Monday, September 28, 2009

Finally! A Baguette worth writing home about

It's Monday morning, and I have just returned from a walk to the corner bakery - required - before I can get fully into rehashing Sunday's men's road race final in the Worlds, I need a baguette (and tea). There is a saying in cycling - "We eat to ride, we ride to eat more." and of all the things we eat, a lovely fresh baguette is the KOM in my gastronomic Tour de France.

It may be a stretch for a... let's call them non-baguphiles, to understand how someone could have such love for the French version and such loathing for the crap baked up in America, but if you haven't been there (France) and especially if you haven't cycled there, you have no merit weighing in on this one.

So let's review the facts...


  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon water

That parts simple enough?


  1. Place 1 cup water, bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast into bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer. Select Dough cycle, and press Start.
  2. When the cycle has completed, place dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.
See there - right in the directions part deux - "When the cycle has been completed", that means picking a lovely route, a few rollers, a hill or two, and a meander along a farm field or forest river, then back home to your corner cafe and... well, I'm afraid that's where the dough goes flat. Despite the recipe and directions, breads in America generally stink, at least the long kind, with slightly pointed tips and a crusty golden outer and airy butter (real butter) begging inner. Why? Why do we suck so badly at this wonderful, but simple act? I'd like to blame it on a variety of things - an obsession with tailgate parties, Xbox, SUVs, Britany and Paris (not France), 'reality' anything, Wal-mart, Crispy creams, etc... but it happened long before those collapses in our culture.

So why? Why no great baguettes?

There is a wonderful scene in the movie (also wonderful) Diva, where Jules, the young protagonist, is shepherded through the art of slicing open a beautiful crusty baguette, pure art without piercing its spine, then it's leafed open with a gorgeous gentle crunch to reveal the delicate interior, one anticipating a lush bed of creamy beurre. The French director Jean-Jacques Beineix
spends several minutes on the scene, because it's that important - its a baguette!

So why so hard? I mean why can a gazillion French cafes roll up their tin doors, push out a half dozen wrought iron tables and chairs and proceed to serve perfect baguettes on demand, morning after morning after morning - how can the tiniest village in the high Pyrenees greet a cyclist at the local boulangerie with one of these perfect creations - this isn't rocket science. And after sitting at a few of those cafes and watching the average Frenchman enjoy their perfect baguette avec un cafe, in a cloud of cigarette smoke, but somewhere beneath their nicotine veneered taste buds they know it is a real baguette. I needed to know why American bakers can't get it right? Is it really that hard?

Or is it? I decided to ask, bakers. The answers seemed to vary as much as the lovely loafs - "the oven", "the flour", "they must be baked early - before the humidity changes", "you must 'wash' them to create the right crust", it's endless. I sense a return to France in order to sort this out.

Finally, just maybe, the mystère du pain
may be solved, I think my corner bakery, Di Prima Dolce, might have done it. I'm cautious, there was one day when things slipped, although they bounced right back. But wouldn't it be perfect - a wonderful French baguette from an Italian bakery - think about it, cycling's great siblings - Coppi and Anquetil, just down the street!

This morning begins my fourth week, and seventh lovely loaf, but so far,... let's just say the KOM points are starting to add up.

No comments:

Post a Comment