Bread, specifically the baguette, is almost as synonymous with France as the Eiffel Tower. The French must have their pain quotidienne. Of course, it’s not the only bread in Paris, but it certainly is the most recognizable. The French “stick” weighs about half a pound and has a golden crust, sometimes dusted with flour. The best is the “tradi” (aka, traditional). It’s tastier but costs a bit more than the normal baguette or the baguette ordinaire, which is regulated by law to be 1 euro or less and often it is just as the name describes: ordinary. I happen to like the thinner ficelles because they are all about crust, hardly any inside dough, though the tradi does have a light and airy interior.
Best consumed the day of and, at about 1.30 Euro or so, it’s a small investment in one of life’s pleasures. You might toast it the next day, but, really, it’s not worth the effort if a fresh one is at hand. When buying a tradi baguette, I always ask for it bien cuite (well-cooked), but I read that the trend now is pas trop cuite (not too baked)—less crumbs, so your choice.
The baking of long loaves of French bread is centuries old, but the baguette’s name was coined in 1920, and this traditional food is as political as it is essential. Rising prices and hording of grain may have caused the storming of the Bastille, and in literature, consider: Jean Val Jean was jailed for stealing a loaf. If it was fresh out of the oven, I can understand why.
Bakeries abound on almost every corner in Paris, but not all baguettes are equal despite having the word “artisan” attached to their name. In fact, some are downright pedestrian. But the good ones. Ah, now that’s something special.
According to the official website of France (http://www.france.fr/en/gastronomy/baguette.html), “Every year, the “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Paris” is awarded to one baker, who becomes the official supplier to the Élysée Palace, residence of the French Head of State, for that year.”
The 2015 winner, Monsieur Djibril Bodian, also won in 2010. He’s located at 38 rue des Abbesses (18ème). A definite stop before leaving Paris. For the top ten winners: http://www.paris.fr/accueil/accueil-paris-fr/et-le-laureat-du-grand-prix-de-la-meilleure-baguette-2015-est/rub_1_actu_141530_port_24329. Two, as it happens, are in my neighborhood and you can be sure I’ll check them out soon.
You won’t find the other loaf pictured here unless you travel to Uzbekistan. It is non or patyr, a flat but puffy circular Uzbek bread baked in clay ovens (thicker and heavier than Indian naan). It has a thin center and a thick rim. Each region in Uzbekistan has its own variation of this traditional bread, and I tried them all. Sorry to say, though they look tempting, they are all fairly tasteless. Give me a crusty baguette any day.
For more on French bread, see http://about-france.com/french-bread.htm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baguette, and http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2012/04/la-baguette-french-bread/.
For hints on buying good baguettes: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2012/05/how-to-find-a-good-baguette-in-paris/