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For Authentic French Food, You Have To Start With A Real Baguette

For hours on a Parisian spring afternoon, a panel of judges tore, chewed, sniffed and inspected hundreds of baguettes before pronouncing a single baton the best of the bunch.

At the 21st edition of Paris’s annual baguette contest Thursday, baker Djibril Bodian of Grenier à Pain in Montmartre cemented his reputation as the best baguette maker in the city for a second time — no small feat given that more than 230 loaves of bread were subject to blind taste tests this year.

To determine the winner, judges evaluate the baguettes based on five factors: taste, smell, appearance, doneness and bread texture.

Because, for the French, not all bread is created equal.

For the uninitiated, here’s a primer on how to tell a good baguette from a mediocre one, with tips collected from popular Paris food bloggers David Lebovitz, an American expat and former professional baker, and Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini.

- If you see rows of Braille-like dots on the bottom of the loaf, it's been baked industrially -- avoid at all costs.

- A good baguette should be sturdy and hold its shape when you pick it up.

- An inferior loaf will have a smooth appearance with regularly spaced holes when sliced. It will taste ‘cottony' and bland and will dissolve in the mouth.

- A good baguette will have an ‘apricot-like' aroma.

- A superior loaf will likewise have large, irregular holes inside and uneven coloration on the crust.

- The innards should be pale-ivory in color and be chewy.

- Look for a sign that reads ‘Artisan Boulangerie' in the bakery, indicating that the bread is baked on the premises.

- Bakeries that have won the Grand Prix for making the best baguettes in Paris will also have signs affixed to their windows.

Clotilde Dusoulier, the blogger behind Chocolate & Zucchini, says her favorite baguettes have the following characteristics:

- a hearty crust

- a developed flavor from slow fermentation

She says mediocre baguettes have a tougher, darker bottom crust and a softer interior texture and go stale faster.

Dusoulier also makes repeated mention of her favorite neighborhood bakery, Coquelicot bakery on 24, rue des Abbesses in the 18th arrondissement.

Grenier à Pain is in the 18th arrondissement at 38 rue des Abbesses.

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