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A baguette ( ) is a specific shape of bread, commonly made from basic lean dough, a simple guideline set down by Frenchmarker law, distinguishable by its length, very crisp crust, and slits cut into it to enable proper expansion of gases and thus formation of the crumb, the inner soft part of bread. The standard diameter of a baguette is approximately 5 or 6 cm, but the bread itself can be up to a meter in length, though usually about 60 cm. A Parisian baguette typically weighs 250 grams (8.8 oz), but this is not legally regulated and varies by region. It is also known in English as a French stick or a French bread.


The "baguette" is sometimes said to be a descendant of the pain viennois, bread first developed in Viennamarker, Austriamarker, in the mid-19th century when deck ovens, or steam ovens, were first brought into common use. Deck/steam ovens are a combination of a gas-fired traditional oven and a brick oven, a thick "deck" of stone or firebrick heated by natural gas instead of wood. The first such oven was brought (in the early nineteenth century) to Paris by the Austrian officer August Zang, whom some French sources thus credit with originating the (probably twentieth century) baguette.

Deck ovens use steam injection, through various methods, to create the proper baguette. The oven is typically well over 205 °C (400 °F). The steam allows the crust to expand before setting, thus creating a lighter, more airy loaf.

The baguette today is often considered one of the symbols of French culture viewed from abroad, but the association of France with long loaves predates its creation. These had been made since the time of Louis XIV, and in fact could be far longer than the baguette: "loaves of bread six feet long that look like crowbars!" (1862); "Housemaids were hurrying homewards with their purchases for various Gallic breakfasts, and the long sticks of bread, a yard or two in length, carried under their arms, made an odd impression upon me." (1898)

But, states an article in The Economist, in October 1920 a law prevented bakers from working before 4am, making it impossible to make the traditional, round loaf in time for customers' breakfasts. The slender baguette solved the problem because it could be prepared and baked much more rapidly. [38249] Unfortunately, the article is not sourced. The law in question appears in fact to be one from March 1919, though some say it took effect on October 1920:"It is forbidden to employ workers at bread and pastry making between ten in the evening and four in the morning.". The rest of the account remains to be verified, but the baguette - that is, a much thinner, crustier version of the several traditional "pains longs" - does appear to be a twentieth century innovation.

In 1960 an ad campaign was launched to further the popularity of "La Baguette", a woman dressed in a smock walking through the streets claiming "Ben, que c'est bon!" and grinning. This brought in a significant increase in sales.

Manufacture and styles

Baguette de tradition française

The "baguette de tradition française" is made from wheat flour, water, yeast, and common salt. It does not contain additives, but it may contain broad bean flour (max 2%), soya flour (max 0.5%), wheat malt flour (max 0.3%) [38250].

While a regular baguette is made with a direct addition of baker's yeast, it is not unusual for artisan-style loaves to be made with a poolish, "biga" or other bread pre-ferments to increase flavor complexity and other characteristics, as well as the addition of whole wheat flour or other grains such as rye. French bread is required by law to avoid preservatives, and as a result bread goes stale in under 24 hours, thus baking baguettes is a daily occurrence, unlike sourdough bread which is baked generally once or twice a week, due to the natural preservatives in a sourdough starter.

Baguettes are closely connected to Francemarker and especially to Parismarker, though they are made around the world. In France, not all long loaves are baguettes; for example, a short, almost rugby ball shaped loaf is a bâtard, or bastard in English, originally a way to use up leftover dough, but now a common shape with similar weight to that of a baguette, another tubular shaped loaf is known as a flûte (also known in the United States as a parisienne) flûtes are generally half the length, twice the width, and approximately the same weight as baguettes, and a thinner loaf is called a ficelle. French breads are also made in forms such as a miche, which is a large pan loaf, and a boule, literally ball in French, a large round loaf. Sandwich-sized loaves are sometimes known as demi-baguettes, tiers, or sometimes "Rudi rolls".

Baguettes, either relatively short single-serving size or cut from a longer loaf, are very often used for sandwiches (usually of the submarine sandwich type, but also panini); Baguettes are often sliced and served with pâté or cheeses. As part of the traditional continental breakfast in France, slices of baguette are spread with jam and dunked in bowls of coffee or hot chocolate. In the United States, French Bread loaves are sometimes split in half to make French bread pizza.

Baguettes are generally made as partially free-form loaves, with the loaf formed with a series of folding and rolling motions, raised in cloth-lined baskets or in rows on a flour-impregnated towel, called a couche, and baked either directly on the hearth of a deck oven or in special perforated pans designed to hold the shape of the baguette while allowing heat through the perforations. These pans are never used in artisan-style baking, only in the Americanized version of the traditional baking process, which commonly uses frozen bread dough, sometimes called "thaw and bake", generally a cut-down among artisan-style bakers. Generally American style "French Bread" is much fatter, generally meaning over-proofed , and also scored incorrectly according to French baking tradition and not baked in deck ovens, but in convection ovens. The resulting loaf is much larger, softer, less chewy, and possessing a much more even crumb structure, in contrast to the traditional baguette which is slender, chewy, possesses an uneven and holey crumb structure, and crispy crust.

Outside France, baguettes are also made with other doughs; for example, the Vietnamesemarker bánh mì uses a high proportion of rice flour, while many North American bakeries make whole wheat, multigrain, and sourdough baguettes alongside traditional French-style loaves. In addition, even classical French-style recipes vary from place to place, with some recipes adding small amounts of milk, butter, sugar, or malt extract depending on the desired flavour and properties in the final loaf.

See also

Further reading

  • Child, Julia. From Julia Child's Kitchen. New York: Knopf, 1970.
  • Child, Julia and Simone Beck. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 2. New York: Knopf, 1970.
  • Rambali, Paul. Boulangerie. New York: Macmillan, 1994, ISBN 0026008653.
  • Reinhard, Peter. Crust and Crumb. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press, 1998, ISBN 1580088023.


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