Unbelievable. I just ate a fabulous baguette. I know, this sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t. Baguettes are generally not fantastic. Fantastic at the boulangeries in France are baguette-shaped loaves with names like fagotine, parisse, retrodor…. they’re what I call “improved baguettes.”
Improved baguettes are made with hard-wheat flour. Sometimes they’re sourdough – that is, the dough has been left to sit and ferment overnight. Occasionally they include a small percentage of whole wheat flour. An improved baguette is slightly more expensive than an ordinary baguette, and it’s worth every centime.
Plain baguettes are white on the inside; the crumb is often either airy-er than whipped cream, or so non-descript as to resemble cotton more than bread. This comes from lots of things including poor quality flour, industrial production, which implies over-beating of the dough, and just plain old negligence.
What I bought and ate today was sublime, and it took me down memory lane. Like anyone, on my first visit to France I made a beeline for a bakery. I had a croissant, and I bought a baguette. Oh glory! That baguette was sublime – shattery-crusted, tender crumbed, flavored of wheat. It was all I’d ever imagined.
Then I began to understand bread, and to realize that first baguette was a rarity. Today, I tasted that rarity again. I ate it with extra-virgin olive oil, slices of fresh garlic, and fleur de sel. Sort of French, sort of not, completely scrumptious!