Why is it so hard to find decent baguettes in New York City? Pictured above is a baguette from Breads Bakery. Their babka was great, but I wasn’t impressed with their baguette (though still better than most bakeries). As you can see, their bubble formation is a bit odd. You see big bubbles sporadically but the rest are tiny, resulting in a dense consistency. Baguettes shouldn’t be dense because the density would prevent the heat from penetrating the dough and reaching the high temperature required to bring out the flavor of the flour.
esterday, I was talking to a real French man about this question. He said it’s the differences in the ingredients like flour and water. He noted that many people claim the same thing about New York bagels—they are better here because of New York City water. I’m not convinced.
A baguette, after all, is super simple; it contains only flour, yeast, water, and salt. It’s all about maximizing the natural flavor of the flour. So, yes, every subtle difference matters, at least to the French people. The problem here is that those subtle differences do not exist in the minds of the vast majority of Americans. The French man I was talking to, who now lives in New York, agreed that Kayser’s baguettes are decent, but they aren’t as good as they used to be. I used to travel all the way up to their first location in the Upper East Side just to get their baguettes, but the last time I got them, they didn’t taste particularly great. I think Pain D’Avignon is better.
I don’t think the problem is the lack of quality ingredients. The labor cost of making great baguettes is just too high because the baker has to be highly experienced. There is no way to systematize the process in the way it can be followed by anyone. I used to bake baguettes myself and followed the same formula every time, but came out differently every time. There is no easy way to scale the operation. Unless you can charge $15 a baguette, or unless the baker has enough demand to sell ONLY baguettes, you cannot cover the cost of the experienced baker. That would be my theory on why we can’t find great baguettes here.
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