In Praise of Sesame Baguettes

baguette and butter

I suppose I’m doing all those things the diet-police are advising against – namely having fat and carbohydrates for breakfast in lieu of “healthier” options, like having a bowl of kale-flecked quinoa or downing a cilantro smoothie. But as much as I like fruits and vegetables (and herbs), the only thing I am able to face first thing in the morning is something a little less threatening – namely bread, salted butter, and coffee. And that’s all.

For a while I was adding a swipe of chestnut or buckwheat honey to my butter-smeared morning ritual, but since deciding that one seemed to be fighting the other on my plate (and who wants to referee their breakfast?), salted butter won out over the honey. Which has also been easier since I’ve been getting regular deliveries of salted butter from Normandy (thanks Jennifer!), which is so good that adding anything to it, like honey or jam, is the equivalent of putting herbs in a perfectly good smoothie.

Years ago I wrote about my crack baguette, the bread that I could never get enough of. Whose disappearance I still haven’t recovered from, even though it’s been probably five years since it was mercilessly snatched from my breakfast plate. At one point, someone tried to pin the demise of the bakery on me, for not giving up their address. (Because like cable television and mobile phone service in France, if something is working for you, you don’t touch it. You leave it alone.) But since living in a culture of c’est pas ma faute, I think I could hardly be blamed when the elderly couple that ran the bakery finally decided on retirement. And believe me, if I had sway over who could retire, I’d be working on that list at this very moment.

sesame baguette and salted butter

Fortunately a number of other bakeries make a baguette au sésame, and others have taken the place on my plate (although not quite in my heart) of the boulanger who made that excellent sesame baguette up at Barbès. Folks will often ask me about baguette recipes, or want to find out how Parisians make baguettes at home. And while I am sure there are one or two people right currently proofing their yeast so they can wake up tomorrow morning at 2:30am to begin shaping their morning loaves, the other 99.99% of us in Paris that are happy to head to the corner bakery for our baguettes.

And really, it’s also part of a daily ritual to go stand in line at the neighborhood bakery, make some obligatory small-talk with the counterperson (at least in my case, because I want to keep them on my good side), then heading home with your loaf. My bakery, however, runs out of sesame baguettes first thing in the morning, which, of course, begs the question – which I posed to them the other day): Why not make more?

I guess it’s a little hard to comprehend the concept of if you are a business and there is big demand for something you are making, you might want to consider ramping up production. Instead it’s pas notre faute (not our fault) and they told me that I could reserve a sesame baguette by calling them, which sounds a little odd to me. Nevertheless, I’m considering it, because I’m tired of waking up at 5:45am and waiting in line at the bakery in the rain with my pillow and sleeping bag just to make sure I get a sesame baguette.

Still, those sesame-crusted breads have captivated me and I suppose unless I start making my own baguettes at home (and seriously, I’m probably the only one in Paris with an oven big enough to bake a baguette in, so there goes that excuse), I’m going to have to spent more sleepless nights wondering if I’ll make it over there in time to get my morning loaf. And continue to make sure my alarm clock is in tip-top working order. Or simply get a tent.

79 comments

  • Sesame seed baguettes!! It’s like my favourite chewy bagel and bread, rolled into one. Sounds like a perfect breakfast to me.. With hot coffee. Yum. Happy new year!

  • That bread looks really good, cozying up to the butter next to it! I do love bread, good fatty Turkish feta cheese, black olive breakfasts of mine. Something that has been very odd to my American roommates and now my South Carolinian hubby, instead of eating cereal or muffins.
    I think you should call ahead and reserve it. It is a product with a high demand and limited supply, do whatever you can to get your hands on it. Take your Black Friday shopping instincts with you :) Though French might not like you after that.

  • Hi David- I read your crack baguette post over the holidays when scouring the Internet for a sesame baguette recipe. Heading out the morning to the farmers market here in LA to purchase my weekly sesame baguette from a lovely man who speaks with a French accent. On second thought I wonder if it is a real accent. Nonetheless it’s my weekly dose of the closest thing I can get to a crack baguette from a Parisian bakery. C’est la vie!

  • Stupid question, David, but indulge me, if you will. How much of this baguette does the typical Parisian usually consume with his breakfast? An eighth? A quarter? More? Like many others, I am obsessed with how slim the French manage to stay despite their carb consumption. Please help me demystify.

    • I usually eat about one-third of a baguette for breakfast. The big rise in obesity in France is most likely the result of the junk food, prepackaged foods, and fast foods being consumed – not bread and butter, which are part of of a wholesome diet. (Neither one of these contains any additives or preservatives.)

  • I would be sorely tempted next visit to buy four loaves, cut them in breakfast-sized lengths, place in freezer zip lock bags and freeze them, to be used as needed! I know that is heretical, but… I’ve had to do that from time to time and the trick is freezing the loaves immediately… At any rate, anything you have to do to get this lovely baguette on your breakfast plate looks well worth it!

  • When I was little my dad twice a week would make his trip to a very small Italian bread bakery in the town where we lived. His favorite was Scali Bread and it was and always be mine. Nothing beats Sesame Seeds. Thanks. By the way the bakery is no longer there so finding good Scali bread is difficult. Happy New Year David.

  • I’m in the US, so I bake my own; here’s my recipe for two baguettes:
    3 cups all purpose flour
    1½ cups water
    ¼ teaspoon yeast
    1½ teaspoons salt
    (optional: small piece of risen dough: see below)

    • Mix and let rise 4 hours, then refrigerate overnight.
    • Take out the next morning at 9 a.m. to let it warm up
    • At 10 shape it into 2 baguettes (at this point I take a thumb-sized piece of risen dough for next time)
    • Place in baguette mold that you’ve sprinkled with sesame and let them rise in the oven
    • At 11, take out to pre-heat the oven to 450° F
    • Brush baguettes with milk and sprinkle the sesame seeds
    • Slash baguettes with a knife (I have trouble making decent cuts)
    • When the oven reaches 450°, put baguettes in mold back in the oven and bake for about 20 min.
    • Remove from oven and cool.
    • Then you can eat it at noon, but I prefer to leave lots of leftovers that I slice and toast on subsequent mornings.

    Unlike Parisian baguettes that dry out in a few hours, these will keep longer; for several days if refrigerated. I have been unable to make the crust crispy, even after spraying the baguettes with water or putting pans of water in the oven or using tiles (I’m too frugal for a baking stone), but I find the flavor delicious.

  • Next time you are in the Bay Area, try Noe Valley Bakery’s caramel iced onion and sesame baguette.

  • Is there a chance you will tell us what bakery this is from???? Pretty pleeeeeease? XOX :)

  • I also love sesame baguettes – love the crunch and slight nuttiness. I eat a piece every morning with some sort of cheese and some coffee. Simple and delicious!

  • So which bakery is it so I can try it out? :)

  • This post makes me want to hop on the eurostar right now so I can get my morning baguette tomorrow! And it would totally be worth it if I didn’t have to go to work! There is just nothing quite as good as good french baguettes.

    Bon appétit! :)

  • Nothing in the world finer than fresh bread and salted butter! David, I have a question about your Hot Chocolate Pudding. I made them this afternoon but I think whipping the eggs and sugar in a metal bowl was the wrong way to go. I seem to recall something negative about doing that. I used my hand mixer but the eggs didn’t “fluff” up like I thought they would. The pudding tasted great but didn’t look as nice as yours. Was I wrong?

    Thanks,
    Claire

  • There’s undeniable magic in something so delicious, yet slightly out of reach. I like the shopkeep’s inclination to maintain demand over supply. Wish I saw a little more of that in NYC!

  • Baguette au sésame! This is the yummiest looking delight I have set eyes on in a long time. You should get into the business of sending these par avion. I could eat one for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

  • This baguette looks fab, I love the sesame seeds!

  • Please explain why a French baguette can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Seriously.

  • French baguettes are unique! What they sell in this country as a baguette just isn’t the same thing at all.

  • I can see why it seems odd to call and reserve a loaf of bread but growing up in Greece I remember that my mom used to do it all the time. The kind of bread that my family liked was very popular so if you happen to go to the bakery a little bit later in the morning it was gone. So when she knew she wouldn’t be able to make it to the bakery early enough she would call and have them keep a loaf for her.

  • Anything sesame makes me happy, but I am really not fond of sourdough anything. I used to be able to get a baguette-shape loaf of fine grain bread called Italian bread. My favorite.

    I am addicted to crack pickles. A Magnano and Sons in Seattle made the absolute best garlic gherkins. They seem to be all gone – and not forgotten. Sigh…

  • Yeah, French baguette is indeed unique. No real baguettes over here in Vienna – helas! Yet, what I found amazing when I researched for a California trip in May 2012 that there is a baker in the Sonoma Valley who even participated in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie 2012, Mike Zakowski. And, if I remember correctly (couldn’t find the online article right now), he has even been awarded the silver medal.
    If you want to see more of him: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/27262/mike-zakowski-bejkr-video-enjoy
    Unfortunately, I did’t find the time to go there and taste it. This will have to wait until my next visit to CA. But I’m sure I’ll get to Paris first. ;-)

  • Sesame baguettes are my favorite and I love finding them when I can in Paris. I can get them more often in the SF Bay Area because Acme does a version. Nothing better than salted butter which I can’t get enough of since visiting Normandy!

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for not giving us some overly-nutritious “First Week of Healthy January” post. Nor is this, on the other hand, a defiantly unhealthy one. They both have their place for sure, but I’m glad that for today, it’s not here. :) This baguette looks like perfect breakfast.

  • Yum! I do have healthy wholesome breakfast most of the time but I don’t believe ill be jumping on the bandwagon of putting greens in my smoothie or porridge!
    The baguette looks awfully similar to the Turkish cimet bread (it’s delicious)

  • We just returned from Paris and we found the baguette au pavot amazing. We found some baguettes totally covered with poppy seeds. The bottoms are literally black. They are amazing.

  • I love sesame seed bread with salted butter, but the version for the cold winter mornings I love is a cup of green tea and a slice topped with a smear of softened cream cheese followed by a swipe of nutella. So wrong but so good

  • I live in a desert town where there is good bread except for the La Brea stuff that needs reheating and is never all that good. Your picture of your sesame baguette is devastating!

  • I’m the same way about breakfast — I eat only bread, butter and drink tea(herbal since I can’t drink caffeine). I don’t know how some people face a bigger breakfast in the mornings….

  • Soooooooooooooooo……………..funny I can imagine you waiting under the rain in your sleeping bag for your baguette!
    Yes a fresh baguette or ficelle is how to start a day in France.Many thanks for your posts and this last one on “c’est pas de ma faute” culture leaves me laughing:))
    A frog in the desert

  • I love making baguettes and I love sesame…yet it never occurred to me to make a sesame baguette. Next time!

  • Dave, the folks asked the name of the bakery.. Dave… ??? LOL

  • hmmmm… ñamñam… The “ancestral” breakfast in Spain is a toasted slice of good old country bread sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil.

  • I always wondered why you got up so early, and this finally explains it.
    For something that delicious it is totally understandable.
    I’m more than happy to keep you supplied with Normandy butter and would love to get the name of this particular boulangerie the next time I’m in town!

  • We have a bakery here in my town that makes both a seeded “Italian” bread and non-seeded “French” baguette. They, too, will run out of seeded bread every day. I, too, suggested making more seeded bread and was given the same answer you received. So, it’s not just a “French” thing, (Now that I think about it, these folks are from NYC so that may explain it.)

  • Am very lucky to have a Greek bakery near me so can get my fill of sesame seeded bread. They have many types and they are nice fresh and then next day toasted.

  • Normandy Butter….the Best!

  • I live in Newport, RI and we have no baguettes, no boulangerie worth its salt or sesame seeds. Ugh. Will be in Avignon for Easter. Tell us about Easter in Provence and Paris. thank you, Mrs. G

  • Here in L.A., I think the seeded baguette from Trader Joe’s is delicious, so I might actually die if I ate the real Parisian version. Alas, I don’t get to eat them as much as I want to. In our family of four, we are split evenly on seeds versus no seeds. I (the primary shopper) try to alternate.

  • David, Have you ever had a baguette in the US that compares Paris baguettes??

  • I know this sounds like heresy, but I’ve just returned from Paris, after having bought a cake of Bordier butter within 4 hours of my arrival. I love butter and still recall the slight acid taste of European butter I first tasted in Lyon as a teenager, in Madrid in the ’70’s, and in all my subsequent trips to Paris, that has never been duplicated in any other European butter or so-called European-style butter I’ve bought in the US. So you can imagine my expectation when I opened that package that looks hand-folded and tasted the butter, with little chunks of sea salt, with nothing. No bread; no nothing. Just the butter. And wow! It was too salty! Cloyingly salty! I had even stumbled on a sesame baguette not far from the apartment I rented on the Rue de Seine, and tried it again. And while the bread took up some of the slack, it still tasted way too salty for my taste. Next time I’ll buy unsalted and add my own little granules of salt – in amounts I can control and enjoy the extraordinary taste of that exquisite buttercup yellow butter.

  • Just read that the oldest bakery in Paris is closing due to rent increases, a place in the 1st that has been baking bread since Napoleon was Emperor. That’s so sad. I guess you’ll really have to start baking, David. Why do we have to lose places like this?

  • Two stories from the UK when I still lived there (back in the 80s). One was the local grocer who lost his cool with a woman who asked him about a particular thing she wanted to buy – I’m sorry to say it was a dried bean popular at the time – and finally spat out, “I keep telling people, there’s no demand!”

    The other was a baker that stopped making hot-cross buns for Easter “because they sold too well”.

  • A favorite no-name boulangerie on rue vavin upped and moved to Chile and a chain took over. Was a tragic experience I still haven’t recovered from. Their cereal baguette was heavenly. Wondering whether to go to Chile…
    That butter is from the Charante which seems to be a well-kept secret…

  • Call and reserve that bread! My local bakery here always runs out of my fav scone and keeps me happy by reserving it so I can start my day with a big smile as life is tough enough without having the perfect carb choice to get you ready to face the day. Although it may be the experience u crave as well along with being forced to get out of bed on those cold, rainy days too LOL!

  • Sheryl: It’s very hard to run a bakery, or a business here, and so many of them change hands frequently. Rising rents are a factor for sure, but there are so many bakeries in Paris (there are 4 within one block of where I live) so I think it also has to do with supply-and-demand. That neighborhood isn’t so residential, however people do live there – so if there is enough demand, hopefully another will open nearby.

    Zoey: I haven’t, although I’ve had great bread in America. Baguettes are pretty Parisian and like croissants, it’s hard to replicate them elsewhere due to ingredients (the flour, mostly) and other factors.

    Genetaie: It’s amusing – sometimes. But other times, I wish someone would just take responsibility. I saw someone throwing trash on the ground the other day, as if it was nothing. (Not to mention the estimated 30 billion cigarette butts on the ground, or the doggy stuff..) I would imagine if you dropped trash on the street in some American city, people will be all over you in a New York minute!

    Parisbreakfast: The Breton and Normandy butters get most of the press, but you’re right about that Charente butter – and cheese – major yum : )

  • We encountered the same problem in Mexico ~ a particular can of Italian tuna was often unavailable at the tiny little gourmet shop and the owner’s reasoning was to stop selling the tuna because it was too much trouble to keep it in supply. That would be a wonderful, non-capitalist response, wouldn’t it!

  • I think the “food police” are simply jealous David that they cannot walk to their corner boulangerie and buy one of those scrumptious baguettes and slather it with an equally scrumptious bit of French butter. For what it’s worth, my gran had the american version of a baguette with butter and honey EVERY morning for breakfast for most of her life and she lived to the ripe old age of 98! So, from my perspective, I think you are definitely onto something… keep eating that baguette and butter!!!

  • It’s a dream of mine to have a tasting of butters from the different regions of France, because I’ve heard that they all taste slightly different. Do you have one French butter your prefer over others? Or is more unique than the others and worth checking out.

    • I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other. But for everyday eating, I always buy salted (demi-sel) butter. Bordier butter is quite good, and I do like the Beillevaire raw milk butter a lot. I try to get butter with crystals of salt in it, because I like salt, and even at the supermarket in France, there are very good butters like that.

      If you live outside of France and want to try French butter, make sure you go to a store that has fresh stock (it will not be cheap, as you can imagine the price of sending butter overseas) – in America, there are rather good butters like the one from Vermont Butter & Cheese. Check your local greenmarket for others.

  • Keeping best sellers in stock is a small store’s continuing problem. I live in a small town in northern California, and I mean NORTH, as in 5 hours up 101 from San Francisco. Items that sell out are not restocked without a lot of persuasion. And after regular stock was sold out during a big festival, the merchants complained about the festival.

    I make baguettes because of where I live. ( I don’t like ready=made squishy bread). I like it, have no idea if it tastes French. Now I’m going to try sesame seeded northern California baguettes.

    • Most small business can only produce so much, using whatever resources they have. In this case, though, they make tons of baguettes every day and since the seeded ones (sesame, poppy, and grainy) are so popular, they could just add seeds to a lot more of them. But like where you are, in Paris, things are not restocked so quickly when they run out (the infamous rupture de stock) gets me way too many times…

  • Hi David
    Love your blog. This post however is not about baguettes but a request for you to talk and show us the technique of fraisage. I have difficulty making flaky pastry dough and this technique will hopefully cure this problem. I am sure as a pastry chef you are more than familiar with this method and can help those of us with this affliction.
    Cheers
    Vivien (Toronto, Canada) dreaming of fruit pies to come

  • I love it. Honestly. The best.

  • I found your blog a couple of months ago and LOVE it – and this story brought back the total-body sensory delight of Poujaurean’s fresh, warm “flutes,” and my grief when I went back to Paris a number of years ago and discovered his bakery had closed (I was glad to find him catering in one of your archived posts). Blind luck or good karma brought me to my first apartment in Paris a block from his bakery, and I quickly learned what time the flutes came out of the oven each day. LIke Mary Alice, I now live in far northern California where the bakeries are few, plus I have become unable to eat gluten (at least the industrial-agriculture version of wheat that is sold in the U.S.), so I mail-order fabulous wood-fired gluten free bread from Grindstone Bakery in Sonoma. which is better than anything I have been able to concoct myself.

  • Hi, David A great post. U have no idea of what it’s like not to have those wonderful baguettes anytime, morning , noon, or night. I’m living in Sarasota, Fl. and it’s impossible to buy a decent baguette. I’ve learned to be patient and just wait for my return to Paris. I would like to relay this story, a few yrs. ago , I met a french tennis teacher who was living and teaching tennis in calif. I asked him if he didn’t miss the bread, he hesitated before answering and their were tears in his eyes. He admitted that was one of the things he missed the most.Thanks, Milt

  • Great post, David! However, I might suggest, based on my own experience, that it really is not hard, nor particularly time consuming, to make your own reasonable facsimile of ‘les baguettes a l’anciennes” starting with a home-cultivated liquid levain. My fave recipe from Daniel Leader’s “Local Breads” book calls for overnight refrigerator proofing and baking out of the refrigerator first thing in the morning. And there are directions in the book for creating sesame-crusted variations.

    • That is a great book and I do like making bread. But on the other hand, I do like going to my local bakery because I’m happy to support them (although they have plenty of support!) There was a movement here a while back where people were buying those bread machines – I think because of the novelty of them – but that (I think) wore off and bakeries still exist, as backbones of neighborhoods. It’s nice that fresh bread is still such an intergral part of France.

  • That picture makes me positively swoon! I cannot, alas, eat wheat of any sort so I will never have anything quite so lovely. bah.

  • Oh my goodness, that looks so gorgeous. On my way to bed to dream of baguettes, I live in Belfast! This is not funny.Not had a good French baguette since I also used to queue in the Rue Mouffetard…

  • David, I loved this post. Especially your “crazy” idea of them ramping up production of the much loved Sesame baguette. We had a grocery store owner in our small town here in France that many other stores didn’t carry, so once the word got around many folks were heading to his shop for the item. This was causing him stress so he just stopped carrying it all together.

  • I could eat fresh bread for every meal!

  • When I studied in Montpellier, we American students used to visit the same bakery as much as possible…we could even mimic their “southern” French accent to respectfully request the same thing every day. The woman behind the counter never acknowledged us or acted if they had ever seen us before. Ahh…the French. But it was the best baguette ever.

  • haha! there is this bakery near my house that makes an asiago cheese bagle. and it is like…SMOTHERED in cheese. and the most valuable part is this…coin? layer? shield? of cheese that forms in the hole in the bagel and caramelizes while baking. they sell out every. single. day. and waiting in line for lunch gives me a heart attack because no other bagel has that delicious CENTER of cheese.

    anyway. i feel you.

  • This made me run for an Acme seeded baguette, but ended up with a Bouchon baguette with seeds instead. Tasty. Especially with some salty butter.

  • I am all about supporting the boulangers as well. It is just so much less expensive and easier to buy 10 migandises (tiny 2-bite tartlets) for a dinner party than to make a big cake. I have a favorite as well and they have a slightly sour baguette that is so fabulous, there is always a line out the door.

    PS – Which company do you use to ship you Normandy butter? I can’t find it down in the South of France where I live – perhaps I could go to Nice, but that is just a huge city and don’t really want to deal with it. Thanks!

    • My friend from Normandy brings me the butter when she comes to visit. I don’t know where it’s available in France elsewhere. Sorry! (But it’s kind of worth tracking down…)

  • There is a great bakery in San Diego that has marvelous seedy baguettes. Besides eating it plain with butter I also make garlic bread out of it, excellent for french toast, croutons, and when it really gets dried out – bread crumbs. Make the call – reserve your loaf.

  • I will have to try to find the Sesame Baguette here in Versailles. I had a sandwich on a poppyseed baguette a few days ago and it reminded me how much I love a seeded bread! mmmmm!!! It is incredible the amount of Boulangeries here! One or two on nearly every block. Love it!

  • Oh my goodness. Is there anything better than a fresh, warm baguette spread liberally with salted butter??? I THINK NOT! Invest in that tent David – totally worth it!

  • If the baguette is that good and looks that good, I would get up. That’s how much I love bread though. We don’t have the luxury of such great baguette here in Colorado.

    Nazneen

  • That bread and butter looks amazing! So worth camping out for. I’m glad I found your blog–reading your “Sweet Life in Paris” book right now and really enjoying it!

  • hello david_first off I would like to say how much I enjoy your blog_
    I lived in paris a number of years and it brings back many good memories_
    as for the “mystery of the crack baguette”_the last place I lived was on the rue pigalle_
    I would do my shopping on the market street rue lepic_there was a little boulangerie
    on rue constance which had really great bread_for some reason they were even exempt
    from the baguette price controls_just wondering if that was the place?

  • Hi David,
    I have made a couple of your recipes and they were excellent. I made the salted caramels. So good. I was wondering if you have a favorite bakery in New York City?
    One I like is Burdick’ s, and Payard is so famous. Your favorite or favorites?

  • Wolf: It was a bakery on the rue Faubourg-Poissonière. I think the price controls only affect the baguette ordinaire, which is why so many places focus on the baguettes anciennes or tradition.

    LadyJ: Glad you liked the caramels! I tend not to go to French bakeries in New York, since I live in France and am surrounded by them. Which is why I think most New Yorkers don’t want to come to Paris and eat bagels : )

    In New York, I’m a fan of Baked (in Brooklyn), City Bakery, Nunu chocolates, Balthazar bakery, + Babycakes. I’ve heard great things about Kee’s chocolates and Levain, and at some point, I will stop in there.

    Kareen: Happy you’re enjoying the book ~

  • Is there something wrong if I crave bread even after dinner? :)
    I’ve been very much into sourdough lately, but do you think having bread in the evening is not a ‘good idea’?

  • Hi David,

    There is a wonderful Italian bakery, here in Western New York, that makes what we call Sesame Flat Bread. It appears to be very similar to your baguette, but it’s flat rather than round-ish. We love it. Since it is only available on weekends, we order at least 4 loaves and freeze most of them, after cutting them in thirds. We are so addicted to this bread. I enjoy your blog very much.

    Jean