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So why are baguettes in France so much better?


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Most bakeries make both, don't they?

No, they don't -- at least in my experience. I've since read a few more articles by or about Kaplan (who, as it turns out, is affiliated with the INBP and is the co-author of that history of breadmaking that I linked to above). I'm fairly sure that by "baguette courante", he means "the common baguette" -- "standard" in terms of what bakeries usually make, rather than something conforming to a particular "standard".

As an example, the bakery I most often use sells "baguettes" (in three sizes), which are slow-risen and tasty; also "baguettes à l'ancienne", which have some whole wheat flour and perhaps some spelt flour. The supermarket sells "baguettes" but you know, from context, that they are industrially made. It would be surprising to find a bakery that sold both cheap, industrial bread and also slowly-made bread. But perhaps these are more common in Paris.

Here's an excerpt from a Q&A with Steven Kaplan, conducted in the Nouvel Observateur. I've translated, paraphrased and condensed quite a bit.

Q. To whom do we owe the re-introduction of well-made bread?

A. To the millers, the flour companies. Definitely not to the bakers: they refused to believe that they had lost the tradition of good bread making. They bet everything on white bread, right up to loading themselves up with debt. The flour companies, on the other hand, realised that if the bread was bad, people would stop eating it. And if customers ate less bread, the millers would sell less flour.

Q. So what did the millers do?

A. They offered the bakers better flour, with fewer additives; they also gave them recipes and easy-to-follow "diagrams" for improving their bread: slower kneading, and so on. Each "diagram", if followed, produced an easy to recognise "branded" bread, and the flour companies paid to advertise these. This is how we ended up with the Bannette, and later Rétrodor, Festival of Bread, etc.

Q. So it was this branding that saved good baking in France?

A. Without doubt.

My sense is that in the US, home baking and TV bakers (Nancy Silverton, etc) may have done more to rescue good bread. I doubt that the big flour companies, with the exception of groups like King Arthur, would have played a similar role. In France, on the other hand, it would be considered extremely eccentric to bake bread at home.

Perhaps with the rise of the Atkins diet, we will see more interest in fine bread: after all, if you can only eat small amounts of bread, it had better be good.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I would add that none of the baguettes in the bakery I referred to above are made with a sourdough, including the baguette à l'ancienne.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Seth: I'm not the one overstating the devastation. I never visited France before World War II. I'm relying on two inputs. First, that those who seem to be very well-schooled in the history of French bread seem pretty universally convinced that French bread-baking culture disappeared after World War II and started being reintroduced in the 1990s as a project rather than as any sort of continuation of a currently existing tradition. And second, that the bread I've had in France -- and I'm probably no better traveled there than you -- has been for the most part unimpressive.

In terms of the what-kinds-of-baguettes-do-bakeries sell, well, Jonathan has a house in France so he surely knows better than I. But my recollection, which is no more reliable than my generally unreliable brain, squares with what the Independent says:

In six out of 10 Paris bakeries, far fewer in the provinces, the light, white "baguette courante" or "standard baguette" is now sold alongside the succulent, longer-lasting, creamy-coloured, crunchy, taste-filled baguettes which existed in France before the Second World War. It is this baguette - the "baguette de tradition" or "pain de tradition", as defined rigorously by law in France since 1993 - which is the principal subject of Kaplan's book Cherchez le Pain.

Jonathan, with respect to the use of the term "standard" I'd just like to clarify that I've been using the term all along in the sense of what is usually made, purchased, and expected as opposed to engaging in any sort of search for a legal standard. That's you, not me.

I hope we're all in agreement that the "standard" baguette -- aka the baguette courant or whatever -- is crap. As for the "baguettes de tradition," which are a lot better, I still don't think even the good examples I've had have been particularly great. Clearly I'm in a minority here, but I just don't view them as any sort of paragon of breadbaking skill or flavor. To each his own, I suppose, but I don't see the appeal.

A note: the artisanal breadbaking movement has been an international one, and I think it's important to distinguish artisanal breadbaking in general from the improvements that have been made specifically to baguette production since the 1990s. Just fermenting overnight and using a better brand of flour doesn't make your bread artisanal.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Yep, and when they went through that epic reorganization of bread making, where'd they get their wheat from?! The U.S., or was your precious Poilane lying? Our wheat is the finest in the world, and bread makers, pasta makers, WHATEVER, are on record testifying to the same. I am sick of us getting dissed. Our food is of a quality unmatched in history, and the last bastion of what can be said against it now is "But it's not our quality," well bullshit. We can taste and our food is good,so there you are.

I must disagree.

Besides I don't think there was a value judgement implied. Seeing everything as "better" or "worse" seems to be a US cultural hang-up.

French wheat and US wheat are different - different climate, different varieties, different growing conditions, different farming practices.

This means that french flours tend to be softer (lower gluten content) than US flours. The local breads have evolved to make advantage of the flours. Softer flour means the bread stales quicker, but has a softer, looser interior texture - bigger holes. You can't support such a texture in a large loaf, hence a baguette, baked twice daily. The people near Lake Como produce Cibatta, for similar reasons.

So making a baguette with US flour means you get a different loaf to that made with french flour, just as making, say a San Francisco Sourdough with European flour gives a different result, even with San Franciso leavan (I've tried).

Not better, or worse, just different. If authenticity is the criterion, then, of course, only bread made in the place of origin with local wheat is "true", same as any other local food, such as cheese or wine. Personally I rejoice in the differences.

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A note: the artisanal breadbaking movement has been an international one, and I think it's important to distinguish artisanal breadbaking in general from the improvements that have been made specifically to baguette production since the 1990s. Just fermenting overnight and using a better brand of flour doesn't make your bread artisanal.

With some trepidation I will re-introduce an issue that got a good thrashing (or maybe it was a good trashing) a year or so ago: the definition of "artisanal". In France, as applied to bakeries, the term simply means "non-industrial". It could indicate that the bread is made with a levain -- or, more likely, with a combination of levain and commercial yeast. It could mean that it gets a slow rise. It almost certainly means, as suggested by that law quoted above, that the bread is mixed, kneaded, risen and baked on the premises, rather than arriving in pre-formed loaves to be popped into electric ovens. Bakers following the recipes of the flour companies like Banette will proclaim themselves to be "votre artisan boulanger" -- your artisan breadmaker -- and nobody will quibble with this. So "artisan" and "artisanal", at least as used in France, goes all the way from Poîlane to the local shop that follows the flour company's recipe.

By the way: I am far from an expert on French bread or baking or bakeries, though I'm deeply interested in these things. I spend 5 to 6 weeks per year in France, either in Paris or in "the provinces", mostly in the South, and have regularly returned to France since the early 1980s. That doesn't begin to measure up to Steven Kaplan's experience.

Nonetheless, I will assert that our Steven (Shaw) is painting an overly black-and-white picture. The renaissance has come a long way: there is a lot of very good bread available in France today, both in Paris and in the provinces. There is general awareness of the difference between the good product and the bad. Even the supermarkets are getting into the act: nowadays it is more common to see a branch of a "real" (or if you wish, "artisanal") bakery inside the supermarket, a "store within a store". This is a "dépot de pain", and it conforms to the law: the bread is entirely made within a real bakery, and delivered to the store immediately after it is baked.

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Me paint an overly black-and-white picture? Now there's a surprise.

I'd like to focus on wheat issue for a bit, since I've reached the boundaries of my limited knowledge on the baking issues. My understanding is that in the US you can get any kind of wheat you want. We grow hard wheat in the North (and of course the Canadians grow a heck of a lot of it too) and soft wheat in the South, although that's probably not as subtle as the actual crop-distribution picture. And we grow lots of different strains. Our climatological range is broader than France's, I'm sure, although wheat is not, as I understand it, affected by "terroir" in the way grapes are. If American breads are on the whole being made with harder flour than French ones, that's surely a matter of choice not necessity, because I can go to Costco right now and buy a big sack of bread flour (high gluten), all-purpose flour (medium gluten), or pastry flour (low gluten). Of course the protein content is only one of a number of factors that influence the performance of flour.

There are of course two main elements to flour: the wheat and the processing. Is the actual wheat in France any different, or do we have access to all the same stuff in North America? I'm pretty sure we can get all the same stuff. Is France growing all its own wheat anyway? I'm not sure. I think France is a net exporter of wheat, which doesn't mean they don't export one kind and import another kind. We'd have to check one of those trade reports to know for sure. I know Italy imports a heck of a lot of wheat from the US and Canada, but that's mostly used in pasta making, I think. As for the processing, does it differ in France? Is a good bakery in Paris being shipped wheat that has been processed to a higher standard than what a good bakery in New York gets? I don't know.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I stated and I stand by my claim of our wheat flours being among the finest in the world. There is in particular one mill in North Dakota whose output is exclusively European. But beyond that, don't lecture about soft or hard flour like we just woke up yesterday and started producing these ag products.

And you know what---this is real ridiculous to be fighting over the bread from ONE city in France as opposed to all the bread in the U.S. The critics of our products have probably not been across the U.S., yet are comfortable branding us as second-class to the French. That gags me.

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I hope we're all in agreement that the "standard" baguette -- aka the baguette courant or whatever -- is crap.

Absolutely - emphatically - NO - I am NOT in agreement with this. I really hate playing this game - the My Gastronomic Experience is Bigger than Yours game - let me just say that I've made and eaten my fair share of a lot of different kinds of baguettes around Paris - and compared to those with whom I've had the privilege to work, I know NOTHING - BUT I have STARTED to develop SOME kind of a palate - and the average neighborhood boulangerie baguette is pretty good - NOT CRAP.

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Mabelline, it's always fun to take doubters to the Berkshire Mountain Bakery, where in Nowheresville USA you can get get better bread than any I've had in France except for the top handful of bakeries like Poilane and company. But the reality is that the bread in most of the US really is terrible, just as the restaurants are terrible. If we're talking about penetration of good food, good bread, good wine, etc., into the rural areas of the country, the French totally kick our asses and that's that. There's no point in trying to argue that point. It can be explained somewhat: France is a lot smaller. But no explanation is going to tip that scale anytime soon. At the same time, in many US cities and regions, I think we are doing some incredible things with bread. As I said, I think the bread in Northern California -- and also in selected areas throughout the whole Northwest -- is just incredible. I would much rather be told I have to eat bread exclusively from Northern California and the Northwest for the rest of my life than be told I have to eat only bread from France.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I hope we're all in agreement that the "standard" baguette -- aka the baguette courant or whatever -- is crap.

Absolutely - emphatically - NO - I am NOT in agreement with this. I really hate playing this game - the My Gastronomic Experience is Bigger than Yours game - let me just say that I've made and eaten my fair share of a lot of different kinds of baguettes around Paris - and compared to those with whom I've had the privilege to work, I know NOTHING - BUT I have STARTED to develop SOME kind of a palate - and the average neighborhood boulangerie baguette is pretty good - NOT CRAP.

I agree. The regular baguette, in my experience in Paris, is delicious. Maybe a little simplistic if you are feeling picky, we which we always are here on eG, but delicious. The tradition is generally a bit heavier and more complex.

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FG I am in total agreement about the general quality of rural bread,wine,restaurant fare, etc., but to me in this day and time a blanket statement that we are always behind the French, and the English are fit to judge us chaps my ass. Get over it.

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For the record, I think much of the bread in London is excellent.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Stovetop, I don't speak for Steve-- and I disagree with some of the things he's said in this thread-- but I think it's pretty obvious he's been talking about bread that's available for purchase. Anyone, anywhere can make world-class bread at home with the right flour, water, and just a couple pieces of equipment (a hot stove and a stone). I don't think Steve would disagree.

Edit: and salt and leavening, of course. :smile: This list is not all-inclusive.

Edited by SethG (log)

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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The issue is not what is the best. The right ingredients can be flown anywhere, and there are skilled bakers all over. The issue is what is the average standard, and IMHO the average bread in the US (and much or the world) is pretty awful - factory made, and full of chemicals. France, and french influenced palces such as former colonies like Vietbam, have in general better, fresher, bread.

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Fat Guy; I suppose you have been every where?..., I have seen your reviews, they are just your opinion, you do not speak for every one in regards to what is good and what is not, you traveled across Canada and you think that a one trip makes you a expert on restaurants in Canada; in my opinion; that is just my opinion, some of your reviews were good, but like I said before they are just your opinions; you have certain tastes, and if something goes along with what you like you give it a good write up and if the person, a person who has the right to express their opinion without being edited, I can not belive you edit me out for expresing my opinion, there was nothing bad said, most of it is true!

Most of your wheat comes from Canada any way, so do more homework, before you edit me out!!

You all talk like you are experts, most of you are just writers, I am just a cook who can bake, there are grandmothers/ mothers all over America who can bake, have you tried all of their bread, even if we all tasted all bread, it still is just our opinion, when you can bake your own bread, then maybe there is a discussion.

Bread is a cultural thing; natural yeast over 50 years old, like sour dough, families passing down recipe from one generation to another, now that is good bread, bread is on a revival, so is a lot of traditional food skills, we are going back to the basics, good things take time; technology was supposed to give us more leisure, less hours a week working, but now we are working more, cooking less, no time, we in North America love fast food, in Europe they are fighting to save time, time to eat, to drink, to talk; perhaps conversation, then maybe we will have time, time is something you have to take.

Sit down break bread, drink and have a conversation.

Happy Easter and all Holidays to all

stovetop

Edited by stovetop (log)
Cook To Live; Live To Cook
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I'd like to focus on wheat issue for a bit, since I've reached the boundaries of my limited knowledge on the baking issues. My understanding is that in the US you can get any kind of wheat you want. We grow hard wheat in the North (and of course the Canadians grow a heck of a lot of it too) and soft wheat in the South, although that's probably not as subtle as the actual crop-distribution picture. And we grow lots of different strains. Our climatological range is broader than France's, I'm sure, although wheat is not, as I understand it, affected by "terroir" in the way grapes are. If American breads are on the whole being made with harder flour than French ones, that's surely a matter of choice not necessity, because I can go to Costco right now and buy a big sack of bread flour (high gluten), all-purpose flour (medium gluten), or pastry flour (low gluten). Of course the protein content is only one of a number of factors that influence the performance of flour.

My understanding is that it is the quality of the protein in french wheat that is different than in american wheat; not the level of gluten content. This topic is pretty much out of my depth also--it would be nice to hear from a wheat grower. i know that the wheat growers in the US that are growing for King Arthur and the North Dakota mill are aware of these differences and could speak to them much more intelligently.

FWIW, I'm not sure why so many people are intent upon putting down one thing in order to elevate another. It is not an insult to america, it's food, bread or citizens tolike french breads. Its not an insult to levain or sourdough breads to like simple commercial yeast based baguettes. I enjoy both chewy, wheaty, complex boules as well as light, crusty, fresh baguettes. my Banh Mi sandwich just wouldn't be the same on slices of rustic boules. Sometimes I want a simple, clean thin crusted baguette as a vehicle for goat cheese or st. andre; sometimes I want a thick slice of olive oiled grilled sourdough on top of my chicory and olive salad. Liking one does not denigrate the other--similarily I couldn't say that one is better than the other. Whether it is baked in france or in the good old usa.

Fred Bramhall

A professor is one who talk's in someone else's sleep

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Thanks again, Jason, I found some good info in that thread, not only about Balthazar for bread, but other food sources. I'm planning to move back to the NY/NJ/PA area by the end of this year, so I'll need to find myself some good resources for my favorite things, bread, chocolate, cheese, coffee, EVOO, pasta, San Marzano tomatoes, etc. etc.

There's nothing better than a good friend, except a good friend with CHOCOLATE.
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That is why you have bakers about every 100 yds throughout the city.  Why you also have lingerie shops every 100 yds is a different question.

balex, it is not a different question at all. The two (boulangeries and lingerie shops) are actually intricately related. One is to remind us not to buy the other. :biggrin::biggrin:

These are the kind of posts that make egullet so special to me. This brightned a very dreary afternoon (at work) for me. :laugh:

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So why for all of bagel history have the bagels in New Jersey, and in the parts of New York that don't get serviced from the Croton reservoir system, been just as good as the ones in the city? I suspect the water explanation is really a statement of "there's some factor we can't identify that's screwing up our bagels, so we're going with water as our final guess."

i can't answer any of those questions, but i do want to say the closest i've gotten to a NY bagel, or NY pizza crust outside of NYC is New Orleans.

why that would be or what the two cities have in common I don't know. Whatever it is, it doesn't translate to anyplace else i've been.

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Mr. Bramhall: you're right about the gluten quality generally being better in french flours. the millers simply isolated the strains that provided the best baking results for...you guessed it: FRENCH bread. Millers in america have prefered the strains that are best for...you guessed it: AMERICAN bread. Times are changing though.

Regarding the competitions again: the trainer for the American team 1999 was Didier Rosada, Chief Instructor and Consultant for San Francisco Institute. He also trained them to their second place victory in 2002. Keep in mind that the team goes to the SAF baking center in Lille for 2 weeks before the competition to train with french flours.

The trainer for the Japanese team 2002 was Richard Dorffer from Bischwiller near Strasbourg.

Kind of funny is how this ties in with the all french team thread.

As far as the differing opinions regarding the baguettes, I think that a lot of people think that traditional American breads (wonder) taste like crap compared to a french baguette. And a lot of people think that a standard baguette tastes like crap compared to a general baguette de tradition. And a lot of people think that a general baguette de tradition tastes like crap compared to a baguette de tradition at Julien for example. When you compare a wonder bread to a baguette de tradition at Julien...

Edited by artisanbaker (log)
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Is bread in Vietnam really that good? I've never been there, but I guess I had the idea that it would be mostly light and fluffy banh mi, which is perfect for sandwiches but not the sort of loaf you want to tuck into with a little butter. That's what the bread in Laos was like, but I realize Vietnam could have a much more diverse bread scene.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Lets get some facts straight; San Francisco sour dough is the way it is because of science, not what a baker does or the water or the flour, it is the yeast; the yeast is a combination of natural yeast Candida milleri and an acid-generating bacteria Lactobacillus sanfrancisco, It has been reported that the ratio of wild yeast to bacteria in San Francisco sourdough cultures is about 1:100. The C. milleri strengthens the gluten and the L.Ssan Francisco ferments the maltose. San Francisco’s is an isolated situation; the bacteria exist naturally in the environment , so this results in a very special scenario for bread making, thus it is hard to reproduce this bread else where.

http://www.faqs.org/faqs/food/sourdough/faq/section-21.html

Now secondly the things that affect bread making are the Yeast, the flour, salt, temperature, cleanliness, and the water so if any of these things are different the bread will be different.

Now something someone said that natural yeast is only sourdough, that is wrong, you can ferment a number of different things to make yeast, from there you can make a sponge, which is another way to introduce the yeast to the bread making process, from every batch of dough you leave out a piece of the old sponge, make your dough and leave it in the fridge, this is where you can make a very different baguettes, this method makes very soft type of baguettes, because the slow process can break the gluten down.

Any way you read more and get the facts then come back and tell us who makes better bread.

Read kitchen confidential chef talks about a baker that he had; there are many reference points he makes about feeding the bitch, not all his starters were sour dough.

I have a guest, I must leave now

stovetop

Cook To Live; Live To Cook
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