The golden loaf. A loaf with a slightly glazed effect. Heavenly. To tear off a piece of this crusty, iconic loaf is to await the satisfaction of an intense craving. A hard crust paired with a light and airy inside is pure heavenly bliss….
Viewed abroad as one of the symbols of French culture, the baguette has become an iconic emblem, for certain. Although found throughout the world, baguettes are seemingly eternally linked closely to France and especially to Paris. Alas, the “French Baguette”. The baguette has always been an essential food for the French. The mere act of buying bread from the Boulangerie is a very important daily event in French culture. A constant, indeed. A “French Baguette” is termed as a “Long, thin loaf of French bread” that is commonly made from basic lean dough (though the dough, not the shape, is defined by French law). Distinguishable by its length and crisp crust, the long and wide loaves have been made since the time of Louis XIV. Of interest, it was not until the nineteenth century (1920) the word “Baguette” was used to refer to this specific type of bread. Who knew? Of further interest, in 1920 French law prevented bakers from working between the hours of 10pm and 4am, making it impossible for artisan bakers to create the traditional round loaf in time for morning meals. Thus, it is believed that the success of the slender baguette, prepared and baked rapidly, is said to have met the demand. Again, who knew? The standard baguette has a diameter of about 2 inches and a typical length of 26 inches. However, baguettes can also be as long as 40 inches. I think I would purchase that one! Of further interest, not all long loaves are considered “baguettes” in France. In fact, there is also the short baguette is often known as a “baton” or “Stick”. A “Demi” delight, indeed.
“Housemaids were hurrying homewards with their purchases…and the long sticks of bread, a yard or two in length, carried under their arms, made an odd impression on me” – Unknown, 1898
And of the hands that are devoted to the formation of the perfect loaf? The perfect baguette? Alas, the Boulanger. The artisan craftsman of the boulangerie is often the succession of a life’s work that often spans generations. A baker’s life, indeed. The life of an artisan boulanger is dictated by the the dough and sequential rounds of the baking process. “Le Pain” (the bread) is formed from water, flour, salt and levain or “baker’s yeast”. All natural delight. This glorious bread was the result of the traditional steam ovens which are a combination of gas-fired traditional oven and a brick oven, a thick “deck” of stone or firebrick heated by natural gas instead of wood. Interestingly, it was in the early nineteenth century that the first steam oven arrived in Paris. And, oh, the benefits of the steam? The steam allows the crust to expand before setting, creating a lighter and more airy loaf. Pure goodness. Heavenly delight to any avid bread lover. The baguettes are generally made as partially free-form loaves. The loaf itself is formed with a series of folding and rolling motions, raised in cloth-lined baskets or in rows on a towel dusted with flour, called a cloche. Baked directly on the hearth of a deck oven or in special perforated pan designed to hold the shape of the baguette while allowing heat through the perforations. The details of the methods and practices of the boulanger, the desired flavor and properties sought in the final loaf results in the flavor complexity and other characteristics of this delectable wonder of an artisan loaf. Certainly beyond what I have touched upon here. However, it is the appreciation of the craft and skill, the artistry of the golden loaf, that demands my focus and my yearning desire for its savory taste…
And of my love of the loaf of French origin? Memories of partaking of the golden, crusty loaf on the streets of Paris will remain with me always. For there is not another bread I have tasted that harkens the savory and delectable recollection of the French baguette. Iconic, indeed…
“Pain France is C’est nature” (French bread is nature)- Choquet