You might know this already, but the French are serious about their baguettes. I mean, really serious! There’s even an annual competition – the Meilleure Baguette de Paris – to find the city’s best baguette. Earlier this month it was won by Sami Bouattour at the Brun Boulangerie~Pâtisserie (where Pierre, our former young apprentice is now working!!!) in the 13th arrondissement.
I know what a big deal winning the competition is because four years ago I was working with baker Ridha Khadher at Au Paradis du Gourmand when his was the winning baguette. Practically as soon as our bakery was announced as the winner, we had customers queuing down the street to buy the prize-winning baguettes and we were inundated with journalists and film crews wanting an interview.
Oh, and did I mention that part of the prize is supplying the French president with baguettes for a year? That means my own fair hands may well have baked bread for François Hollande! Poor Monsieur Hollande – now that Emmanuel Macron is president he’ll no longer be enjoying such superior baguettes!
The Best Baguette competition is taken very seriously indeed (I did mention that the French are serious about baguettes, didn’t I?). For a start, there are very strict rules. Baguettes must be 55-65 cm long and weigh between 250g and 300g. There also has to be a specific ratio of no more than 18g of salt per kilo of flour. In the year that the bakery I was working for won, 52 of around 200 entries were disqualified for failing to meet the criteria. Très serious, no?
The perfect baguette
On the day of the competition, the bakers bring in their bread wrapped in white paper, then each baguette is given an identification number ready for judging by a group of professional bakers, chefs, journalists and a few lucky people who’ve been picked to take part. The baguettes are judged on five criteria:-
* aspect – that’s the appearance
* cuisson – how the baguette is cooked
* mie-alvéolage – its texture
* odeur – yes, that’s the smell
* goût – the taste
That’s a lot of things to get right! No wonder it’s such a proud moment for a baker when they’re crowned the winner. Sadly, there is no Best Baguette competition in Britain –though we are finalists in the Best Artisan Bakery category at the 2017 Bedfordshire Food and Drinks Awards, which if we won would make me very proud indeed!
In the meantime, I’ll continue to use my training and experience working in Paris bakeries to bring bread lovers in Bedford seriously delicious baguettes that I’ve baked fresh on the premises each day. Yes, I’m up at 4am to roll up my sleeves in the kitchen! It’s worth it, though, when I take the crispy baguettes out of the oven and smell that wonderful aroma. Another time, I’ll tell you all about how I make my baguettes in the traditional artisan way!
How to make Pain Perdu – aka French Toast
One thing worth mentioning now is that our baguettes don’t contain any additives or preservatives, which means that it’s best to eat your bread on the day you buy it. That’s never a problem for the French, who find their baguettes so irresistible they break off the end – le quignon – to nibble on as soon as they leave the bakery!
If you’re not so impatient and you still have some baguette left at the end of the day, wrapping it in a cloth will help keep it fresh for a bit longer. Alternatively, you can reclaim your stale bread – we call it ‘Pain Perdu’ or ‘Lost bread’ – by making what’s known in Britain as French Toast. It’s crazily quick and easy to do.
For one stale baguette (or any 300g of stale bread) use:-
* one large egg
* one and a half cups of milk
Just whisk up the ingredients and soak slices of baguette in the mixture for about four minutes, turning once. Heat some unsalted butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and cook the bread for 2-3 minutes on each side until browned. If you fancy a bit of crunchy sweetness, sprinkle your tartine (in French, that means a slice of bread waiting to be spread or cooked with something and that you eat with your fingers) with demerara sugar. Délicieux!
Well that’s all for now... I need to get back to my baguettes.
* Pop into Délices and you’ll be able to watch me, Géraldine, hard at work in the kitchen through our feature window. Stop by and say hello!