Lifestyle & Belief

Five tips for finding the perfect French baguette

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Credit: Charles Platiau/Reuters
Jury member Pascal Barillon sniffs a baguette, French bread, in competition for the Best Baguette of Paris 2013.

Andrew Janjigian, an associate editor at Cooks Illustrated, recently traveled to Paris to research baguette recipes. And as he traveled from one boulangerie to another, he came away with a few tips anyone can use to find or prepare the perfect French baguette.

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We've taken just a bit of liberty with the language, but the tips are straight from Janjigian. May they lead you to the perfect baguette for Thanksgiving.

1. Avoid anything that is pale and soft. No one likes soggy bread. And no one should have to eat an undercooked baguette. I don't care if you wear socks with your sandals and cook bread from a tube, make sure your baguette gets its time in the oven before it hits your plate. Our soft-crust society must change. I know there's a time and place for that style of bread making. But no self-respecting baguette connoisseur in France would ever place a pale-colored loaf on a table. Neither should you.

2. It's all about the crust. Other breads are all about their interior: cinnamon swirl bread, multi-grain or honey oat. Not so with a baguette. It's almost all crust. And if the crust isn't good, the baguette isn't worth your time. It should look crispy. Put your ear to it. I'm serious. Put your ear to it. Now give it a squeeze. You hear that crispy crunch? Darn right, you did. That's the sound of good gluten ready for your lips. 

3. Head to the Dark Side. Did Luke Skywalker kill the Emperor? Hell, no. That was all Darth Vader's doing. His dance with the dark side saved the universe. You can save your dinner by dancing in the dark, as well. Baguettes should have a dark, ruddy color. That dude in the bread line that asked for a "bien cuit" loaf? He knows what's up. That's a fancy French phrase for well-cooked. And that's all the French you really need to know.

4. Sniff that baby. Bust open the bread and take a deep whiff. Sour? Good. Hints of Heineken? Even better. That tangy smell shows off proper fermentation. The baker is legit. So is the bread.

5. A good baguette is made by hand. Robots have nothing on a French baker. But robots are already encroaching on their turf. Even in Paris. The rise of baguette automation is real. The process allows the evil baguette automatons to make more dough. Usually this process involves additives. So these baguettes last longer, too. That's not good, my friend. Baguettes are ephemeral. You should buy them and immediately consume. You do not hoard a baguette. They are instant pleasure.

  • IMG_3098.JPG

    Credit: Andrew Janjigian
    Baguette baking is serious stuff. France elects a champion bread baker each year.
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    Credit: Andrew Janjigian
    The French once ate 3 baguettes a day. Now, it's down to about a half-baguette a day.
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    Credit: Andrew Janjigian
    French bakers prefer darker baguettes. Avoid ones pale and soft.
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    Credit: Andrew Janjigian
    Associate Editor for Cooks Illustrated Andrew Janjigian toured the best baguettes shops in Paris. This was his route.

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