Ask most people what is the most French thing they can think of – some will say the Eiffel Tower, some will say a beret, some will say Paris. However, many will say it is the baguette, the long, crispy, delicious loaf of bread that just seems to be the epitome of French-ness.
To the French, eating a baguette (the word actually means “wand”), is a ritual. More than 10 billion baguettes are produced each year in France, that’s a staggering 320 baguettes per second.
The baguette is so French that it is governed by law in France. According to decree 93-1074 of 13 September 1993, the baguette de tradition Française may only be made with the following ingredients: wheat flour, water, yeast or raising agent and salt. There are a couple of sub-clauses allowing very small deviations from the golden regulation, mostly concerning types of flour. Traditional baguettes have to be made on the premises where they are sold. They cannot be frozen and additives and preservatives are banned – which means they go stale within 24 hours.
All of which means that your traditional baguette Francaise looks, feels, sounds and smells very Frenchly delicious! A thin, golden, crispy shell that cracks when you squeeze it; a soft, light dough that tastes almost sweet…
Now, all this does not mean that every baguette you buy is as delectable as you’d like. You need to know where to look and buying a mass produced baguette is not the same as buying one from an artisan in a boulangerie. That there is a clue. To be called a boulangerie, a French bakery has to make its bread on the premises. If this esteemed word doesn’t feature in the name of the bakery or isn’t highlighted on the window it could be a plain old dépôt de pain selling industrially-made bread. Lots of boulangeries have a blue and yellow sign reading “Votre boulanger. Un artisan authentique”.
How to buy a baguette in France
Une baguette, is one baguette; demi baguette is half a baguette and some boulangeries will sell them as such if you ask.
You can buy a baguette that’s bien cuite – well-cooked and crusty or pas trop cuite for under-cooked and soft.
A traditional baguette is called a baguette tradition, baguette à l’ancienne or baguette de campagne. There are different varieties according to boulangeries with things like sesame seeds, olives or cereals added.
Eat the end of the baguette on the way home. It’s called a quignon, the heel of the loaf, and everyone does it!
How to eat a baguette in France
The French don’t use a side plate to put bread on, they simply place it on the table at the right hand of the main plate.
Either cut your baguette into chunks or pull it into pieces.
Generally it’s not served with butter which flummoxes some foreigners, however in the north of France butter is served (try it with crystals of salt – scrumptious).
It’s not unusual to dip it in coffee in the morning, and it’s also traditional to dip your croissant or brioche.
More about the French baguette
History and traditions of the baguette
Where to find the best baguette in Paris – it’s official as hundreds of bakeries are judged each year.
The officially very best baker in northern France invents a new baguette
Bread – a cultural experience in France
Things to do in Montmartre, Paris – baking bread with an expert