met a french tennis teacher from calif. when I was at a tenns tournament in Fl. I asked him if he missed baguettes and french bread,.i.t was a few minutes before he replied, but you could see the tears welling up in his eyes and his answer was yes! Thanks Milt

  • This is why we have a dog. :) And she’s a bread snob, too–totally prefers baguettes to anything else. It’s the only thing that makes her drool.

  • “A baguette schedule”. Oh lord, I laughed so hard at that, one of my fellow coworkers came over to ask what was so funny.

  • When I lived in France, we would put the leftover baguette pieces or halves into an airtight plastic. That way, if you have to resort to eating day-old baguette the next morning, it is free of mold and still very moist! If you just store it in a bread drawer or in paper, it dries quite quickly.

  • People buy loaves of white store bread in Paris?! I thought you were only kidding in your last post (or so I had hoped). It’s been almost 8 months since my last trip to Paris and I’m still dreaming about the baguettes. If I ever moved to France that would be one of my top 5 reasons. I just don’t understand why the bread in North America tastes so different. People have mentioned that it might be the butter (which is also another reason why I would move), but I can’t seem to figure it out. Until I do (which I probably never will) I will continue to fantasize about them and shake my head at those that buy grocery store bread…..it doesn’t matter that it lasts longer.

  • Hi… If you don’t know what to do with your stale baguette (on dit “pain dur” plutot que “pain rassis” chez nous), you can use it as “croutons” in salad or onion soup. You can also use it for the delicious “pain perdu” (“lost bread” literraly but French toast as you said) : dip your stale bread in mix of egg, milk and crème liquide then fry in butter and add sugar (cassonade, sugar cane)… delicious!

  • @David Lebovitz : If you travel to Aix en Provence, visit “LE FARINOMAN FOU”, an exceptional baker with more than 30 artisan breads with drastic selection of flours

  • You are so cute. Bonne chance with the living together experiment!

  • Rebolita….boil up a nice white bean soup with kale and whatever vegetables you find at your market, season it well, and when it’s done….chill it then on the next day, reheat it, hence the re-boiled name, tossing in the old dry bread which will thicken it as it reboils, and you have used up your bread and made a gourmet/peasant soup. Lv everything you write.

  • “screw up my balance”…:-) good one. Request permission to use it!!

  • My European sized freezer is particularly lamented when it comes to leftover bread caused by eating out. I’ve attempted being a good Grazer girl by making Semmelknuedeln only to end up with balls of hideous stodge. Now I’m going to follow Merisi’s route.
    Congratulations and Best Wishes on your new domestic arrangement.

  • When I buy bread for my roomies and I, I buy about one baguette per person… That’s about what we need for one day (breakfast+lunch+dinner).
    All you need is probably just to get used to the French “regime” :)

  • This isn’t just a French crisis! There is so much good bread here in the Bay, and unlike the sliced stuff, it doesn’t stay fresh very long. We’re constantly trying to find ideas for what to do with the slightly stale baguette halves sitting on our counter. I’ll look forward to hearing more about your experiment!

  • Hi David,
    I love to read your blog but have never commented before. This time I have to: I have no problem with yesterdays bread because I looooove cheese dumplings. So I can just let dry the leftovers without feeling guilty. That are two ways to be happy in one: only fresh bread and delicious cheese dumplings on top. Hmmmm!

  • There is no shame in freezing bread,especially if you live alone aannnd its good bread!

  • If I’m eating alone, I slice the fresh baguette and immediately freeze what I won’t eat on that day and the day after. Then I use the frozen bread for grilling or bruscetta, and buy more fresh if I want it fresh. I also don’t eat very much bread, though, and buy a baguette at most once a week from the farmer’s market.

  • the stale bread crisis pairs nicely with the I-love-sausage-but-how-can-I-possible-justify-eating-it-everyday crisis. They come together in a lovely meal I like to call stuffing! A little carrot and celery to accompany the sausage and voila – a happy ending for stale bread and lonely sausage!

  • We have a really good solution for bread leftovers. We make açorda, by soaking bread in water to cover. Then we sqwezze it and fry it with a little olive oil and some garlic cloves. We eat this açorda with pork or we mix shrimps or shell fish in it and put lots of coriander leaves on top. You can also mix an egg in it but must not let it boil.
    By he way, I’m writing from Portugal.

  • French Toast, of course.

  • First, I am going to presume that “eating few some” is a trick on French on the English brain. That happens to me, anyway.

    If you want to know what to do with stale bread, ask the Italians. Type into a search engine the term “ricetta pane raffermo” and you will find hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of things we do with it. It sometimes seems we have little use for fresh bread.

    For right now invent a French version of panzanella. And no cooking or grilling of ingredients allowed!

  • 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.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

  • 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 ;-)