Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Baguette de Tradition

The day before yesterday I read an article in the Badische Zeitung: Vive la baguette! Elisabeth and I love that French cultural heritage. It happens that when we buy our Bourgogne wine, Epoisses and other French cheeses in nearby Alsace we walk into a boulangerie and buy one of those crusty baguettes only the French know how to make. Our following lunch then is a frugal one: pieces of baguette with French cheese and wine, a real treat.

French cliché: Beret Basque and baguette (©BZ).
In the BZ-article I learned that the French National Assembly passed a reinheitsgebot for the baguette in 1993, i.e., the Décret n°93-1074 du 13 septembre 1993 pris pour l'application de la loi du 1er août 1905 en ce qui concerne certaines catégories de pains. In article 2 the following ingredients are allowed for the baguette de tradition française:

Peuvent seuls être mis en vente ou vendus sous la dénomination de : "pain de tradition française", "pain traditionnel français", "pain traditionnel de France" ou sous une dénomination combinant ces termes les pains, quelle que soit leur forme, n'ayant subi aucun traitement de surgélation au cours de leur élaboration, ne contenant aucun additif et résultant de la cuisson d'une pâte qui présente les caractéristiques suivantes :

1° Etre composée exclusivement d'un mélange de farines panifiables de blé, d'eau potable et de sel de cuisine;2° Etre fermentée à l'aide de levure de panification (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) et de levain ... 

The most important requirement for a baguette de tradition française is a freshly prepared dough containing nothing else than wheat flour, drinking water, and cooking salt to be fermented with the help of baker's yeast and leaven ...

This reminds me of the German purity law for beer that in reality is a Bavarian decree dated 1516 I dealt with earlier. Duke Wilhelm IV proclaimed that beer should only contain barley, hops, and water. What about brewing yeast? Well, that was not known in the 16th century. All beer was top-fermented, any of those ubiquitous yeast cells turned the mash into wash such that the quality of the resulting beer was quite variable. It was not until the 18th century that beer brewing was understood and specific "tasty" strains of brewing yeast were cultivated.

And here comes bad news for Bavarians. It was not their Duke Wilhelm who was the first but Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, who issued a regulation for the brewing of bierre as early as 1438 that only barley, hops, and water were allowed. Beer in Burgundy? In the 15th century la Bourgogne was the biggest producer of hops and historians have found out that Philip's decree was aimed to protect domestic cultivation of hops rather than the purity of beer.

Raising a baguette de tradition (©DPA).
Back to the baguette de tradition française. The guy on the photo above actually carries flûtes which are wider than baguettes. Another variety of bread is ficelles (threads) longer and thinner than baguettes and hence crustier. Ficelles are best for breakfast with salty butter and jam, some like to dip the combination in their black coffee. All these delicacies you buy in a boulangerie where, according to the law, the boulanger still kneads his dough as early as 2 a. m. taking his time with its fermenting.

Why do only the French know how to bake a traditional baguette? I remember even in French-speaking Geneva I had to cross the nearby border into France to get the real thing. And forget about German baguettes. We are good at making wholemeal rye bread containing the full grain although my grandchildren living in Geneva even refuse to taste it.

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