French Baguettes from the Bakehouse

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

Traditionally made, terrifically tasty!

For the last few years at the Welcome to ZCoB new staff orientation class I teach every few weeks, we’ve been doing a comparative tasting based on the baguettes. We go out and buy a commercial baguette and let folks taste the difference between that and the Bakehouse offering. Even new staffers who’ve never worked with food notice the contrast immediately! As I wrote repeatedly in “A Taste of Zingerman’s Food Philosophy,” “You really can taste the difference!”

What makes these French baguettes so special? Well, start with the feel. The crust is substantial, but not dry, not leathery, and not too thick. It breaks nicely, but it’s not so crisp as to be brittle and completely shatter (as, by contrast, a good croissant absolutely should). When you look at a slice of the baguette, it’s going to have what we call a nice hole structure—lots of pretty broad, big (for a baguette) holes so the bread looks like a wild honeycomb! The aroma is awesome. When I stick my nose in it, for a minute it helps me forget some of the other issues in which the world is enmeshed. There’s a nice, almost inexplicable milkiness to the aroma. When you taste it, you’ll notice a touch of sweetness (though no sugar is added). When you eat it, you’ll get a really great creaminess, just the right amount of salt (this is a small but critical component), sweet at the end, savory throughout. Creaminess without cream; milkiness without milk; sweetness without sugar—this is the magic that makes the traditional baguette such a beautiful thing.

The easiest thing to do with a good baguette like this is, of course, to do what I did the other day. Just break off a chunk and have at it. They’re great with good butter (I just bought a big bar of the Vermont cultured butter at the Roadhouse to take home). Butter with great anchovies or sardines (and a bit of great black pepper ground over top) could be even better! In the region of Murcia, in southeastern Spain, they toast baguettes for breakfast, pour on some good olive oil, a little sea salt, and some of that great Spanish paprika!! And, last but definitely not least, they’re lovely with chocolate—a French baguette paired with a jar of the remarkably good Noccioliva (the exceptional dark chocolate and hazelnut spread we have in from Italy) would be one fantastic breakfast, midday snack, or dessert!