Tourists visiting small cities and towns in France become watch with fascination people carrying baguettes under their arms in specially designed bags or on their bicycles carriers around noon in time for lunch at home.
French, except in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg and other major cities go home for lunch. Life literally stops in small-town France from 12 – 2 p m.
Baguette is France’s standard bread provided by neighbourhood bakeries, each of which has its own “secret” recipe. In Paris, bread aficionados travel across the city to obtain their regular baguette from their favourite baker, something unimaginable in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or new York. Even so called “foodies” don’t contemplate to travel for five minutes to go to their favourite baker. Yet there is a lot to be said about tasty bread!
The baguette, France’s pain ordinaire, is a slim, long crusty, fragrant, nutty bread that can be eaten universally with café au lait, butter and jam, with fondue, cheese, and to mop up sauce from the main course plate.
French bakers perfected the formula in 1921 for the discerning palates of Parisians. This is light leavened bread with a specially created yeast strain, baked in a steam-injected oven. Previously, baguette dough was started with sourdough starter and baked in standard, conventional ovens that were incapable of baking a crusty baguette.
Bread is as symbolic to France as beef to Britons. During World War II, bread quality in France was less than acceptable. After the war French bakers intent to sell quantity rather than quality, started churning out super white, fluffy (airy) but tasteless bread.
Soon the population, who remembered the taste of properly baked baguette before the war had money in their pockets, started demanding for tasty bread. Artisan bakers, always eager to maximize profits, started churning out white, crisp, chewy and flavourful baguette with proper ingredients now readily available.
Artisan bread making requires the best flour available. Saskatchewan wheat has all the qualities baguette bakers want, and yet only few cities in North America boast outstanding bread. It seems white sandwich bread still rules!
Fortunately the young, well-travelled and gastronomically adventurous generation exposed tasty bread in their European travels know and care enough about taste and the taste of bread they eat.
Ace bakery, a runaway success with Torontonians, proves the point.
French bakers also sell other regional breads developed over centuries including ficelles, Petit Parisien and epi de Charente just to name a few.
But none has the ubiquity of baguette.
The only disadvantage, if we can call it a shortcoming of baguettes is it gets stale within six to eight hours but ingenious French cooks invented pain perdue, and excellent specialty to finish a fine meal or start the day.
Italian balers are well known for their calabrese, ciabata, olive breads, Tuscan country loaves just to name a few.
German bakers take pride in producing German rye bead, pumpernickel, bauernbrot.
San Francisco sourdough enjoys an excellent repuatio9n, but only a few artisan bakers care enough to produce fine quality.
Middle eastern people have always valued their breads and produce an endless variety. In all villages and cities, local bakers enjoy popularity over other trade people seldom can.
Persian flat bread flavoured with herbs, cheeses and olive oil sell well in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver whenavailable. Enterprising Iranian émigrés run successful bakeries.
Of course Armenian sesame seed flavoured lavash is a class act only a few other breads can match.
All of the above are available in any of the stores in Toronto, and for that matter any large urban centre in North America.
NOTE: Unbleached organic wheat flour, (12 ½ % protein not to hard is best), pure water with as little as possible chlorine, yeast and salt are the only ingredients for baguette.
Long fermentation lasts up to 15 hours, a short high-speed mix and a second mix of 2 ½ minutes at a little slower rate gives good results. Over mixed dough is fluffy, but results in an airy product. Then the dough must rest, formed and baked. Forming itself is an art form only few accomplished bakers master well.