The Young & the Crust-less: A Crusade for the Perfect Baguette
It happened. Finally. I knew it would. I was bound to discover this part of myself. The shame. The snobbery. I flipped through the mental scrapbook of my life experiences to pinpoint that exact moment- the beginning of the end, my undoing. When did it happen, exactly? A terrible party, perhaps? A free sample gone awry? This had to have been a recent transition. Or, was this gruesome reality recessed and dormant for my entire life, waiting for the best opportunity to rise and unfurl. The truth can be denied no further. I am guilty. I am changed. I am… I have become… a baguette snob.
This realization occurred one afternoon during a recent grocery store trip. Upon an empty-stomached entrance through two sets of rumbling automatic doors, I was immediately hypnotized by an intoxicating waft of freshly baked bread. I needed it; there was no question. Aware that I was folding into the supermarket’s sinister impulse spending manipulation, I discreetly grabbed a long loaf boasting an Eiffel Tower caricature label and shopped the fastest I have shopped since the morning of Y2K. I zipped home, sprinted into the house, and started pawing at the ‘Paris Baguette’- its clever, seemingly authentic, title. This was the bread tipping point.
Once you have had a baguette from France, you are ruined from bread forever. Destroyed. Although, the progression of this downward spiral is gradual- you won’t realize it until you find yourself sneering at supermarket baguette at your hungriest. Eating an authentic baguette is a magical awakening. Every sense is engaged, awareness heightened. A good baguette’s exterior should be a spectrum of golden browns, modest bubbly ripples, and gratuitously seductive ‘S’ curves that slash and cascade down the center, revealing the inner swells of exquisitely baked dough. Do not allow yourself to be too mesmerized by appearance alone, however. This beauty is for pure consumption. For starters, the French snatch the tip, or the quignon (pronounced keeg-n’yohn), and munch it while actually leaving the bakery, when the baguette is at its freshest. That baguette should not be long for this world. Be mindful that since most boulangeries do not use preservatives, an authentic baguette’s lifespan is less than twenty-four hours before it goes stale, so act fast while fresh. Although, slab a generous glob of salted butter to that stale beauty, toast it, and have yourself a cozy breakfast. Regardless, there is great satisfaction in ripping bread- the crackle alone is a whimsical hymn. The flutter of dispersed crumbs is as sweet as butterfly kisses- of a finely baked product, that is. Then there’s the actual tearing. A baguette is its own feat of strength- the dense dough will work the biceps of even the buffest athlete. Don’t be afraid to get a little flour on your hands. That’s the residue of greatness. With that first crack, the heavenly bread aroma is released. Inhale. Savor. Absorb it all… the bready-bread-breadness. However, none of this is as epic as the taste. With that first bite, allow your jaw to temporarily succumb to the slightly jarring tingle of tangy dough. Pair it with a superior cheese. Use it to sop the rest of your soup or stew on a chilly winter’s eve. The rest is history.
However, such was not the case with the fraud on my table that particular afternoon. The sad, yellowish, and pliable loaf of chemical disappointment before me was not, by French standards, a baguette. I was holding a poser- the Elvis impersonator of breads. Sure, it was tasty and entertaining in its own way, but simply not a baguette by definition. I poked, peeled, and rolled the raw, sticky dough between my fingers, and then formed it into a small ball, which I then proceeded to smoosh and flatten into the table. Ho hum. Not even a dollop of emergency Nutella could rescue the deceitful snack. I wanted redemption. I deserved satisfaction. I needed a good baguette.
Baguettes are part of daily life in France. Boulangeries can be found on nearly every corner, making the magic of delicious bread more tangible. However, in New England, authentic baguettes are accessible but somewhat difficult to locate on a whim. With some research, I decided to embark on finding- and consuming- the perfect baguette…
Was I successful?
Is there a perfect baguette?
Are we New Englanders all destined for a life of subpar, carby imposters?
Find out in Part II of this gripping, completely important miniseries…
À La Prochaine!