Bread itself dates back as long as written history takes us. However, what we commonly know as French bread today, the baguette, was brought about in the early twentieth century out of necessity. True French bread is thousands of years old. The truth is that the baguette is not even French. The baguette is a derivative of bread made in Vienna after steam ovens were put to use.
The baguette is a crispy long loaf of bread. It is typically about five centimeters wide and about 3 centimeters thick with a length of about two feet long. The baguette has a crispy crust on the outside with a white pitted crumb on the inside. The irregular holes can be fairly large and are characteristic of the baguette. In the mid 19th century, the steam oven brought about the French bread we know today.
It has been said that Napoleon is responsible for the invention of the baguette. However, the order to make long thin loaves that could easily be carried down the pant legs of soldiers, was not likely ever given. Napoleon’s armies carried portable ovens with them in their travels. The need for bread that would fit down the pant legs of his soldiers would not have been necessary. Napoleon did influence the production of bread by establishing standards for baking bread but had nothing to do with the invention of the baguette.
In 1920, French laws prohibited bakers from beginning work before four o’clock in the morning. This created a dilemma. How were they to have fresh bread ready in time for breakfast. Here is where the baguette was born. The long thin loaves of bread could be fully fermented, baked, and ready to eat by the time the early morning customers were ready to enjoy breakfast from their local bakery. Some English and French bakers still call the baguette “Vienna” bread. Most English people associate the words “French bread” with a long, golden baguette. The crust being crispy and sweet with surface cuts in the shape of a leaf. Never actually setting foot in France, they are unaware that traditional French bread was round and much fuller than the baguette.
We often serve sliced baguettes with some form of spread or cheese. Baguettes are also ideal for making sandwiches. The popularity of the baguette in France is obvious everywhere you go. It is not uncommon to see a baguette or two being carried by in the arms or backpack of the French pedestrian. Baguettes are enjoyed throughout France with jam, butter, cheese, or just plain.
French bakers loved the baguette due to the ease and speed of processing. Not to mention the fact that the baguette begins to stale within an hour of being baked making frequent trips to the bakery necessary. However, traditional French bread has regained popularity because of its longer shelf life. Traditional French
bread will stay fresh up to two or three days.
To look in an American cookbook from the nineteenth or twentieth century, you would likely find recipes for French bread but a recipe for the baguette would not be found. It would seem as though the production of the baguette was limited to professional bakers.
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