Saturday, December 10, 2011

In Search of a Paris-Worthy Baguette

I should have known better. In fact, I told myself months ago not to go there. But with Paris now 5+ months in the rear view mirror, I was craving a baguette and started asking around for recommendations from people who should know. Americans who'd lived in Paris. Even French folks living in DC. And the result? Well read on.

My first stop was the Saint Michel French Bakery. Their main store is in Rockville near the Twinbrook metro, way too far from where I live to even consider a visit. But it turns out, they have a stand in the Montgomery Farm Women's Cooperative Market in Bethesda that's open twice a week, a location considerably closer to me and even closer to my office. Their baguettes beat the supermarket variety (which to be honest are just barely a step up from the bread they "bake on the premises" at Subway) but not by much. I may go back someday to try the tarts which were both pretty and well-priced.

The next option was Paul in Georgetown, the newest offering of this bakery with outlets everywhere in Paris. There it was the kind of place I could count on for a reliably good quality baguette even if I usually preferred to buy from the independent boulangerie in my neighborhood. My kids were with me when we stopped in at Paul and my youngest was desperate to break off the top for a little snack. Taking the baguette from me, she stopped to take a deep whiff. Expecting yeasty goodness, she got nothing. On balance, the Paul baguette was better than the one from Saint Michel but still nothing to write home about.

After that, I tried La Madeleine in Bethesda, a restaurant and bakery that French friends living in DC used to love when they craved a little bit of home. In one word: horrible. We actually ended up throwing it out since no one wanted to eat it after the first try.

My final stop was Patisserie Poupon in upper Georgetown. Walking into the shop which was bustling with customers, I was optimistic. Glistening fruit tarts and viennoiserie were beckoning, and the buches de noel lovingly decorated with meringue mushrooms. We waited in line for a good 10 minutes (just like Paris!) and in the end, came home with a baguette like the one from Paul, no aroma and only moderately tasty.

Then last night, I stopped in at our local supermarket to pick up fixings for a last minute salad for dinner. Still craving good bread, I bought a loaf of what was labeled "Tuscan bread" from the store's specialty bakery. And you know what? It was better than any one of the baguettes we'd tested.

So I'm giving up on baguettes. Hearty whole grain and sourdough loaves will be my bread of choice while in Washington. Some day, I'll get the chance again to bite into a freshly baked Parisian baguette and I'm sure the experience will be all the sweeter for the wait.


  1. Great post (if a bit depressing, though as you say ... maybe it's hopeless to try).

    I like the idea of just waiting until next trip to Paris! Good on ya.


  2. Hi Anne,

    Sorry about the disappointing results of your search.

    I'm happy to say that we're luckier here in Berkeley and the rustic baguette from Acme Bakery is nearly as good as Paul in Paris.

    Disappointing to hear Paul can't reproduce the same baguette on these shores; it's my favorite in Paris. I like it better than Eric Kayser, which many think the best of the generally available baguettes.

    I must admit I've never searched out the winners of the Meilleur Baguette contest. Meanwhile, the availability of good tortillas here makes up for any lack in the bread department!

  3. Does it mean anything that the security word for my last comment was "suckie"?

  4. If you're ever in Annapolis, give Tastings Gourmet Market a try. Their baguettes are fairly good but what's even better are the croissants. They import frozen ones from France and bake them on the premises. I always keep a supply of the frozen ones in our freezer and pop them in the oven for a special treat or if we have visitors.

  5. Sigh. Agreed. It's all awful so far. Don't get me started on the croissants. My chin is up, though, since you mentioned the Stateside version of Speculoos....thank you, thank you, thank you for that!

  6. Hi Anne, Check out Cornucopia in Bethesda. I would love to hear what you think of the place. They have fresh baked baguettes bearing claim to be the authentic Parisian baguette. At a price tag of $7 US dollars each, I'll pass and wait for my next trip to the City of Lights where the real thing is plentiful for 1 euro a pop!

  7. Seems I hit a chord with this post!

    Shelli: I've heard about the good bread options in the Bay Area. I used to carry the meilleur baguette article around with me in case I happened to be in the neighbhorhood. Mostly though it was just so easy to get a baguette around the corner. (Although that trek across town for me to Du Pain & Des Idees was definitely worth it.)

    MJ: Have a bagel, the cousin of those donuts you've already rediscovered. I am not a donut person which my husband and kids consider scandalous.

    Jeanne: Thanks for the tip on Cornucopia. Not sure I can fork over $7 for a baguette (and btw the going price in my neighborhood in Paris was more like 1.30 or 1.40 euros) but I will go by and take a look (and a whiff!)

  8. At least you had options to try! ;) Stuck in Northern Saskatchewan, there are no options anywhere within a four hour drive for any type of decent bread. So I, too, wait for my next trip to la Belle France.

  9. I know it's quite a jaunt from Bethesda/Silver Spring, but if you're ever on this side of the river, try Best Buns in Shirlington (South Arlington). (I think I may have mentioned them before). And the Heidelberg Bakery on Lee Highway makes a mean croissant. Actually, they make two kinds -- one with butter & one with margarine. Do I need to say avoid the margarine one? ;-)

  10. have you tried Breadline on 17th and Penn NW? it was recommended to me as the best baguette in Washington from a French woman at my local wine shop. i lived in France for several years and though i've heard you can never reproduce a perfect baguette outside of Paris (something to do with the water?), this is at least satisfying.

  11. Do you have any Safeway in DC? Actually that's the closest to the French baguette we were able to find in Arizona... and we even freeze them.

  12. Hi Anne, Not sure if you are still blogging about baguettes, but I wanted to let you know that a new French bakery is opening in Bethesda on Tues (10-22-13), called Fresh Baguette. It's at the corner of Bethesda Ave and Arlington Road (just next to Nest Cafe). Please look it up on GoogleMaps. They have just brought over a young French baker from Paris - I'm the girlfriend of the manager and I've been their taste-tester for a few weeks now. Gaining my study abroad weight back rather quickly! Seriously, the bread is divine and the menu extensive. Hope to see you there on Tuesday, our opening day. Thanks, Brooke (a well-traveled local in DC)

  13. Thanks, Brooke. Will definitely take a look. That's not too far from me.

  14. Second on Fresh Baguette. We just got back from a visit to Paris, where our apartment was close to both Eric Keyser and Gerard Mulot. Apart from how Fresh cuts the crust or the width of the baguettes, they were not appreciably distinguishable from the ones we had in Paris. The croissants, while a bit heavy, hit just the right notes on sweetness. although they tend to be thicker Keyser or Mulot from Fresh was not