Thanks for all the great answers so far.
There was a topic on the pastry and baking board a while back entitled:
Why are baguettes so much better in France? Ingredients? Water? Skill?
See here http://forums.egulle...showtopic=40608
After four pages of debate, I think we got nowhere. Thatís when I thought of inviting you to egullet to clear things up. As the original poster did not repost this great question, I thought I would. Here it is:
"I know we have great artisanal bakers here in the States. Every big city in the US has a slew of them. But every time I go to France, whether in Paris, Provence or Burgundy, the baguettes taste so much better. Crispier crust, sweeter, not as hard to chew, and also tend to taste good much longer. It doesn't matter where I pick it up-a train station, a patiserrie, a deli. or a restaurant-they all taste better than Stateside.
So what gives?
And then came a flood of answers such as :
From jackal 10:
a) The flour. French flour is much softer than US bread flours
b) Baguettes are designed to be eaten within a short time of baking. Local artisanal boulangeries bake small batches all day, and people buy and eat them at the next meal, if not sooner. They stale within a few hours. This does not fit with the US food distribution industry or consumption pattern. The compromises needed to make a product last mean its a different loaf. Even supermarkets with in-store bakeries have to make compromises (flour improvers, lower hydration, part-baked frozen etc) to make a loaf that can be baked with the equipment or labour available, that achieves the necessary economic economy of scale, and that lasts until the customer eats it.
Unless, of course, it's pain levain (like Poilane's) which is good for at least a week.
The bagette must be eaten on the same day because it is a compromise recipe invented in the 1920s as a response to labor legislation that protected bakers from having to go to work before a certain hour in the morning. Everyone knows that, the longer it takes bread to rise, and the less artificially added yeast, the better it will be. Consumers in France are gradually rediscovering this.
The bagette is a halfway house between Wonderbread/Mother's Pride and natural rising.
I'm with Whiting: what's so great about French baguettes? I think they suck. If I'm looking for basic white bread in New York, I have ton of better choices at anyplace that sells Eli's or Amy's bread, without even getting into the better artisanal bakeries. I have no use for baguettes and to me, saying baguettes in France are better than baguettes in New York is about as relevant and meaningful as saying McDonald's in the US is better than McDonald's in Europe. The only baguettes I like are the "l'ancien" sourdough variety, which are as good at Pain Quotidien in New York as they are at Pain Quotidien in Europe.
Sourdough is the pinnacle of bread baking. Any serious baker will tell you that breads made with commercial laboratory-grown yeast are inferior. And to disagree with Whiting's characterization just a bit, I don't see the baguette as halfway between Wonder Bread and sourdough. I see it as Wonder Bread's better-dressed, slightly more presentable sibling.
Not that I've been everywhere in the world, but of the places I've been it's not even close: the best bread is in Northern California. They have a bread culture out there that's truly remarkable. The sheer quantity and variety of good bread in that region makes it hard to eat anything else.
I'd go farther, Mabelline: the joke is on France. While Americans have been busy learning about good bread, the French have been equally busy forgetting about it.
i can't remember all the points i'd like to make but here goes:
why is the bread better in france?
that's subjective, isn't it? In mexico they like sugar in their bread. if they taste a loaf from france, they might not think it's "good." *we must respect each others tastes and encourage diversity.*
personally, i've yet to have a baguette in america that i've thought is as good as some french ones. you have to look hard in france, but i would be willing to supply some references of bakeries that i think make spectacular baguettes. julien in paris makes one of the best baguettes i've ever had.
part of the reason the baguette is so good is simply the mastery of fabrication/fermentation, the wheat variety and earth it's grown on, the milling, the oven used.
regarding the competition: these are not based on just taste alone; there are MANY factors that play in.
we in america can make wonderful, even spectacular baguettes in our own right. i've made some great ones and my colleagues have as well. BUT, i've yet to have a baguette in america as good as the one at julien that spring morning.
ps. if you ask the french why their baguettes are better they might say that it's because the flour is not pasteurised! hehehe
Can you please add your two cents.