Baguette ID card

Get to know it perfectly

By Gjon MiliLIFE Photo Collection

What is a baguette?

The French word baguette literally means "a small, thin stick, which can be flexible or not," according to its dictionary definition. It carries a range of meanings: the orchestra conductor's baton is also known as a baguette in French, as are drumsticks, or decorator's strips. As a result, this generic term couldn't be protected by law in the French baking field.

Baguettes in a basket by Vincent FerniotSociété nationale des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France

So, what's a baker's baguette?

The more specific term in French is the baker's baguette or Parisian baguette. This refers to a loaf of bread that's 15.8 to 23.6 inches (40–60 cm) long, with a crunchy crust and an airy crumb with a white or cream color. In France, the baguette is classed as a loaf of white bread since it is made with white wheat flour, in contrast to darker loaves that are generally made from rye.

LIFE Photo Collection

Origins of the baguette

There are three competing origin stories: that it was created for Napoleon's troops so that soldiers could easily carry bread in their pockets; that it was invented so Paris metro workers could break bread more easily without carrying a knife, which would be dangerous in case of a fight;       or that it was brought over from Austria by August Zang when he opened a bakery in Paris in 1839, introducing the country to the expertise behind Vienna's long loaves.

[Rue Brey, Paris] (about 1845–1850) by Hippolyte BayardThe J. Paul Getty Museum

The truth of its conception

Most likely, according to bread historian Steven Kaplan, is that the baguette was created in Paris in the 20th century. It was born of the rural exodus and marked a shift from countryside loaves to the "bread of the city." City-dwellers could buy bread every day, and the baguette's long shape and light weight made it easily transportable, while its thin, crunchy crust and airy crumb was an excellent fit for contemporary tastebuds.

What does French law say?The modern baguette is subject to legislation related to its uses, and professional baking expertise and good practices. The list of specifications in the law is rather slim. It mostly concerns the weight of the baguette, which averages 8.8 ounces (250 g), or 10.6 ounces (300 g) before the 1970s. Only the traditional French baguette is subject to a stricter set of standards.

Still bank:Junior (ca. 1890) by J. & E. Stevens Co.The Strong National Museum of Play

How much does a baguette cost?

The sale price of a baguette was subject to regulation for a long time since it was considered of foremost necessity. The price has been unregulated since the 1980s, and is now set by the artisans, at just below 1 dollar (€1) for an ordinary baguette and around 1,20 dollars (€1.20) for a traditional baguette.

Two Baguettes (1990) by Avigdor ArikhaTel Aviv Museum of Art

How long has the traditional French baguette existed?

The traditional French baguette (known in French as the "baguette tradition," or less formally, the "tradi") is a recent invention. Its ingredients and the process to make it are defined under French legislation Bread Law of 1993. In 2023, the traditional French baguette will celebrate 30 years.

Tradition by Vincent FerniotSociété nationale des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France

Why define a Traditional French Baguette?

In 1993, it became necessary to protect the expertise of French artisanal bakers. There was a need to go back to the basics of bread-making, techniques that were in danger of being lost due to industrial baking and imports from other European countries: 150 ingredients were then permitted under European law, in contrast to the 3 or 4 allowed in traditional French bread.

Wheat Essay (1943-09) by Gordon CosterLIFE Photo Collection

What makes a baguette traditional?

{1}The process involved in making a traditional French baguette is defined under French law.
- Its main ingredients are wheat flour, water, salt, and a rising agent: yeast or a starter.

- However, the miller may only add four natural additives to their flour, in extremely low quantities: flour from wheat, malted wheat, soy, or fava beans.
- The use of ascorbic acid is forbidden. 
- A traditional baguette must not be frozen, and the same goes for any of its ingredients.

What additives are allowed in a traditional baguette? Apart from the natural additives added during milling, only three other natural additives are allowed. The three permitted additives are all types of antioxidants. These allow for a faster and more regular fermentation process. However, ascorbic acid (E300), which is used in ordinary baguettes, is banned since it affects the taste and texture of the bread.

By Alfred EisenstaedtLIFE Photo Collection

Is anywhere that sells bread in France a boulangerie?

The 1993 law also concerns boulangeries. For a place that sells bread to be called a boulangerie, the bread needs to be kneaded, shaped, and baked all at its place of sale.

Bakery Gosselin by Thomas DéronSociété nationale des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France

Differences between ordinary and traditional baguettes

The legislation surrounding ordinary baguettes (baguettes ordinaires) is much more flexible.
It allows for the creation and sale of baguettes that are cheaper but of lower quality. Fourteen additives are allowed in an ordinary French baguette, compared to three in a traditional baguette. The main function of these additives is to shorten the bread-making process and increase the size of the loaf. Loaves of bread that have been expanded using rising and thickening agents are similar in size but weigh less per volume. And all this is done to the detriment of the bread's taste.

Credits: Story

Vincent Ferniot

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