Monday, May 18, 2009

La baguette

Bread is a very serious matter in France. Or should I say was... As less and less people eat bread in France; we went from 900g per day per person in 1900 to 140g in 2006. Partly because it is considered as fattening and partly because for some time bread was not as good as what it used to be. That lead the whole baking industry to work on new kinds of bread, to adapt to newer tastes (wholegrain, organic, various topings, etc.) and... to organize public relations events! La fête du pain is one of them. That is where I took this photo this weekend. I bet you did not know a baguette looked like this before being cooked. BTW, I shot a little video there, that you can see here. The picnic videos, however are not ready yet, sorry. ;(


  1. Fattening? The bread? I hope it's not true, I couldn't lve without it! Hummm a hot piece of baguette with cheese, or nutella, or jam...

  2. Okay, that's weird, since when I'm "Guillemette" on Blogger, and where is my picture?!

    Anyways, I think that this way to cook the bread (with the fabric) is a traditional and probably forgotten way...Hélas!

  3. So, these are the newer styled 'low calorie, high fibre' baguettes?

    Guille...mette ~ YAY! Congrats, GF! Just watch out for the nutella when it drips off your crown. It's hard to remove from white shirts.

  4. Bonne fête Eric car le 18 mai est la Saint Eric.

    Hmm la baguette! Un plaisir et un symbole. Partager une même baguette. C'est le signe du début d'une vie a deux parfois quand on va acheter une baguette pour 2...

  5. Congrats Guille GF, or is it Guillemette. LOL...

    Eric, I enjoyed the little video of the visit to the bakery and the making of the baguettes. Very interesting!!

  6. My knees weaken at bakery Eric Kayser's nut bread. It's not a baguette, but still....

    We used to have two pieces of bread on the meal trays, only on our flights to Paris. When they took it away due to costs, there was an uproar from our regular French passengers.

    Is it true that the baguette was invented so Napoleon's soldiers could strap it on to their legs as they marched?

  7. Cali: you got the answers correct from yesterday.

    Alexa said that, drumroll, she had the most GF's for the year followed by Katie, Guille UKLynn then me, PHXLynn.

    Since I lost my quiz, maybe Alexa can provide the numbers.

  8. Such a shame you lost the quiz Phx!

    I do love these baguettes. I used to watch an early boyfriend (I'm talking 13 yrs old, he was 18! no, no, don't go thinking THAT!) bake bread as he was training. It was fascinating.

    Love this picture Eric and also the so interesting video thank you! I sometimes bake my own bread but I have a quick, easy recipe.

  9. Fascinating photo, as is the video. Mouth-watering, in fact. Flore, très interessant et romantique.

  10. You mean the baguettes I loved were not Paris' best? I LOVE the bread in France!

    Trying to get bread made with just 4 ingredients here in the US is next to impossible- the only one I can find is a frozen artisan variety.

    top 10 things to like about Paris:
    1. bread
    2. baguettes
    3. art
    4. people
    5. metro
    6. museums
    7. getting lost during a walk
    8. sandwiches
    9. crepes and other food
    and the best
    10. locating anything Eric posted a photo of
    (oh, yes, and men who have such lovely hair to top such handsome bodies)

  11. I really like this photo; if it was in black & white it could be from any era. I can't wait to watch your video! My Sunday ritual is to get a sourdough baguette from a Berkeley bakery called La Farine. I slice it up and freeze it and make sandwiches all week and every day it still tastes fresh. Recently I bought my baguette and a new girl was working the counter and she actually asked me, "What do you do with this?" I was so stunned by the question that I didn't have time to come up with any number of smart-alecky answers to that inane question.

  12. If the following question is on the quiz I shall know how to answer it: What is there that begins long and round, tender to the touch and, after proper (improper?) attentions, can become hard and enormous? One often thinks of it going into and coming out of a hot enclosing place.

    A baguette!!

  13. I never knew the little baguettes got to bake in their own little beds - how lovely.

    Thanks for the loavely video, too, Eric (a typo I have to leave!).

    Also, since I haven't plugged it in a while, I urge any and all to check out a great baking movie - the 1938 La Femme du Boulanger. C'est la comedie et la tragedie (a le meme temps) de une ville qui a perdu son boulanger. Quelle horreur!! C'est drole; c'est triste - c'est exactement comme la vie. (Apologies for butchering the baker!)

    Shell Sherree - I didn't get to tell you how wonderful - wooooooonderfullllll - your drawings are. I absolutely love them!! Thanks for your PDP contribution.

  14. UKLynnie, the quiz was taped! I was just trying to remember the questions so you all could play as a group.

    Back to baguettes. Do you remember Eric's photo showing the winner of the best baguette of the year, which is given out every year?

  15. Hey Tall Gman...for a minute there I was going to guess "drumstick." Bidda boom! :-)

    Okay, "bready or not" is the story of Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake" versus Jean Jacques (Van Damme) Rousseau's "let them eat brioche or I'll give you a swift kick to your bread basket." Who said it first...the queen or the philosopher? Perhaps you know.

    Expert bread historians (the French ones who excel in "pain" (the bread not the ache) claim philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau gets the crown, not Marie Antoinette, when Rousseau said in 1766, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"...(not exactly cake but close enough). True or not?

    Apparently Rousseau had heard that a great princess had told the angry peasants to eat brioche (close to cake) when she had heard they had no bread. Now what famous princess this was is indeed questionable. Marie Antoinette was only 10 years old at the time he wrote this, and she was still back in Austria not yet having wed King Louis XVI so it's highly unlikely she said it ... then.

    So, did Marie Antoinette utter such a statement 7 years later, or did the spin doctors of the day recall Rousseau's claim in his CONFESSIONS and throw it at her like "chocolat sur le pain"? Well, one thing is for certain, French bread turned into a "royal pain" for the poor gal who would be left without her head a month later in 1793.

    My money's on the philosopher uttering it first. They were the Lenny Bruce's of the 18th century. Always wanting to "overknead" everything...heck, they still are and do. ;-)

    I did read somewhere (perhaps one of our esteemed PDPers could aider moi) that the National Assembly of Marie's day (or after she lost her head)created a National Bread of Equality Act, thus ridding of the insensitive and unequal "white bread" for aristocrats and "dark coarse bread" for peasants. Whether tis true or not, these folks took their bread seriously. [SEGWAY here]
    So, Eric, it would appear that the "pain" industry is alive and well in France (as it is in the States...automotively speaking, ahem) and the varieties continue to multiply as fast as those giant neon-colored Italian rabbits you captured the other day in Les Printemps. In the spirit of the French bakers in your vid, I must at "yeast" give you a "pat" on the back (not the bun) and say MERCI!

    So, Eric, how many baguettes do you consume in a week?

  16. Nice.... I found you in Marcel's favorite blog list (

    This is brilliant blog! How colorful, nice brightness and so live with interesting article! I add this blog to my favorite blog list!


  17. I love the way Eric shows us a different side of things. Yes, seeing a bagette like this is something very new to me.

    Eric, about Place Monge.... you know we're all just teasing you right! We're the lucky ones for you passing by such interesting places!!!!!!!

  18. Thank you for the film of bread making. This had to be really hard on your back, particularly when the whole process was done by hand.
    There is nothing like the smell of bread in the air in the early morning and eating it still warm out of the oven. French people can be very proud of their bread.

  19. Guille a dit:
    Okay, that's weird, since when I'm "Guillemette" on Blogger, and where is my picture?!

    So funny the way you siad that, is seems like you're really mad - and surprised - at Blogger.
    I'm telling you, these machines and virtual stuff.... they have a mind of their own....

  20. PHX: I've noticed there's a Kaiser Bakery very near Le Procope.... a quick pit stop there is in my plans!

  21. An American professor wrote a scholarly book about the breads of France and rated Kaiser as top 5. They used to display the book in my neighborhood Kaiser, not sure if "yours" will have it displayed. Oh, their cheese bread, oh, their olive bread, OH THEIR FIG bread. There is a Kaiser in Galeries Layfayette, too.

    Remembered another question: Who writes with the most musical references?

    Monica, did you send that one to me or was it Cali?

  22. Speaking of Coltrane ~ that was far from a dry and crusty history lesson ... it made my curiosity rise!

    {Caro ~ merci beaucoup! And "loavely" - LOL!}

  23. I enjoy all the effort that goes into maintaining the traditional ways here in France. I can't imagine this working too well in the U.S., except in some country towns.

    The video is great too Eric. But, at yeast you could have uploaded the PDP video. Tomorrow?

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. We have some fine bakeries here in the bay area that focus mainly on French and Italian breads. Definately a weakness for me!

    I made a baguette once from the recipe in the "French Women Don't Get Fat" book. It was a little chewier than it should have been, but wasn't bad at all. I plan on trying her croissant recipe some day.

    Did we already mention the question "who has the biggest crush on Eric?"

  26. Marie Antoinette's never said "let them eat cake". Did anyone mention Cake? White cake by any chance...

    Oui, I am being tempted away with CAKE. Lol

  27. While Marie Antoinette was certainly enough of a bubblehead to have said the phrase in question, there is no evidence that she actually did so, and in any case she did not originate it. The peasants-have-no-bread story was in common currency at least since the 1760s as an illustration of the decadence of the aristocracy. The political philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau mentions it in his Confessions in connection with an incident that occurred in 1740. (He stole wine while working as a tutor in Lyons and then had problems trying to scrounge up something to eat along with it.) He concludes thusly: "Finally I remembered the way out suggested by a great princess when told that the peasants had no bread: 'Well, let them eat cake.'"

    Now, J.-J. may have been embroidering this yarn with a line he had really heard many years later. But even so, at the time he was writing--early 1766--Marie Antoinette was only ten years old and still four years away from her marriage to the future Louis XVI. Writer Alphonse Karr in 1843 claimed that the line originated with a certain Duchess of Tuscany in 1760 or earlier, and that it was attributed to Marie Antoinette in 1789 by radical agitators who were trying to turn the populace against her.

    At the time that whoever-she-was uttered the infamous quotation "let them eat cake," the word "cake" did not refer to the familiar dessert item that the modern-day French call le gateau. The operative term was brioche, a flour-and-water paste that was "caked" onto the interiors of the ovens and baking pans of the professional boulangers of the era. (The modern equivalent is the oil-and-flour mixture applied to non-Teflon cake pans.) At the end of the day, the baker would scrape the leavings from his pans and ovens and set them outside the door for the benefit of beggars and scavengers. Thus, the lady in question was simply giving practical, if somewhat flippant, advice to her poor subjects: If one cannot afford the bourgeois bread, he can avail himself of the poor man's "cake."

    However, by the time Marie Antoinette ascended the throne, brioche had acquired its current meaning--a fancy pastry item which, like le gateau, was priced far beyond the means of any but the wealthiest classes. The anti-Marie propagandists were well aware that their compatriots, most of whom were uneducated in either history or semantics, would swallow the story whole, so to speak, and not get the joke.

    Regarding Brioche...

    Brioche is a sort of crusty bun, typically containing milk, flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and whatnot. It's considered a delicacy, and as far as I can determine (which is pretty far) has been since the Middle Ages. According to one cooking historian, brioche originally contained brie cheese, whence the name. Nicolas Bonnefons, writing in Delices de la campagne in 1679, gives a recipe for brioche that calls for butter and soft cheese, plus a glaze containing beaten eggs and (if desired) honey. Sounds pretty tasty, and in any case certainly not something bakers would line pots with. Bon appetit!

  28. Bravo Anon...we must do coffee in a cafe or is it cafe in a cafe?;-)

  29. Great photo Eric. Bread is still very important to us, and apparently not only to the French, as you can see from all these comments.
    Ever since I came home from Paris a few days ago I've been craving for some French bread.

    The quiz : Coltrane is the one with most references to music and Lynn is of course the one with the biggest crush on Eric ;-)

    Bravo Coltrane and anonyme for all your history knowledge, it's very interesting.

    Did I mention that I'm craving for a baguette - right now !

  30. And congrats with GF Guille. Baguettes on the crown ?

  31. First of all, great post! A Paris blog without a baguette featured in it at one point or another would be like a Paris blog without an Eiffel Tower ;)

    I love bread and especially baguettes. I was told bread was fattening but as it turns out carbohydrates are not fattening. They're filling and break down over a longer period of time, so your blood sugar doesn't drop as fast. Personally, I couldn't live without it.

    Natural, unprocessed complex carbs (bread, pasta, potatoes, etc.) are GOOD for you (and necessary). highly process carbs (twinkies) are NOT good .

    The latest fad diet having people eat as much protein as they want but no "carbs" at all is ridiculous and unhealthy.

  32. Coltrane_lives a dit...
    Bravo Anon...we must do coffee in a cafe or is it cafe in a cafe?;-)

    Cafe or cafe?

    In Spanish the word cafe means "coffee". So is that coffee in a coffee? It seems a little hot for me. Lol.

    A coffeehouse(French/Portuguese: café; Spanish: cafetería or café; Italian: caffè, German: Café or Kaffeehaus, Turkish: Kahvehane) or coffee shop (from Arabic: qahwa) is an establishment which primarily serves prepared coffee or other hot beverages.

    A "café" can also refer to a small informal public discussion. These are usually live events, and often focus on starting an open conversation on a particular topic.

    And of course you know... we all like to have informal or public discussions in are local cafe(s).

    In European countries such as Austria, France, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Portugal etc, the term café implies primarily serving coffee, typically complemented by a slice of cake/tart/pie, a "danish pastry", a plain bun, or similar sweet pastry on the side.

    Many (or most) cafés also serve small meals such as sandwiches. European cafés often have an enclosed or outdoor section extending onto the sidewalk. Some cafés also serves alcoholic beverages, although British cafés never sell alcohol.

    In France, and some other countries, a brasserie is a "café" (in the American sense of the word) that serves meals, generally single dishes, in a more relaxed setting than a restaurant.

    In the Netherlands, a café is an establishment selling both coffee and liquor, as opposed to coffeeshop, which sells soft drugs (cannabis and hashish) and is typically not allowed to sell liquor. I just want a cup of joe or is it java?

    The Word Detective, who suggests that "joe" as slang for coffee might be derived from "Joe" as a synonym for "the common man," as in "regular joe". Or better yet I'd love some macaroons.

    Coffee and pie...Oh my!

  33. My goodness, no I didn't know that. Fascinating photograph, Eric - thanks. I'll never look at a baguette the same again.

  34. I just made two comments and both were stolen. No time to repeat.

    TG: :0 !!

    Difficult meeting at lunchtime so am going to make a baguette with cream cheese and olives my relaxing treat for afterwards.

  35. I really enjoyed this excellent post Eric.

    There are so many things which remind me of the pleasure we had when last in Paris.

    Guille's lovely humour, especially when she loses her photo, - Hi Guillemette !!

    Baguettes with butter or confiture de prune.

    Laughter the way Parisians do it.

    And a million more.

    Thank you mon ami !

  36. Ahhhh M. Benaut, you're here! You were the subject of conversation at the PDP Picnic as someone we don't see very often anymore. How is life downunder?

  37. the baguette is funny looking before cooked :-) but i love bread. i don't care about fattening factor. that's what a gym is for.

  38. PHX I believe it was From Cali who sent that to you!

  39. I suppose that the baker is placing the baguette in between the cloth to keep it from drying out as he completes a full batch for the oven. Baguette is delicious but this evening we had turkish bread heated in the oven, with our dinner. Not quite the light consistency of a perfect baguette warm from the baker's oven on a Parisian street but not too bad, nonetheless. As for brioche; I've tried to like it but it is too sweet for bread but not sweet enough to be cake.

    Michael: Life downunder is a little chilly at the moment. I've been collecting firewood!

  40. TG: I like your humor! When I read "begins LONG . . ." and " become hard and ENORMOUS" I knew what you weren't talking about. ;)
    Shell: no kidding about nutella and white blouses! That is how I ruined my favorite white blouse!
    Coltrane: that was quite a commentary. Too many puns for me to just pick one. Bravo!
    It is hard to believe bread is being eaten less in France. Maybe they are eating cake! :D

  41. Soo, are the baguettes baked with the cloth around them or are they just stored this way until baked?

    The best baguettes in the Minneapolis area come from Rustica Bakery. They are perfect French baguettes. The New French Bakery does a good job, but not as good as Rustica. Rustica baguettes are sold at the cheese shop next to a popular liquor/wine store, so I'm there once a week at least.

    Switching subjects, my photos of the 2009 PDP party are not nearly as good as everybody else's photos. It'll take a while but I'm getting there, so they'll be available soon.

  42. Eric - your fête du pain video prompted me to retreive my sour-dough starter and begin mixing and kneeding as we speak! The accompanying music was heavenly - I wish I knew the title!
    And your delightful videos of your PDP party made me feel guilty for always reading but rarely posting! You all looked so perfectly happy to be there, reveling in each other's good company! Maybe next year . . .

  43. Jeanne; yes we did have a great picnic night and everybody is SO sweet.
    Hope to see you next year and more often in the comment box as well !

  44. I remember sitting in a cafe on St. Germain and watching people walk down the street with their loaves of bread. There was one particular young man... reminds me of the old saying "A loaf of bread, a jug of wine and thou."

  45. A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
    A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-and Thou
    Beside me singing in the Wilderness-
    O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

    The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

  46. Thanks, Jeff, I never knew where that came from.

  47. although i've been a fan of this blog for a long time, this is my first comment.

    for those of you who were wondering--i believe the piece of fabric is called a "couche", and is made of linen. it is used by bread bakers to help loaves of bread keep their shape while they are rising. loaves are removed from the couche before baking.

    thanks for the great picture--i've heard this process described in cookbooks, but it's much better to see what's going on!

  48. YUUMMMM!!

    Do you think it would make it across the Atlantic and still be the perfect blend of crusty and chewy? Probably not... I'll have to wait then!

  49. I love bread. I like burnt toast with butter on it. It is one of my favorite snacks. Even at midnight it is great.