If you haven't already checked out the piece on the world's foremost baguettologist in New York Magazine, you must. This is all you need to know about Steven L. Kaplan: When he speaks of baguettes he says things like "a global sense of the moment of penetration" in describing mouthfeel; or that baguettes have "had intercourse" when they're packed too tightly in the oven; or, finally, "It's as if the female crumb has completely reduced the male crust to helpless impotence" when he describes a soggy bread.
The problem with the story is that we never learn the exact criteria he uses in judging baguettes. We learn he has a 21-point grading stystem, but we never find out how he applies it.
But the story did start me thinking about baguettes in New York and around the country, and in the last three days I have bought ten baguettes to sample. What have I learned? One is that a baguette from the same bakery can vary greatly from day to day. The baguette from Pain D'Avignon was great one day, and pretty awful the next. This makes sense in a certain way. Bread baking is affected by outside temperature and humidity and changes in both from day to day. It's like pizza. Also, mass-baking baguettes is the ultimate challenge for any bread baker. Any one of six bakers in New York can make ten great baguettes a day. The real question is whether they can make thousands of very good baguettes in a day. Also, a baguette is an extremely perishable food item. It varies in taste and texture according to how many hours it's been out of the oven. A baguette that's one hour old tastes very different from a six hour-old baguette.
This is a long-winded way of asking all of you to vote for your favorite baguette, either in New York or out.
Here are the candidates I know about:
Sullivan Street Bakery
Le Pain Quotidien
Outside New York:
La Brea Bakery: (originally LA, now nationwide)
Acme Bread: Bay Area
Bread Line (D.C.)
So cast your vote and tell me what you like about your favorite baguette. We're talking about regular baguettes here, not sourdough.
Vote early and often.