How a New York Bakery Engineered its French Baguette

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[Photos: Andrew Coe]

New York's baguette bakers like to play with their bread: Prosciutto, Parmesan and picholine baguettes! Kosher baguettes! Buckwheat baguettes! Big, soft, and crappy baguettes! So last summer, Keith Cohen of Orwasher's had a radical concept. What about making the best possible real French baguettes? He contacted Cornell professor Steven L. Kaplan, who is acknowledged as the world's expert on baguettes and the man who led the loaf's revival in Paris. Kaplan tasted the Orwasher's New York-style French baguettes and said: "You need to see Alexandre Viron."


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In August, Keith and one of his head bakers traveled to France to meet Viron, a fifth generation miller and baker (under the Retrodor brand name) specializing in traditional flours. His father Philippe helped lead the movement to recover the Paris baguette tradition and return the loaf to its simple, artisan roots. Under Alexandre's guidance, the Orwasher's team spent two weeks in the Viron mill and bakery learning the art of making classic French baguettes. That included mixing flour, water, salt, and yeast; two fermentations, shaping and scoring the loaf, and the final baking. By the end of their stay, Keith and his baker were making 1,500 loaves a day and were ready to bring their skills to New York.


In his bakery, Keith and his bakers made room for a French baguette shaping machine and a few thousand pounds of Viron flour and began to mix. Today, you can buy the Orwasher's French Baguette ($3.50), which usually arrives in its store around lunchtime. From the inside out, this loaf nails the key qualities of a classic baguette. It's baked to a golden running to dark brown color with the requisite five slash marks across the top. When tapped, the loaf gives a hollow sound, and the crust crackles when squeezed. Inside, the crumb is cream-colored and broken up by large and small air pockets. If you pull it open and stick your nose inside, it has an enticing, faintly yeasty, nutty aroma. When you chew it, the bread is slightly moist with a lovely texture that makes it hard to stop eating.

The Orwasher's French Baguette is clearly now one of the top baguettes in the city. But is it the best? Stay tuned for the an update to our best baguette in New York post very soon. In the meantime you can buy the Orwasher's baguette at its store and at its stands at the New Amsterdam Market and the Prospect Park and Greenpoint Greenmarkets.