Where is Francisco's Best Baguette?
It was a lazy October afternoon and my girlfriend and I were doing as one does in Paris; we were sitting outside at some random, but fabulous cafe chatting over a three Euro glass of vin rouge (red wine). Hints of cigarette smoke mingled with the smell of fallen yellow leaves on the sidewalk provided the appropriate aromatic backdrop. The couple next two us ate escargot. Parisians rambled by and the sun flirted with coming in earnest. We were doing our best to relish a quick two day swing through Paris on our way to walk the Camino Primitivo in Spain.
As we chatted I realized with a bit of a shock I’d spent more days in France than any other foreign country.
Paris was the first city in Europe I visited way back in college. Since then I’ve returned numerous times over the years for various reasons: visiting friends in the South of France, hiking in the French Alps, walking a pilgrimage from Le Puy in central France,visiting other friends in Toulouse. I really racked up the days on three different stints of varying lengths at Taizé, and of course more trips to Paris and elsewhere along the way.
All that to say that by now I know a thing or two about a good baguette.
Here in San Francisco we are blessed with some really great bakeries. For instance, the much celebrated Country Loaf from Tartine Bakery holds its own with any bread on the planet. (Their croissants on the other hand leave a thing or two to be desired, but that’s a story for another day.)
However, a good baguette remains a hard to thing to find in this city that prides itself in having about anything your heart could desire, cheap rent and a three euro glasses of wine excepted. As for Tartine baguettes they are conspicuously absent from their website. B. Patisserie another french bakery in town makes a great Kouign Amann, but sadly their baguettes are not up to snuff. I’ve tried quite a few as they’re close to where I live and each time I have to shake my head as I overcome a small amount of disappointment, “I guess there just aren’t great baguettes in this town.”
Just because someone sells bread in the shape of a baguette does not mean it actually is a baguette. Think about pizza. You can find countless places making round doughy pies with toppings, but the quality and style vary tremendously. The same goes for baguettes, it’s just that here in America we don’t eat them enough to know the difference between good ones and mediocre ones. Consequently, bakeries can get by with doling out less than great baguettes because they know most people won’t notice. (No hiding it, I am a bakery snob of the highest order. Alas the cost of knowing the real thing. Lesser substitutes no longer suffice.)
A good baguette is characterized by a snappy, crunchy exterior and a moist, airy interior. This contrast is the real identifier of a good baguette. I find around here, that the crunchy, crispy exterior is often notably lacking. There should be a satisfying crunch, but without the hardness associated with stale or over-toasted bread. The interior should be above all airy, with large bubbles; moist and chewy.
Thankfully, Jane the Bakery, freshly inspired in their new location off Geary/Steiner is cranking out the best baguette I’ve found to date anywhere this side of the Seine. Head by in the morning and grab yourself one still warm from the oven. At least for today, resist the temptation of their other very good pasties. You don’t want to spoil your breakfast.
Return home and cut off a toaster-length hunk. Slice this in half and toast lightly. Slather with quality butter and perhaps a bit of jam. At $3.00 it yields a very high pleasure-to-price ratio. And a whole baguette will leave you more than enough to share with a friend and still have plenty for an afternoon sandwich, to eat alongside a soup, or another round of butter and jam tomorrow morning.