La baguette

baguette

Some time ago I switched my allegiance to grainy bread. Perhaps it was because I was thinking, “If I’m going to eat all this bread around here, I should at least be eating grainy bread.” Or perhaps I got bored with the one-note flavors of white bread, and began enjoying the fuller flavors of whole grain loaves. But over the last few weeks, while I’ve been in between kitchens (and toasters), I now wake up each morning with the sole goal of scoring a fresh baguette for breakfast.

I’m often asked what I would miss about Paris when I’m not here, and although you can pretty much get anything you want nowadays anywhere in the world (thank you, internet…well, I think…), the bread in Paris is still pretty great. Not every bakery makes a good baguette, but when you get a perfect specimen, one that crunches audibly when you bite through the crust and the inside has a creamy color and a slight tang from a bit of levain – save for a swipe of good butter or a bit of cheese – anything else is simply unnecessary.

baguette with butter

In Paris, one settles on a bakery in your neighborhood that you like, and that’s the one you go to. However not every bakery makes a great baguette, which is why you need to find your personal favorite. The quality of baguettes vary, but some of the best ones in Paris get a yearly boost from an annual contest, Grand prix de la baguette de la ville de Paris, to discover who makes the best baguette. And subsequently, I get asked by visitors if I go all the way across town, switching métros two or three times, to head over to the winning bakery to get a baguette.

Frankly, I don’t know anyone in Paris who goes farther than two blocks to get a baguette. Not just because you wouldn’t dare take one on a crowded métro and expect it to arrive at your destination intact (and I’m not talking about the piece you snitch off the end) but because getting a baguette in Paris isn’t an “event” – it’s just something that you do as part of every day life.

la baguette

In spite of its shape, la baguette is feminine. The word has several somewhat related meanings in French, including ‘magic wand’ and, curiously, ‘chopsticks.’ Also contrary to what some people think, baguettes are more Parisian than French, per se, and you won’t find nearly as many baguettes at bakeries outside of Paris as you do here in the capital.

And for those who live out of the city, it can be a challenge to find good bread in the countryside, which is unfortunate because when I travel, I always hope to find some wonderful rustic bakery with a wood-fired oven with an array of amazing breads coming out of it. But even in Paris, the current trend seems to be to order a baguette pas trop cuite, or “Not too cooked” which used to surprise me, until I realized that the lighter, less-crisp baguettes meant less vacuuming. I’m not a fan of vacuuming, but if given a choice, I’ll take a well-cooked baguette over stepping on a few bits of crumbs any day.

baguette with butter

French people don’t butter their bread in restaurants unless it’s slices of the coarse rye bread alongside a plate of glistening, iced oysters, or they’re dining in a fancy three-star restaurant. (And in most restaurants and cafés you don’t get bread plates either, which befuddles visitors, who valiantly try to balance their bread on the edge of their dinner plates.) But they do butter their morning toast, generously. If the baguette is leftover from the night before, which it usually is, it’s toasted to revive the texture.

(One of the best tips I know to keep it fresh and not let it get soggy, is to roll your leftover baguette up in a linen cloth or tea towel.)

But I must say, as someone who hates nothing more than getting dressed first thing in the morning – especially before breakfast, just lately I’ve developed a particular craving for fresh, untoasted sliced baguette in the morning spread with precisely the right amount of beurre salé, the life-changing butter from Brittany with big crystals of salt that light up your taste buds a little every time you crunch down on one. I’m so hooked that at this point, when I’m served unsalted butter – no matter what time of the day it is, I sprinkle a few grains of salt on top because otherwise it just tastes drab to me.

My current problem is that I’m overindulging in bread. Whereas I used to have two reasonable slices of grainy bread for breakfast, I’m now splitting a baguette down the middle and biting off more than I should chew – so to speak. And as the day wears on, I’m finding myself at the kitchen counter with a bread knife in hand, hacking off bits and bites whenever I’m within slicing distance. I know there are worse fates and I’m not complaining. In fact, I’m pretty happy to have rediscovered baguettes. Now pass the (salted) butter.



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106 comments

  • I can honestly say that if I lived in Paris I would be fat due to the baguettes and amazing butter – nothing comforts me more than good bread and good butter. The little things in life are the best :)

  • Great piece of writing! This really made me miss my frequent childhood stays in Nice where we used to get fresh baguettes and I would always score the pointed ends on the way home :)

  • You are so right!! We always talk about the one thing we would really miss if we went back to the states. Sure there are some places that claim they have great French bread in Atlanta but it never lives up to our spoiled standards. For us, it is a habit of getting at least 1 baguette a day, even if we don’t need it. We always stop at our favorite place down the street and have a little conversation with the workers there and then go on our merry way. I dread the day where I will no longer have that little luxury….. Thanks for the tip on how to keep the baguette from turning into a baseball bat over night, I will have to try that. Normally, I just use the leftover to make breadcrumbs but there is only so many breadcrumbs one can have.
    Have a greet day.

    • Some bread bakeries used to sell linen bags, especially for the purpose of storing leftover bread called a sac à pain, especially out in the countryside. But I don’t see them much anymore. Poîlane does carry a rather stylish one, though. And you occasionally see them at houseware shops.

  • I hate you. ;) (totally kidding) It is interesting that bread (like sugar) can become so addictive. Sounds like you’re in a bit of an addiction mode right now. And I’m totally jealous of the great bread (not as good here in CH, admittedly) and that you can eat it that much! Being gluten and wheat sensitive, I now only indulge when traveling or out to dinner. I can eat it occassionally, but definitely NOT daily. And it’s just NOT the same with rice flour. But it’s “HELLS YES” on the salted butter, thank you!

    It was fun reading about the differences of bread from Paris vs. Countryside France. Going to Provence next week. Gearing up for my week of French bread indulgence! Maybe it’s not Paris, but it’s next best thing…

  • Magic Wand, indeed! Happy April 1.

  • The one thing above all others in my memories of visits to Paris is getting up in the morning and heading to our favorite cafe for breakfast of a cup of tea and a baguette and some homemade jam. So simple yet worth the trip.

    I would give a lot to have a Rue Cler near me :)

  • I have yet to experience a decent baguette here in the states. I’m not sure if that’s due to the fact that I’m so used to the Vietnamese baguettes that are super fresh and made with a bit of rice flour (and oh so cheap!). I like the idea of popping out every morning for bread. Sounds so retro, like having milk delivered to the doorstep every morning

    • Actually, Balthazars in NY does make a decent and cheap baguette. Their bread was one of my childhood joys and I haven’t been able to find decent baguettes outside of NY or Paris. Tom Cat also makes some very good bread though unfortunately they sell strictly to restaurants.

      For grain bread, Bobolink (a farm) makes some excellent bread but alas, that is also mostly available in NY (and certain parts of NJ).

  • Not being able to find a sac a pain, my mom made one herself (or those on the tourist markets were horribly overpriced, also a possibility).

    I used to spend al of my childhood holidays in Provence, and while not strictly speaking Paris there are a few bakeries that sell good baguettes.

    A thing that saddens me is that nowadays a lot of “boulangers” are part of those “pre-baked” chains and the quality suffers a lot from it.
    I guess it takes a special man to get up at 4 if you can just pop those prebaked things in the oven…
    I don’t blame the french though, i have yet to find a decent baker in Leuven…

  • Our new place has a local bakery that delivers our daily baguette (and sometimes éclairs and croissants) straight to our house in the morning so, combined with the fact that we always have exquisite Normandy salt butter and cheese on hand, I’m eating much more bread these days.
    Definitely no complaints here either.

  • We actually have amazing baguettes in New Zealand, though they have a pretty standard crumb compared to the beauty in your picture. But I’ve also rediscovered baguettes in the last week and in fact this morning we bought two – one for French toast and one for crusty chicken sandwiches. Ohmygoodness. How have I lived without these so long??

  • Baguettes with everything has been how we eat out in France. We barely need cutlery! I still find allegiances to particular boulangers amusing. For 25 years at our place in the Loire Valley, we have gone to the next village along for our morning bread. I’m wondering what we will do when that baker retires! Gosh I cannot wait to head out there this summer. I’m france-sick

  • We certainly can’t get baguettes here on the coast of Maine, but my husband has been making some dangerously wonderful loaves of peasant-type bread for awhile now. And a few years ago we stumbled upon organic Amish rolled butter. Salted, although nothing like the Normandy variety, but it is out of this world nonetheless. If we build our earthen oven outside this summer, it could be great :)

    Thanks for the tip on the linen bags. I think that I will make a couple!

  • Baguettes here are simply Not The Same as they are in France (oh good, less than a fortnight before I’ll be able to enjoy a proper French one again!); they are very good in their own right, especially the multigrain baguette sold by Tesco’s, but they are not proper French baguettes.

    You do know, don’t you, that you can buy a demi-baguette if a whole one is leading you astray……

  • What do you do with a leftover baguette?

  • I do love the texture and the holes on those baguette slices on your plate. I do miss a good baguette. The internet, unfortunately, can’t deliver a crunchy baguette right out of the oven. Lucky you. Enjoy!

  • Hi David!

    I got your news letter today about Gare du Nord.

    This is something you should probably have when you go there.

    http://www.hammacher.com/Product/81548?promo=search

    Charlie

  • I think it’s a good thing that I don’t live in Paris- or that I have never had a baguette!

  • I loved your post! I’ve fallen into the baguette vortex on and off over the years, usually when we discover a new boulangerie with a decent baguette. Luckily for my waistline they are few and far between these days! If you’re ever back in the south, in Menton there is a boulangerie you should check out called Au Baiser du Mitron. They make the most divine bread in a wood oven. Truly vortex worthy!

  • I am sitting at the kitchen table in our rural Kansas home sipping my morning coffee and thinking wistfully of the wonderful bread and butter we enjoyed in Paris not too many weeks ago . . such a very lovely memory . . . Thank you, David!

  • We bought some beautiful Brittany butter to bring home during our visit to Paris. Placed it in the freezer for the trip home…… and left it there! On the train to CDG it dawned on me the butter was still in our apartment freezer. We are still mournful of the left butter a year and a half later.

  • That looks soooo delicious. And of course I want one right now! Can you please post a recipe for baguettes? I’m not too bad at baking bread but I have yet to make a decent baguette. Thanks!

  • David! Are we looking at your NEW apartment? (I’ve become obsessed with your renovations. . .) Are you completely IN and I missed your joyful announcement?

  • What Sharon said…all I could focus on what the stove and the window and assumed it was your new space. With a lovely baguette!

  • David, I am hooked to your blog and yes, baguettes are great but as you wrote, the beurre salée is just something to die for. I spent two months in Nantes a couple years ago as an intern and the butter changed the way I look at this everyday ingredient. I am now back in Hungary and I made my own started and have been baking my own bread for a couple months now but I am still wondering how I could make some home made baguettes if it is possible at all…Do you have any tips?

  • So where is your baguette place?

  • So this is not perfect, but what I do with leftover baguette–in France and elsewhere–is to wrap the piece in aluminum foil and freeze it. The next morning you defrost it (often by putting the bread in the microwave for 30 seconds) and then warm it up in the oven for 5 minutes or so. Beats going out early in the morning.

  • Baguette in Paris is incredible, indeed. Whenever I am there, in Paris, I do even splurge a bit on the high end ones, too: for ie, Poujauran (his baguette craquante is out of this world) in the 7e arr,

  • “in spite of its shape” haha
    thanks for the tip to wrap in a tea towel
    love these photos, and the light, very dreamy
    LL

  • Ooooo… You sound like me. If there’s a baguette in the house it’s not going to last long at all. And I live alone.

    With this post, you’ve inspired me to seek out a better quality baquette; even if I have to drive across several Phoenix suburbs!

    Thanks, D!

    ~Brigette(@brigettebrugada)

  • Just trekked out for my baguette at Miss Manon and it’s still warm. I think she’s got the best one around the Marai, but as you say why go over two blocks! And the Pascal Beillevaire butter is superb..

  • Our camping holidays in France were always made bearable for me because of the fresh baguettes we could get each day. It was the same for the camping holidays in Scotland, there the highlight of the day were the Morning Rolls, sadly not so easily bought these days as lots of local bakeries have closed down. The breads available at the supermarkets are just not the same, unfortunately.

  • About “pas trop cuite”, I find that’s better for sandwiches. Otherwise, the darker the better.

    And speaking of sandwiches, the first time I went to Paris I ordered a ham sandwich, which turned out to be just a piece of baguette with a slice of ham in it. I remarked to the lady that there was no butter in my sandwich, to which she replied that if I wanted a ham-and-butter sandwich, I should have asked for a ham-and-butter sandwich!

  • Here’s a trick from my former restaurants:

    To revive a baguette, put it in a cold oven and turn it on to 375 degrees. Within a few minutes, you’ll have a crisp crust and hot interior, almost as good as freshly baked.

    I do the same with the extra baguettes that I freeze when I bake a batch. Straight from the freezer to the cold oven!

  • Daveed … how true your heart is ;)

  • About the lack of bread plates: bread is placed on the table to symbolize the shared aspect of the meal, breaking bread together.

  • I hang on every word you have been printing since I joined your blog.
    In June my wife and I and two friends are flying to Paris from Minneapolis, Mn.. We will be at hotel Buci and I will locate each bakery and candy store you have mentioned. I have your list of out of the way smaller eateries as well. I plan on living on wine, baguettes, butter, foie gras and dark chocolate. Maybe some lamb and foul and occasionally some fresh things from the markets. Dairy is out, sadly.
    Lv what you offer your readers on your blog, and in your books residing on my bedside stand,
    SB

  • I must say that the thing about baguettes that suprised me most on my trip to France was the fact that i could get half a baguette (une demi-baguette), and they sell it half the price of an actual baguette! That and the fact that the price of the baguette is reglemented, making it very affordable.

  • Can’t wait for my annual springtime in Paris after all this talk about baguettes! Probably one of the main reasons why I am there 2 months a year – the baguettes, the butter, the rillettes, the jambon à l’os, the fromage blanc, and the wonderful produce from the roving markets! I live in the San Francisco/Bay Area (Silicon Valley) and I swear you never be able to find a decent baguette anywhere, not even Acme Bread! You should see the line on Sunday at the farmers’ market for Acme Bread – I suppose it will do when you have nothing else! I was in NYC over Christmas and I was delighted to find one bakery which came real close – on the Upper Westside on Broadway called Silver Moon. Also, their almond croissant is to die for, I can say it is better than any you can get in Paris and I hate to say that!

  • I am with you on this one! I am a Singaporean living in Paris for now, and the one thing that I am definitely going to miss is the lovely baguette I get almost every other day from the bakery just 2 doors down from my apartment block. I am for the très cuit baguettes – I can never have enough of the crispy crunchy crust (along with all the crumbs on my kitchen counter) and the nutty, soft interior. The best friend for my baguette is buerre Bordier – algues or demi-sel! And i am usually guilty of finishing almost the entire baguette and my husband and I hardly ever get to leave any leftover! :)

  • Fond memories of Sunday mornings in Paris, sending our young son down the street to get a fresh baguette and,for him, chocolatine, for breakfast. And the beurre salee thing is so spot on, I sometimes end up with only unsalted at home and have to sprinkle sea salt on it for toast. With la Boulange 4 blocks away, and Tartine or Della Fattoria within proximity, we can’t really complain about lack of bread options in SF. With the raging gluten-free mood, I just hope our bakers persist..it is the best go-to meal with cheese and almost anything from Kermit Lynch on a lazy day.

  • I totally agree too.
    In Spain thank God, buying the bread and the newspaper in the morning is part of our routine shopping for food, and when we have nothing to buy, baguette and newspaper still are on the list.
    I totally agree with you, I hate to have a shower before my breakfast, and hotel buffets compensate it but I could be one of those who have breakfast in the room not to have a shower before.
    But lately I´m quite dissapointed with the loafs I find in the market, actually I think, here in San Sebastián there´s just one place that make real real baguettes, I think the rest sell those pre-bake loafs which look like chewing gum in the afternoon
    I loved this post.
    Love from the north of Spain
    Marialuisa

  • I like the wrap in a linen or tea towel tip – I will try that.

    Since *we* are on the subject of baquettes – what suggestions do you have for this person I know who wants to learn French before going to Paris to buy chocolate?

    Seriously.

  • I get so inspired when you talk about the bread you get in Paris. When I first moved to the SF bay area, I fell in love with the sour dough baguettes and battards. It wore off after a while because the tanginess sort of got old as a daily flavor. Then, when artisian bakeries sprang up everywhere, it was on again and the word sourdough didn’t necessarily mean sour flavor..just fermented nicely. Now, you see word artisian assigned to the breads in many of the grocery stores that sure don’t taste like anything special to me.

    Then you came along with your bread stories, and I’m at it again..only this time, I’m trying to make it myself. Of course, I don’t have a special brick oven to bake them in, nor do I have a sour dough that I’m nursing along, nor am I an expert. I am gaining some skill, though. I whip up a pre-ferment the day before (which takes maybe 2 minutes), the next day, mix in a chunk of leftover dough saved from the previous baking and incorporate more flour and water and salt. I allow it rise leisurely at room temp or sometimes overnight, then shape it up to rise again and bake it at 500 spritzed often to crisp the crust and it’s done in 25-30 minutes. Easy..so much easier than I ever thought making bread could be..and it’s delicious. Nice fermented flavor, moderately chewy crumb and shatteringly crisp crust that’s not too thick. So..I have you to thank for my obsession and goal for a better daily bread! (My scale’s not too thrilled with you, though..)

  • The only bread I truly miss from Paris is la Flûte Gana. I cannot begin to tell you how many years I have tried to reproduce it, finally accepting a couple of invariables here:
    the flour, the water and the air charged with that special invisible bread need that appears both in France and Italy and seldom anywhere else, are not here. No matter how good my poolish may be and how it helps to bring some resemblance of familiar goodness to my breads, nothing is quite as I wish it were, Thus, until I get back to Paris, no Flûte Gana for me. How is the new abode coming along, or better I didn’t ask?

  • David, thank you for your wonderful blogs, newsletters and books. I noticed recently a comment you made about checking spelling … what a delight when the rest of the world seems to be abrv8ing everything into txt and ignoring grammar. Lovely writing is a joy. Taking my daugher to Paris for time out from three-under-4 year olds next week, you have us salivating in anticipation. Every time I go to Paris, my first meal is baguette and jam with a cup of tea (thank goodness for Aussie coffee makers (i’m sure there are others but hey its exciting to have Aussies making in-roads in the foodie capital) who are beginning to teach Paris about coffee!), simply cannot wait!
    Cheers, Sue from Far North Queensland

  • I love reading your posts! When I lived in the Touraine, my farmer neighbor grew heirloom wheat. On Thursdays he would mill some of the last harvest, and set his sponge to rise, using the levain he’d established over a couple decades. On Fridays he baked for our AMAP and others in his home-made wood-fired oven. The result was full-grain bliss. THAT is what I miss most from my years of living in France.

  • Hi, David I unfortunately had to return to Sarasota, Fl. after living in Paris for 18 mos. No matter what anyone says, their is nothing that comes close to a baguette in Paris. I can’t wait to return so I can purchase a real baguette. The reason that most people buy 2 loaves is so they can eat one on the way home. Thanks for a great post.

  • Hi David -
    I enjoy your writing, but I don’t know if I want to thank you or curse you for this post.

    I’ve only been in Paris twice, but I think it safe to say that the best baked goods I’ve ever enjoyed were there. My experience has been that even the most ‘pedestrian’ baked goods in Paris typically eclipse all but the best in North America.

    I don’t think it *has* to be that way … but I know that it is.
    (And I miss the cafés as well … .)
    Cheers,
    – Richard
    Brookline, MA

  • I always think of “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown” when I see a baguette–the cartoon has a running sight gag in which Charlie Brown tries to maneuver an extra-long loaf of French bread through a bakery and keeps breaking off the ends.

  • Aaaaah, the lovely baguette. A little bit of soft bread, and a lot of crunchy, chewy crust.

  • Do you have a photo of the beurre salé that you like? What grocery stores in Paris carry it? Thanks!

  • I’ve traveled a lot, but haven’t made it to France, as yet. We were supposed to be in Paris, in Dec., 2007, but instead I was in an NYC hospital, for side effects from radiation therapy. After surgery and endless complications, I am finally back to a fairly normal life. This includes lots of baking (in a gorgeous, efficiently organized kitchen, designed by my husband).
    Reading your posts is delightful preparation for finally making it to Paris later this year, or next! Finally, a destination where I’m supposed to be preoccupied by bread (and butter) and pastries!

  • Oh geez. I’d have baguette every day, too. I miss the croissants in Paris, too. They melted in my mouth in a way that no American croissant could come close to!

  • I’ve never been a bread fan (or much of an eater), but you description is enough to convert me — if there’s salted butter around.

  • Now David, the real question . . . do you get a baguette, or a tradition?!! I never knew they were two different things until moving here.

  • David, I have made many baguettes at home, throwing the whole shebang of steam-making tricks at them (ice cubes in the oven, misting periodically), and thought I had good results, but then again, I’m not a Parisian. Do you feel you just can’t achieve the same results at home as the bread made in commercial bakeries?

    Taipan–I live near the Silver Moon Bakery on the Upper West Side. It’s a gem in one of Manhattan’s great undiscovered (and affordable) neighborhoods.

  • David we are kindred sprits…..what is better than bread…..and excellant salted butter? Oh I don’t know…….MAYBE CHOCOLATE! aaaaaaahhhhh the pleasures of life.

  • In my impossibly small kitchen, I have to store the Dutch oven on the stove top. Turns out it’s great for storing crusty bread. I put the bread in a paper bag and it keeps nicely in the Dutch oven for a few days.

  • Kim: I prefer the tradition rather than a baguette ordinaire since I like the chewy texture and taste of the more rustic baguettes. Plus they last a little longer.

    Connie: How fortunate you are to be able to get fresh-made loaves with locally milled flour in France. A friend is working with some folks in England, where they are teaching and helping young folks who live in the countryside to set up bread bakeries

    Tota: Yes, the bread in the Bay Area is very good. It’s great there are a number of good options there.

  • Before living in Paris, I never ate butter. However as soon as I let that beurre sale pass through my lips, I have never looked back. My stable for breaky was fresh baguette with beurre sale spread generously on top or toasted with confiture. Oh how I miss Paris and French butter….droool….

  • The simpelest things can be the most important ones… :-)

  • That’s a very interesting post to get the point of view of a “stranger” on our baguette ! You make me feel like having a slice of fresh baguette spreaded with my favorite jam RIGHT NOW !
    I would never write a post on that bread, because it is so usual to go to the baker everyday. Even in the countryside you whisper the name of your favorite bakery to your friends …

  • Funny – I’ve been indulging in toasted left over French bread with butter and raspberry jam every morning for the past few weeks. That with a fresh cup of coffee – what a way to start the day!

  • I’ll never forget the first time I had salted butter. It was like, “so THIS is what I’ve been missing all along!” So delicious.

  • A small word in defence of a ‘petit coin’ of the French Countryside – I am headed back to the South West this week where we have a fabulous bakery with wood fired oven in the locale and an array of fantastic loaves that come out of it – special ones for high days and holidays (pain de seigle that sits well with oysters at New Year for example) and ancient styles (les rustiques) that are weighed before you buy them and with crusts tough enough to maintain a freshness within over several days. Baguettes and sarmentines also a speciality and an array of others. Maybe we are unusually blessed, but I find it difficult to find anything like the quality of bread so richly and easily available to us in rural France when back in Blighty where it is increasingly hard to find a good loaf.

  • In singapore there’s quite a few new bakery’s opening and i tried some bread from one yesterday! it was really quite nice :)) it’s called maison keyser(kayser?) paris and i was wondering if this tasted so good, how would the breads in paris taste like!

  • lovely fresh post – pass me the butter (unsalted) please! I’m coming from my 4th café corsé (espresso) but could kill a well baked baguette (I’m always asking for a ‘bien broncé’ one) right now!

  • David! A man after my own heart! I first had beurre salé when I was visiting France and could count it as one of my best food discoveries–the second best would be locating it in a market here in the US. In a pinch I find myself using Kerrygold (there really is something about European butter!) and sprinkling coarse salt on just like you do. It really is the best isn’t it? Those salty granules and creamy butter make Monday mornings not so terrible!

    • Kerrygold is very good butter, indeed. And it’s great that it’s now widely available in the US, as well as other artisanal butter brands.

  • Got lucky enough to have a holiday in Paris in February and stay in Montmartre/Abbesses, which currently has the 2010 and 2011 Grand Prix de la baguette top prize winning bakeries. I personally think there is something in the water, akin to New York pizza crust. It was a treat to have such great baguette so close to our flat.

    And for anyone looking for the linen bags, if you’re tromping across Paris to the 18th to sample the award winning baguettes, you are very close to the garment district. Tissus Reine had lovely linen bread bags starting from 10 Euro. I found the yardage kitchen linens better at Marche St Pierre.

  • David – yes, yes. The baguette is what I thought I’d miss most about living in Paris. We were fortunate enough to live two blocks from Maison Kayser on Rue Monge and it was indeed a daily habit. The days that they inexplicably closed the shop and had us seek out other options were sad days. I now live in Minneapolis and believe it or not, have multiple options for good baguette. What I don’t have is beurre sale from Brittany. One trip to St. Malo had me hooked and I often dream about that butter (and butter caramel).

  • Try as I have, there really are no decent baguettes to be found in Washington, DC. I’ve given up and decided just to stick with bagels. So the bread (and the smell wafting out of the boulangerie) is the thing I miss most acutely about Paris (okay…and my friends too.) But can you explain why it is so hard to replicate a baguette tradition dehors de la France?!

    • I think it has something to do with the flour. French flour is softer and has less protein than standard US flour. But I think also because a standard baguette doesn’t last very long, bakeries in Paris can turn out tons of them because they’ll sell quickly, but elsewhere, they need to be a little more sturdy and have some longevity to them.

      (Interestingly, I just noticed a supermarket here selling French-made bagels, and the label said “With flour from North America” – I didn’t buy them, but I should give them a try..)

  • Mon dieu! How I miss my baguette in the morning.

    When I stayed with my French grandparents in St Tropez growing up we would get a baguette on average 3 times a week. My grandmother would warm it in the oven before breakfast giving it that crunchy outside, soft on the inside texture that we love, and filling our kitchen dining area with that warm bread smell.

    Recently we stayed for a couple weeks in the small town of Ansuise in the southern Luberon where the small village bakery made good baguettes, even better croissants, and on Sunday mornings, if you went early before they sold out, you could pick up some diminutive Tarte Tropezzien that were absolutely sinful.

  • David,

    I completely agree. Although being an American expat in Paris has its downs & ups (in that specific order), running around the corner for a baguette is continually satisfying.

    What still surprises me is the variety of baguettes, too! La tordue is my new favorite! The dough is twisted to create a delicious balance of crunchy crust and the doughy center. But I don’t need to explain that to you!

  • David,
    You always seem to know my food moods. This weekend, I bought a baguette (from a Vietnamese banh mi shop, as close to French as I’m gonna get) for the sole enjoyment with Trader Joe’s new Speculoos Cookie Butter (yes, that’s right, the Biscoff spread!!!). Bonus, the weather finally cleared up and we got sunshine again on Sunday after 2 weeks of rain. It was a perfect weekend.

  • When I was a kid, in the morning, my favorite treat was to dunk my toasted baguette spread with salted butter and let the butter seep out of the baguette and into the coffee. This would give you a coffee with little puddles of butter here and there and a slight saltiness similar to that in Sea salt caramels. My mom told me many times how “paysan” that was… until I caught her doing it as well.
    Still a guilty pleasure…..

  • Showing that baguette was almost cruel! What a beautiful bread, and what a beautiful chair behind it.

  • for the first time in my life i live within walking distance of a bakery, and it has changed everything. i don’t know what i’ll do when i move, because i can’t go back to supermarket bread. in the meantime i will concentrate on finding some of that butter…

  • My husband is French, and he always tells the story that a little boy is sent off on his bicycle every morning to buy two baguettes – one to bring to his maman, and the other for him to eat on the way home. I love that image, it’s so French.

  • This post made me smile! Fresh baguettes, good butter and sea salt. So simple, but nothing makes me happier. Loved the link back to the post on le quignon, too. By boyfriend teases me, but I have to rip off the end of the bread every time!

  • Hi David,

    I recently started using yeast and baking bread at home, and must say nothing beats the fresh homemade bread; I realized quite late.
    Just wish it were simpler to have the dough ready in the morning to put in oven right away – I’m WAY TOO lazy to do any kind of work early morning … so to proof yeast, and knead, and wait an hour for dough to rise is out of question. What do you do? Freeze the dough? Or bake halfway and then freeze? I don’t know what I’m talking.

    And did you add eyes to make the baguette look like snake in the first picture? Haha. May be just my imagination :D

  • -Also contrary to what some people think, baguettes are more Parisian than French, per se, and you won’t find nearly as many baguettes at bakeries outside of Paris as you do here in the capital.-

    You maybe should visit “outside of Paris” more often.
    I can’t figure out if you are french but at least you seems to be a real Parisian: nothing interesting to find/do anywhere in the rest of the country, even concerning la baguette!! :D
    Btw, I loved your description of a baguette bite.

  • Hi David,

    Yes, baguettes are wondrous things, and I love them (and Paris!), But frankly, I don’t think you can beat the tasty variety of breads available here in Germany. Like you, we have bakeries all over the place and one finds the best for which bread you want: rye bread at this one, evening rolls at that one, black bread here. We have baguettes too and some are not too bad, but I wouldn’t put any of them in a contest in Paris.

    At our local outdoor market one baker brings a portable wood-fired oven and sells the bread and cakes right there – yum. And when students here return from a study abroad, it’s the thing they ALL say they missed the most – good bread.

  • I love a good baguette. I’ve found quite a good one here in Brisbnae (although not quite as good as I’ve had in Paris). Once a week we buy a baguette and hubz and I eat it with a good cultured butter for lunch.

  • Just back from a trip to Paris…and though I always love picking up a baguette in the morning, my problem is all of the beautiful pastries that taste as seriously good as they look. I always lose the battle and pick up one or a few. Fortunately, I also plan on a great amount of walking. I can’t find bread or pastries at home (NY) that are as good as in Paris. :(

  • David you really make me miss Paris. I’ve been to Paris 5 times, but now it’s been almost 4 years. Some baguettes are definately better than others. I read every single comment here. All these people that have lived in France make me so envious. I want so badly to live in the south of France (I live outside Chicago). I do make baguettes at home. I searched for videos because I wanted an authentic recipe and technique. The recipe I found and use is wonderful. The smell in my house while baking is torture. I’m happy with it but I would be happier having one in Jardin de Luxembourg sharing with the birds. Often my last stop before heading to the airport for home. I love your blog.

  • There is truly nothing better on earth than a fresh baguette with butter (and yes, salted butter of course!). We do have Tartine’s beautiful rustic loaves here in San Francisco, but it’s still not the same as a simple, elegant baguette.

    Your blog is always such a treat, thank you.

  • The best baguette I ever had was in a village in the area South-East of Lyon. I was staying at a campground and the custom at French campgrounds is for you to give your bread order to the restaurant the night before so they have just the right amount of bread in the morning. They even keep a list and check you off when you pick up your bread.

    I failed to remember to sign up so I drove to the center of the village and simply followed the first people I saw walking empty-handed. This led me right to the bakery. Those baguettes had the perfect crust and flavor. I couldn’t believe it, this was literally an hours drive from any town.

  • Right on target about finding, eating and loving the Parisian baguette. No further than the end of the block for me, and if I get there between 5-6pm (or 17h-18h in French time), my “demi-baguette tradition” is usually still warm…and it rarely makes it the half-block back home intact. Also, I just tried your linen towel cure for baguette leftover preservation – oh my! It worked!! One day later, and I could slice and eat the remaining bit, and it wasn’t much less fresh than the average bread basket at a not-very-special café.

  • It seems to me that finding your bakery is like going to church.
    You stick with it no matter what.
    But what if it goes away?
    There was a terrific no-name bakery in the middle of rue Vavin, always students lined up out the door. They had the best pain a seigle baguette I’ve tasted in Paris. But this trip they were replaced by a chain.
    The owner decided to move to Bolivia of all places.
    It’s a tragedy when you lose the bread you love.

  • ooooh French bread and French butter,,,,, how I miss them!!!! I was living one year and a half in Lyon, and I can tell you that bread there was awesome!!!! not baguettes, but boules, miches, pain pur levain…. and the beurre and crème fraîche, bought fresh from the laitier…..

  • Interesting though, that in a recent international baking competition (La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, the “World Cup” of bread baking] held in Paris, the French were not even placed in the top three. Japan, USA and Taiwan were the winners…..
    Now that is scary!

  • You’re on a slippery slope of bread eating…soon you’ll be buying 2 each morning and eating one on your way back home. If you’re walking, the calories don’t count :D

    When I lived there, I spent one day and visited those award winning baguette bakeries, but typically stayed close to my apt.

    Also, I totally agree – the “under-cooked” baguettes aren’t for me either! Crunchy all the way baby!

  • the mere thought of a crunchy baguette smeared with butter and bits of salt is making my mouth water.

    thanks for the tea towel tip!

  • Ditto on the difficulty finding artisan bakers in the country. I’m currently living in Pau, and that isn’t to say that I haven’t found my bakery-of-choice (have I ever! With the best sourdough loaf I’ve ever tasted. The will power it takes to not eat the five-meals worth of it upon returning from the bakery just about kills me) but it is to say that en route I pass five sub-par, not-even-really-bakeries, since (ahem) the owner of said bread shop isn’t licensed for his/her job. I had this romantic vision of France just before moving on in that every bakery was this phenomenal, magical place where bread was always adored and created with the utmost care.

    I mean, like I said, have indeed found MY bakery, and even a runner-up that’s a good half-hour walk should I be desperate Sunday morning. It’s nice having a place where the staff recognizes you and takes interest in how you like your bread.

    I had to smile when you described the French tendency to butter their tartine in the morning. This side of the country is always knee-deep in olive oil. Olive oil for breakfast? Yes! Mon Dieu, with lemon spread and olive oil… oh la la!

  • I sympathize with you. There’s been way too much bread in my diet, but I love it so. Right now, my fav is a rich brioche from Sullivan Street Bakery. Even cold or days old, it’s still so good I’ll eat it straight up – whereas I usually toast other breads to savor with butter/jam/PB.

  • David, you’re kidding about not finding baguettes in boulangeries in small towns all across France, right? I’ve never heard of a boulangerie that didn’t sell several kinds of baguettes — ordinaire, moulée, tradition, à graines, campagne, épeautre, and on and on. Even maïs now. In the Saint-Aignan area we have a dozen boulangeries, and the bread is different in every one. You pays your money…

    It’s funny about salted butter. I’m old enough to remember when all butter in the U.S. was salted. Then we all discovered unsalted butter and were amazed. It became gastronomically correct to use only unsalted butter. Now the pendulum has swung back the other way.

    • A while back, I was talking to a French friend about all the bread machines sold in France, and the frozen bread at Picard (I said, “Why on earth would anyone in France buy frozen bread, when there are so many great bakeries everywhere?”) And she replied that if you live out in the countryside, good bread is harder to find than it is in Paris – which makes sense because Paris is so densely populated.

      In my experience, I’ve gotten consistently better bread in Paris than I have elsewhere. Of course, there are good and bad bakeries everywhere (even in Paris…)

  • It’s true that if you live way out in the country, you are probably not going to drive many kilometers to buy bread every day. But here, a typical town of 4,000 and an area where maybe 12,000 people live within say 10 miles, we have two bakeries with wood-fired ovens and then all the others. I’ve never noticed that Paris bread was any better, but it has come back from the low point it reached a couple of decades ago. Besides, people never agree on what they think is the best bread. It’s like wine, you like what you like. Or cheese — we all have our favorites. Here, fact is, we get bread from our village bakery delivered to our front door four days a week. The woman drives up, blows the horn, and we go out and buy what we want — no standing order, no obligation to buy. But then you do, because you want to encourage them to keep up the service. The surcharge per baguette for delivery is 3 cents.

  • During my trip to Paris we stayed in St. Germain next to the metro and the farmer’s market. We were surrounded by bakeries but we always went to the gas station and grabbed wine, baguette and cheese to feast on in the hotel room. Touristy…maybe…or maybe they just had damn good baguette at the Shell station. :)

  • I’ve always loved bread and tended to overindulge but when I experienced the baguette in Paris, bread in the US doesn’t give me the same urge anymore; which is I guess a good thing. I am liking heavy rustic bread here in Hawaii and it’s not that easy to eat more than two slices. I only eat butter in Paris even if there is a type of French butter here, I watch my intake of fat now. This week I am eating Matzoh for Passover, and it is strange. A slice with jam or margarine should taste bland but it brings back memories of my mother. Bread, unleavened or not with love and memoires tastes just fine. Thank you David for your blog

  • this has inspired me to attempt to make a baguette at home! can’t wait to try (and eat) it. thanks for the inspiration!