THE WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF
The Best Baguette in Paris
Every year, Parisians anoint one baguette the best in the city. In a country where 99 percent of the population eats bread every day, that's saying something.
Unlike other French icons that have fallen by the wayside—the beret, the cigarette, Brigitte Bardot—the baguette remains a celebrated part of France's national culture.
That's especially true in Paris, the birthplace of the baguette, which hosts an annual competition to identify the city's finest loaf. The Grand Prix de la Meilleure Baguette de Paris (the best baguette in Paris) contest has been making headlines every year since it began in 1993. That's the same year the government passed a law to distinguish an authentic baguette de tradition from the frozen imposters that had become a bane on the city.
How can you tell which is which? Authentic loaves have a deep golden-yellow hue, a crust that smells nutty or grilled, and an interior texture that is elastic and tender, containing holes of uneven size. If your baguette is fluffy and uniform, you've probably been had.
A record number of authentic baguettes were entered into the annual competition on March 22. After ploughing through a pile of 141 loaves and rating each on appearance, aroma, crumb, and taste (no word on the swimsuit part of the competition), the jury handed down the 2010 prize.
THE 2010 WINNER
LE GRENIER À PAIN ABBESSES
38 rue des Abbesses, 18th arr. Nearest Métro stop: Abbesses (line 12) or Blanche (line 2). Open 7:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Thursday to Monday; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Baker Djibril Bodian from Le Grenier à Pain bakery, which placed fourth in the 2007 competition and fifth in 2009, snagged a cash prize of $5,400 (€4,000) and a contract to keep French President Nicolas Sarkozy in bread throughout the coming year. Bodian's baguette, which attracts long lines outside the Montmartre bakery, has a crispy and flavorful crust with hints of roasted hazelnut. Its chewy interior is marked by the irregular holes that are a sign of long and traditional fermentation.
Beyond the baguette: Bodian's pain de trois—a dark, crusty, and intensely flavored loaf—is fantastic. As the name suggests, it's composed of three flours, including sourdough, and keeps well for several days. The bakery also makes gorgeous glazed breads stuffed with dried fruit and candied nuts.
In the 'hood: Climb a few hundred stairs to reach the Sacré-Coeur cathedral, or take a rest while gazing at the nearby "I love you" wall.
9 MORE STANDOUTS
LE GRENIER DE FÉLIX, baker Franck Tombarel
64 ave. Félix Faure, 15th arr. Nearest Métro stop: Boucicaut (line 8). Open from 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m.–1:30 p.m. on Saturdays; closed Sundays.
Baguette awards: First place in 2009 and fourth place in 2008.
Beyond the baguette: Tombarel's pain Allemand is a darker German bread studded with sunflower seeds. The salty-sweet combination of hazelnut, walnut, and raisin in the céréales aux fruits secs is delicious, as well.
In the 'hood: The futuristic Parc André Citroën is far off and makes a nice spot for a Seine-side picnic. For those who are attending a fair or festival, like the Salon International de l'Agriculture, the Paris Expo center is in the same arrondissement.
LA PARISIENNE, baker Daniel Pouphary
28 rue Monge, 5th arr. Nearest Métro stop: Cardinal Lemoine (line 10) or Jussieu (line 7). Open 7 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday through Friday; closed Saturdays and Sundays.
Baguette awards: Second place in 2010.
Beyond the baguette: Don't miss Pouphary's unusual variety of croissants, including noix de coco (coconut) and chocolat lait noisette (milk chocolate and hazelnut). Substantial sandwiches like ham and chèvre on a poppyseed baguette are packaged into a daily lunch special with a drink and dessert for €3.30 ($4.50).