Midweek Distractions 3/20/24: Best Baguettes & Food Comas


Before last night, I thought there was no limit to the French bread I could eat in one sitting. As it turns out, there is. A few friends and I (with a group chat dubbed the “Bready Bunch”) got together to attend the Best Baguette in New York competition, which is hosted every year by our sister publication, French Morning. It was a massive event in the Lower East Side, with a thousand hungry Francophiles in attendance looking to see who would win Best Baguette, the People’s Choice Award, and the Specialty Bread prize. (Actually, I can’t confirm that they were all Francophiles, but I can certainly confirm that they were all pain-ophiles.)

The event space is enormous, and we shuffled from one line to the next, munching on baguette and fougasse and charcuterie and cheese and macarons all the while. We must have eaten at least thirty pieces of baguette each, all topped with a thick slab of butter, before we found ourselves in the last unexplored corner of the market. There were a few stalls left, but I simply couldn’t eat another bite.

Little did I know that one of the only baguettes I didn’t try would end up winning the whole thing!! Crispy Heaven, I owe you an apology. I will be coming back for your baguette, mark my words. (They also came in third place in the Specialty Bread category. So I guess I really have to get that bread.)

Obviously, it was quite a French affair, with plenty of French bakers present. But I was a little surprised by how many of the participants had origins in other places, from Hungary to Montreal. The owner of Crispy Heaven is originally from the Czech Republic, and my personal favorite baguette of the evening (which came in third for the top prize) was from Ole & Steen, a Danish bakery. (They also didn’t skimp on the butter, which may have skewed my judgment in their favor.)

Baguettes are, obviously, about as French as it gets. In 2022, French baguettes were marked with UNESCO’s Intangible Heritage status. I shared some facts (and quite a few theories) about the history of baguettes in this article about the designation, if you’re interested in learning more. (Their invention may have had something to do with making workplaces a little less violent.)

But French influence is so widespread that today, anyone can make a great baguette, if they’re willing to devote the time and effort to learning the craft. Culinary schools are still modeled in the French style, and croissants and baguettes are staples at most bakeries. But we’re finally reaching a point where classical technique meets innovation, with flavor profiles and textures drawn from all over the world. So make that baguette with bagel dough. Put some za’atar on that croissant. It’s the best time in history to be a bakery fanatic, a point I will eat myself into a coma trying to prove.

After our adventures at the Best Baguette competition, in honor of our groaning stomachs, the group chat was renamed “Haus of Pain.” I suffered for my baguettes, and I would suffer a thousand times more.

Catherine Rickman
Managing Editor, frenchly.us

Stay in touch! I’d love to hear from you: [email protected].

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