We made a trip to Paris for their Bastille Day celebrations, and since we didn’t quite feel like having too much French food (all the cream and cheese isn’t quite A’s idea of a good time) we decided to make our food experience be about the search for the best baguette in Paris! Every year there is a competition for bakeries, the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris, oh what a mouthful, to see whose baguettes are the crème de la crème. The winner of the competition gets to serve their baguettes to the President of France, and he’ll apparently only eat baguettes from that particular Boulangerie for the entire year.
Apparently, there’s a long and intricate history of bread in France. In the past, bread used to be made by hand (duh), but as technology began to develop, bread making starting being mechanized, and untraditional ingredients were added to make ‘bread’. Displeased with the bastardization of their proud bread making traditions, some French (insert snide French stereotype) artisan bakers, millers and experts fought against the new wave of rubbish bread, to preserve the integrity of French bread. In 1993, a law was passed (I kid you not) giving a special quality seal to breads made in the ‘proper’ way, and conferred upon them the title of ‘baguettes de tradition’. To make sure your bread gets that seal, it must be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked in the shop, and nothing must be frozen. Only 4 ingredients are allowed in a ‘baguette de tradition’: wheat flour, water, salt and yeast. Now, go try making your own.
Alternatively, do as we did, and buy one from a Boulangerie. A good sign that your baguette is the real deal is that there are large uneven holes inside, caused by the bread having been kneaded by hand, a deep golden yellow hue, and a crust that smells nutty or grilled.
La Truffle Noire
228, rue de Vaugirard
Since Bastille Day is a national holiday, most places were closed. Hence, the Boulangeries we planned to go to were shut. Nevertheless, we did manage to find a Boulangerie that was open, and it had a long queue outside, and everyone emerging from the shop had a baguette in hand! This was La Truffle Noire.
This was our first ‘proper’ baguette, so we didn’t really know what to expect. It was warm and nicely toasted, and the insides were fluffy and soft. In stark contrast, the crust was extremely crispy. It was definitely so good you could eat it on its own.
We bought this baguette while walking to the Eiffel Tower for the Bastille Day fireworks, and just after a couple of meters we almost finished all the baguette! Along the way along Rue Cambronne we saw another Boulangerie (can’t remember the name unfortunately), and entirely on impulse we went in and bought another baguette to benchmark our first baguette against. The second baguette was definitely not as good as the first one. The dough was a lot sourer, and did not taste as delicate as our first one. Nevertheless, it was a very good baguette, probably much better than anyone you can find in UK.
We brought our baguettes to the empty space at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and had a little picnic while waiting for the fireworks to begin.
231 Rue de Vaugirard,
The next day, we went to Fabrice Pottier. This Boulangerie was first runner up in 2008. Verdict: Also a great baguette. We’re beginning to wonder how those judges for the Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris judge the baguettes. Perhaps to our untrained palates they taste the same, but the difference is indeed so subtle that I’d be surprised if they were able to pick the baguette from the Boulangerie that won from a blind taste test.
Boulangerie Alexine (Alexandre Planchais)
40 Rue Lepic,
We really wanted to go and try the number one baguette in Paris. However, it was closed for the entire second half of July. (Gosh, what would the President eat?!?!?) Luckily, further down the street is another Boulangerie, which won 10th in 2008 and 8th in 2007. This was Alexine, and it had the loveliest staff we’ve encountered all trip. The baguettes at Alexine are incredible thin, shockingly thin in fact, as compared to the other baguettes we’ve had. Tastewise, they were also incredibly delicious.
As a side note, we went absolutely baguette crazy on our last day in Paris, and bought so many of them that we brought the ones we couldn’t finish back with us, and froze them. Till today we have 2 more baguettes in the freezer, and they still taste fantastic after a couple of minutes in the oven.