If you’ve ever dined in a French restaurant, chances are you’ve been served a baguette before. What is a baguette? Whether it's served as an appetizer or part of the main course, a baguette is a long, thin loaf of French bread that completes a meal. But what makes this popular French bread special compared to the other loaves of bread we eat?

The Birth of Baguettes

The word “baguette” comes from the Italian word “bacchetta,” which translates to “baton" (which is reminiscent of the baguette's iconic shape). Believe it or not, modernization played a part in creating baguettes. In the midst of World War I, the workforce shortage in bakeries meant that bakers had to find a more efficient way of baking. Before the invention of the baguette, sourdough was the most popular type of bread baked in France

In 1920, steam ovens were introduced to French bakeries, thus allowing bakers to start experimenting with different ways of baking bread. Since baguettes take a longer time to prepare, bakers often utilized the time they had at night to prepare the dough and then baked it in the morning. It was the perfect schedule for French bakers and customers alike, because many customers flooded boulangeries in the morning when the baguettes were just made.

Baguette 101 

Along with its other nickname “the French stick,” a baguette is a type of crusty loaf that's golden-brown in color. Having a crust is a must when baking a baguette, as its crispness unleashes more aroma molecules when consuming the bread. One thing you may not have known about a regular baguette is that one should weigh approximately 250 grams and is 65cm long when baked. It should also be sturdy when held up and have a chewy texture in its innards. Talk about precision!

A surprising fact is that there are three types of baguettes: the regular baguette, the baguette moulée, and the baguette farinée. Though similar in taste, the key difference lies in the way they are baked. A regular baguette is the typical golden-brown French bread you most often encounter. The baguette moulée, which translates to “the molded bread,” is manufactured by industrial ovens. Finally, a baguette farinée has its crust covered with flour before baking. 

Why the Spotlight on This French Bread?

The simplicity of a baguette is what makes it special despite the time-consuming steps of preparation. One only needs four simple ingredients to make a regular baguette: flour (preferably French flour), water, salt, and yeast.

French baker Cliff Leir, who has been baking baguettes for the past 18 years, explained to the Bakers Journal that it could take days to create the perfect baguette. It takes patience, dedication, and practice to master the art of making a baguette.

First, a mixture for polishing baguettes is made by mixing yeast and water. The mixture is then stirred briskly and left alone for hours to ferment. The fermentation period can last for 15 hours alone before making the dough. The dough is made by stirring together the yeast and water mixture with flour and salt. In between mixing and stirring, time is given for the dough to rise and rest. Finally, the baguette is shaped and folded into long rolls and baked in the oven.

#SpoonTip: Check out this article for a detailed description of the baguette making process in the kitchen.

When a Plain Baguette Isn't Enough

Though you can enjoy baguettes on their own or with olive oil or balsamic vinegar dip, there are ways to pair it with other ingredients as well. The most popular item to pair it up with is tomato, garlic, olive oil, and basil to make bruschetta. This recipe for the classic French appetizer will leave you drooling. Another common transformation of baguettes is into garlic bread. If you’re dealing with stale baguettes, it’s best to make croutons out of it.

For a more creative spin on baguettes, you can make them into bread puddings, banh mi, or even fancy sandwiches to make you feel as if you’re fine dining at home. There’s no limit to your imagination.

Now that you know what a baguette is, you can confidently stroll into a French restaurant knowing that what you’re eating was created by a talented baker. Try making some baguette dishes at home and who knows, maybe you’ll be the next master baker.