I discovered this bread when i went to dinner at Test Kitchen, on the night that Walter Manzke helmed the kitchen. The moment i walked into the door i noticed big brown market bags full of baguettes on the counter. The look of the baguettes, with pointed ends, rugged brown crust covered with flour, immediately told me that those bread should not be ignored and my eyes kept gravitating toward them.
A good baguette is dear to me, it's my favorite kind of bread and i like the kind that has a nice aroma, thick brown crust, crispy but not crumbly, on the outside, and non-white, chewy (again not crumbly) with large irregular holes inside. This kind of texture is due to the living wild yeast which creates a long rise during the fermentation. I also prefer the ratio between the outside and inside to be around 60/40 since i love the crust :-).
The baguette was served with butter (excellent from Vermont) before the food arrived and it pleased me a great deal!
I had to find out where this bread came from. Up to this point i had been buying baguette from Bread Bar, and before that by La Brea Bakery. Talking about La Brea Bakery baguette i meant the one bought from their flagship store on La Brea in Los Angeles, not those by the same brand sold in other market like Trader Joe's, Costco, etc, because i notice a big difference in the crust texture.
It's difficult to get a good baguette in Los Angeles that is made in the traditional, artisanal French method. By the way, even in France, the art of making baguette was declining. In Paris, the baguette capital of the world, the number of 'bad' baguettes (where the dough was pre-made by machine, frozen, and later baked, shipped to the shop where the bread was sold) was on the rise. Enough to
make bakers recognized that they must return their focus to quality to protect the important meaning of bread in the French culture and diet. The government also made bakery to label 'baguette' (pre-made with commercial yeast) and 'baguette de tradition' (handmade with natural yeast on premise). Now 'good bread is back', kinda, according to this book by Steven Kaplan, highly regarded as one of the authorative figures on French bread. This article by David Lebovitz contains some general criterias on how to recognize a good baguette.
After the dinner i asked Stephane, one of the owners and manager, where the bread came from and he told me it was from Bread Lounge. I'd never heard of Bread Lounge before so i asked him where i could buy the bread and he said the baker only sold the bread to a few restaurants in town. On the way out i told Stephane if i could order the bread to go and he was so nice to give me the whole loaf :-)
One day i came to Wally's to buy cheese and chocolate i noticed some baguettes against the wall and they looked very good. One of the staff told me that they started to get the baguette from a new place and the customers are welcome to a free loaf to see how they like it. I jumped to the chance and i liked the baguette right away :-). A few weeks later, i stopped by Wally's again and noticed the same baguette and this time it was also complimentary so i help myself to another loaf :-). The next time t stopped by Wally's the bread was for sale. However, this time the look of the baguette suddenly reminded me of the bread that i had at Test Kitchen so i asked Jenny, the manager where the bread was from because it looked like the one i had at Test Kitchen by Bread Lounge. She nodded and said 'it's the same bread'. Bingo :-)
This past Saturday i went to Wally's and had the baguette with the wonderful Appalachian cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy and the amazing Acorn-Edition Spallacia from La Quercia.
This gourmet lunch probably cost me less than a full meal from McDonald's, depending on what you order :-)
700 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, CA
Best Baguette in Paris
“As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world
To keep the body in good health is a duty, for otherwise we shall not be able to trim the lamp of wisdom, and keep our mind strong and clear. Water surrounds the lotus flower, but does not wet its petals.”
The Buddha -- Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C