The Humble Baguette? It’s a national treasure!
If France has its way, the French baguette will soon be sitting alongside the likes of UNESCO accredited Couscous, Falconry, Transhumance and Turkish coffee, clearly demonstrating its significance to its country.
France put the baguette forward for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage status in March 2021, partly because it is a national treasure but, also, to protect French bakers and their artisanal methods. We should know if the bid has been successful by the end of 2022 but, what is in absolutely no doubt, is the popularity of this staple and, some might say, quintessential French food.
A national treasure
Fact or fiction?
With a history that is hard to trace, the baguette’s origin is surrounded by myths. We do know that long, wide loaves were made at the time of King Louis XIV but when and why did they become longer and thinner?
One myth suggests that Napoleon started the trend for long, thin sticks as they were easier for his soldiers to carry. Then there is the “Bread of Equality” theory following a decree that required bread to be accessible to both rich and poor after the French Revolution. Another claims that arguments between workers on the Paris metro construction site in the late 19th-century prompted the shape, making it easier to tear the bread and share, rather than having to resort to knives.
Or perhaps it was when an early 20th-century law prevented bakers from working before 4am. As a result, it became impossible to bake traditional round loaves in time for breakfast and the thinner, longer shape solved the problem.
This last theory contradicts the 1898 description by Louis Charles Elson who wrote, as part of his European Reminiscences, Musical and Otherwise, that “Housemaids were hurrying homewards with their purchases for various Gallic breakfasts, and the long sticks of bread, a yard or two [0.9 m to 1.8 m] in length, carried under their arms, made an odd impression upon me.” Interestingly, this supports a passage in a supplement to the Courant in March 1867 entitled From London to Paris which states “….loaves of bread six feet (1.8m) long that look like crowbars!”
Certainly not the humble baguette – it’s a real favourite
The baguette, as we know it today, was officially given its name in 1920 and is made, quite simply, out of water, flour, yeast and salt. Light, airy and soft on the inside, it has a crisp, golden crust and is usually around 60cm in length.
Fantastic on its own (we all know about those end pieces that have disappeared by the time they reach home), with cheese, soup, paté, jam and any filling that takes your fancy, they often form the cornerstone of a French meal. Deliciously crafted by skilful bakers and freshly baked each day, it is little wonder that, according to Planetoscope, around 10 billion of them are consumed each year in France alone!
Know Your French Bread
Baguette: the wand or stick that is around 5 to 6 cm in diameter
Ficelle: taken from the word for string, this is a thinner version of the above
Bâtard: a short, rugby ball-shaped loaf
Flûte: about twice the size of the standard baguette
Baton: a short baguette
Miche: a large pan loaf
Boule: a large round loaf or ball
Pain Viennois: sweeter and softer than a baguette
Baguette Italienne: with added spices and a denser texture
Tiers: a demi-baguette (half)
Tartines: slices of French bread
First published in the May/June 2022 issue of The Local Buzz