How to Bag a Baguette!
by Lorraine Cherry
In my humble opinion (which people actually used to say before IMHO became popular), a good baguette is the finest bread in the entire world. But please note the qualifier: a good baguette. A good baguette, along with a hunk of cheese, some salami, and a bottle of red wine, can be the perfect picnic to really start a relationship off with a bang. A few years down the road, that same menu can be the ideal addition to an afternoon of Texans’ football, easing the mourning over the loss of J.J. Watt.
But just what is a baguette, what makes it good, and (most importantly) where do you find a good one around here?
First and foremost, a good baguette is not merely a long skinny piece of mediocre French bread with a marshmallow-like interior. (My husband describes it as “…like a Twinkie without the filling.”) This misconception explains a lot of the bad baguettes you may have encountered. A good baguette calls for specialized techniques (use of low-protein flour, a long rise, lots of hydration, careful shaping technique) that a big commercial bakery usually will not want to bother with. These techniques result in a loaf with a crispy, crackly exterior and an interior with a nicely chewy texture, lots of air holes, and a nutty, slight sour-dough flavor. Not easy to come by, but worth it when you do.
Where to find a good baguette around here? Here are some of the places that sell them, and our experiences with their products:
3 Brothers (4606 Washington) Go for their world-class rye bread and cookies; don’t bother for the mediocre baguette. La Madeleine (I-10 at Sawyer) Surprisingly good. Shipped partially baked and frozen from a central bakery and finished on site. Whole Foods (Waugh) A very good product, but a little more expensive than most. Those available first thing in the morning were not freshly baked, or they would have been better. Gourmet French Bakery (2250 Westheimer) A good product, on the pricy side, but a little far afield to go for a loaf of bread. World Catering Bakery (across from Walmart on Silber) One of the best we tried; freshly made and baked on site. Krogers (N. Shepherd at West 11th) Really?? I don’t think so.