I’m not a boulanger, and I don’t play one on TV. But I do know what makes a baguette good, whether its de tradition or ordinaire: firmness, freshness and a crispy crust surrounding a soft inside. Still warm from the oven puts it completely over the top, and it’s quite common to see a Parisian digging into their fresh baguette as soon as they’ve hit the sidewalk.
I know that there is nothing that can match a baguette made in France, so when I’m in the U.S., I make a concerted effort not to make comparisons. I also try not to be one of those people who utters the phrase, “Well, in France …” I may think it, but I’m fairly certain I’d annoy even myself if I actually said it out loud.
This weekend, I said it out loud. I had no choice and have no regrets.
Having decided to host a pre-dinner wine and cheese gathering at my Miami apartment, I found myself at The Fresh Market in search of the ingredients. It turned into a Mission: Impossible. For some reason, every single baguette had been placed into one of those airless plastic sleeves and twisted tightly shut. But a proper baguette—even those not made in France—need air to maintain their crispy crust. These baguettes? They were limp and lifeless. I was pissed.
The store manager—who had been lurking in the area—saw my frustration and came over to see why I kept squeezing every single loaf in the basket.
“Is there something wrong,” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “Somebody in your bakery murdered the bread.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You can’t put bread that’s supposed to have a crispy crust in a plastic bag,” I explained to him. “And baguettes are supposed to have a crispy crust. Any baker in France will tell you that.”
“But we have to keep our breads wrapped for freshness,” he said, and I nearly hit him over the head with a loaf. The only thing that stopped me was the knowledge that it was too soft to do any damage.
“Normally, your bakery department knows better and puts the baguettes into open paper sleeves,” I replied. “So is this a new store policy?”
His response? A blank stare. My response? I placed the still-empty basket back in the stand and walked out the door.