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I have noticed that there is a large difference between French baguettes with chewy crust and consistent airy and chewy inside.

Baguettes in the US are a different type. I am referring to the ones I find in serious bakeries (not mass production ones). They're often fluffy inside like a sandwich loaf, and the crust is either crispy or totally soft.

What are the differences in the production process which determine that a baguette will be of the French type as opposed to the US type? How are French baguettes made?

baguette

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    I have found authentic baguettes, but only at a small independent bakery, not a chain supermarket. I think it's more a cultural preference for a less crispy/tough crust, so most stores sell what most people prefer... – Erica Dec 15 '15 at 0:28
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    @Erica - Well I haven't found that. I have talked to smaller bakeries and they tried to do a special batch to mimic the baguette... they were often good but not baguette. – blankip Dec 15 '15 at 1:54
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    Cleaning up comments. If you think you can answer the question, post an answer. If you want to discuss your preferences for various types of baguettes, please find a place besides this page. – Cascabel Dec 17 '15 at 1:36
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    @blankip Of course, please weigh in if you're actually talking about the radically different baguette-shaped bread often sold in supermarkets (basically a plain somewhat crusty American white bread in baguette shape) rather than the good but not French breads from actual bakeries. It does seem that perhaps Joe wasn't the only one who thought you might be asking about mass-produced supermarket bread. – Cascabel Dec 17 '15 at 20:03
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    Hi blankip, I'm sorry I had to edit your question quite heavy-handed. Even after the last edit, there is evidence that people understand it like an invitation to start either bashing or defending the business decisions made by US bakers. I made the language more neutral, while keeping the part which, according to you in a now-deleted comment, was the main point. – rumtscho Dec 17 '15 at 22:28
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If you buy a French baguette in the morning, you can use it as weapon or vehicle jack in the evening. It is no surprise that a Frenchman, Jean-Baptiste Boussingault, tried 1852 to prevent this by hermetically sealing the bread, as he thought the problem is merely the loss of moisture - and who then learned, that his lovely baguette would still go stale hermetically sealed and so discovered starch retrogradation at the same time.

Anyway, bread that is stale the very same day is not what the average customer wants. They want their bread to last for a week - the tradition of buying fresh bread every single day these days can be mostly seen in France and Italy, not even in Germany any longer. And in France it is easy to maintain this tradition, as the next boulangerie is just around the corner. And they usually bake in two shifts, a morning and an evening shift.

It is rather easy for a real baker to choose how the baguette has to be (if he makes the dough), all the processes are well-known since more than 50 years, but there is always a trade-off and that is the problem. The biggest trade-off is the shelf/kitchen life. You get the best shelf life without traditional yeast, without much leavening and with emulsifiers that delay the staleness. This will produce bread with a soft, cake-like interior, an uncrusty crust and uncharacteristic flavor.

Here you can see the difference in comparison:

enter image description here

(The lack of natural yeast and traditional rising leads to this huge difference of the inner texture, the color difference is due to the flour. Note that bleached flour is an US invention. I don't think you can get bleached flour anywhere in France or Germany.)

This is how a lot of industrial doughs are still optimized. The more shelf life you are willing to sacrifice, the closer you get to the French baguette. This is the core problem. Of course, it is possible that one bakery uses a more appropriate flour than the other bakery, but there is no magic involved that only a handful of French bakers know - if the US baker would want to mimic the French baguette perfectly, it would take him less than a week to adjust the recipe to the local circumstances. But then again, how many US bakers ever flew to France to get a baguette for comparison? And how many US bakers actually make their own dough instead of buying the French baguette dough?

It is not possible to determine afterwards why the bread is different as customer. You can make a non-industrial baguette with a terrible crust but great shelf life f.e. by incorporating buttermilk or egg yolks, but it could also have be an artificial industrial emulsifier or an industrial dough in the first place.

Let's come to the ingredients and techniques:

French baguette is flour, water, yeast and salt. That's it. The very moment you add anything else, so it lasts longer or can be better kneaded by machines, you lose.

The most important technique is time - from ingredient to baguette takes at least 3 hours and the best result is obtained by kneading it as human, because what is desirable for bread, a consistent interior by kneading over and over, is not desirable for baguette. So the big difference between the US and France is:

enter image description here

Regarding the steam: The steam prevents the building of the crust as it prevents the drying out. With steam you get a larger and lighter loaf, with a thinner, but nicely glossy crust. Here you can see the glossy crust of a baguette with steam: enter image description here

This is not a particular trait of French baguettes.

  • Hey everybody, please don't do such long discussions in comments. Chat is always an option, although this matter was probably too small for it. – rumtscho Dec 17 '15 at 22:17
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I'm no expert but my understanding is that to get a good crust on the baguette is to have plenty of steam in the oven. I believe that industrial baguette ovens have steam injectors, but at home you can place a tray in the bottom of the oven and put boiling water in the tray to create the steam (as they do in this recipe).

I suspect that the bakeries in the US just don't use ovens with steam injectors, which is why they don't have crusty baguettes.

  • Ovens with steam injectors produce a much thinner crust. I have eaten many standard, cheap baguettes with obviously-steamed crust, and many traditional French style baguettes - and real French baguettes from small boulangeries in France itself - which have a more rustic, less steamed crust. While this makes for a difference between bread recipes, it does not correlate with the "French" vs "US" style baguette division. – rumtscho Dec 16 '15 at 15:55
  • I would say that true French baguettes have a medium thickness on the crust. It is definitely not thin but it also isn't extraordinarily thick. It may seem thick because baguettes are generally much skinnier than the US variety - so the crust is a big part of the bite. – blankip Dec 16 '15 at 16:31
  • Hmm, I believe the ovens in typical present-day bakeries in French towns, do not feature steam injection. – Fattie Dec 16 '15 at 17:09
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These are two different main types of Baguette sold in France (if not globally):-

  1. (standard) Baguette - Baguette sold globally
  2. Baguette de Tradition - aka French Baguette

There is alot of information available on how these are made, especially on youtube. The video should show you the difference between the two and tally with your OP.

French Baguette Comparison

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The flour may take some part in it. In the US most flours found in stores seem to be bleached, which may alter the bread quality. It's not easy to know for sure which quality/flavour has been used in the final product.

  • Absolutely. Apart from anything else, it's a fact that french boulangeries use INCREDIBLY good flour. – Fattie Dec 16 '15 at 17:10
  • I'm not sure this is true for bakeries. You can easily buy unbleached flour in the store, and tons of home bakers use it pretty much exclusively, so I wouldn't just assume that real bakeries are using bleached flour. – Cascabel Dec 16 '15 at 21:42
  • But as it is more expensive, unbleached flour usage is not guaranteed. – Xavier Nicollet Dec 16 '15 at 21:50
  • "Unbleached flour usage is not guaranteed" is a pretty far cry from "most flours seem to be bleached" as your answer says. – Cascabel Dec 17 '15 at 0:22

protected by rumtscho Dec 18 '15 at 0:09

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