13 July 2017

« Tradition » ou « classique » ?

Do you know what the difference between a French baguette classique (also called normale and even more commonly ordinaire) and a French baguette tradition is? We're talking about French bread. More than six billion (6,000,000,000) baguettes are sold in France every year, according to one article I just read. Some 75% of the bread sold in France is of the ordinaire variety. Taste in bread is a very subjective matter. I imagine you can tell which kind is which in the photos below.


Our village baker makes both styles of bread. In fact, the baguette called tradition or tradi has existed officially only since 1993. Back then, nearly all the bread consumed in France was pain ordinaire — actually, the name doesn't do it justice. It could be very good, but it varied a lot from bakery to bakery. Legally, a lot of chemical additives could go into it. Sometimes it was (and still is) made with dough that was "fabricated" in industrial bakeries, frozen, and then delivered to retail bakeries to be cooked on site. Sometimes it was made by the retail baker in his or her own shop, but that was becoming less and less common.

Twenty-five years ago, bread sales in France were plunging. People were eating less and less of it. It was bland and went stale very fast. The government intervened to create the so-called baguette de tradition, a bread made exclusively by artisan bakers. No frozen dough is allowed, and all chemical additives are banned. "Traditional" bread contains only flour, salt, yeast, and water. To qualify, the dough must be left to rise and rest twice the amount of time needed to make "ordinary" bread dough.

Recently, we've been buying both tradition and ordinaire baguettes, just to remember the difference. Paradoxically, the "non-traditional" bread is what I remember from the 1970s and 1980s, when I lived in Paris, Rouen, Grenoble, and Metz at different points in time. Here in the Saint-Aignan area, our village baker makes both. The tradi baguette costs 1.10 euros, and the ordinaire baguette goes for 0.90 euros. Anecdote: a year or two ago, a baker opened a new shop in the village (Pouillé) about five miles east of us and refused to make or sell baguettes ordinaires. He went out of business recently, because his customers weren't ready to give up their daily baguette ordinaire.

P.S. The baguette on the left is a baguette de tradition and the one on the right is a baguette ordinaire.

24 comments:

  1. Before World War II, baguettes and ficelles didn’t seem to exist as such . The closest to a baguette was the so-called pain de fantaisie. It was the size of a bâtard, but twice as long. It seems to have disappeared.

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    1. I think the baguette was a 19th century invention, but maybe it didn't become widely available until much later. BTW, Wikipedia.fr says:

      La baguette ordinaire, ou pain courant, vendue dans les boulangeries, points chauds ou supermarchés français peut contenir jusqu'à 14 additifs : acide acétique et ses sels (E260, E261, E262, E263), acide lactique et ses sels (E270, E325, E326, E327), acide ascorbique, ses sels et ses esters (E300, E301, E302, E304), lécithine (E322), mono- et diglycérides d'acides gras (E471).

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    2. Oui, j’ai vu ça. Ce qui me conforte dans mon pain Japonais, à moins que ces additifs soient déjà dans la farine!

      Je me demande si la baguette n’est pas un avatar du pain de fantaisie qui aurait beaucoup maigri. Je n’ai jamais entendu parler de baguette à Paris avant la fin des années ’40. Le pain bouleau semble avoir aussi disparu.

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    3. It's so funny to see this post today. At our farmer's market we have a French baker, from France of course, lol. When Danny bought baguettes Sunday he asked which type we wanted, I believe he said traditional or ordinary, and we were perplexed by the question. So he gave us ordinary. Now we know the difference.

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    4. The baker who was running the shop in our village when we got here 15 years ago didn't make baguettes de tradition, as far as I know. But the bakery has changed hands three times since then and the current baker makes very good tradi baguettes. The flour used makes a big difference, of course, and many boulanger in France advertise that they use only flour from specific mills that are known for producing good flour.

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  2. The best baguettes I have eaten were not in Paris, but in one of your former French colonies, Vietnam. All over Vietnam and consistently excellent. We are fortunate to have many Indo Chinese immigrants in Australia who have opened bakeries.

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  3. Well, running over to Vietnam in the morning for a fresh baguette seems a little over the top. Do they deliver the way our village baker does? Do you think it's the napalm in the air that gives the good flavor? Agent orange? Sorry, don't mean to be snide. I've never been to Vietnam and surely won't ever go in this lifetime. You might have chosen the wrong boulangeries when you were in Paris...

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    1. Fortunately, the Vietnamese came to us.

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    2. You are lucky to get good bread locally. That's one of the things I enjoy about being in France.

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  4. I wonder how many bakeries still use a "starter" from previously risen dough rather than adding yeast each day. I can see that one may get more bread for one's money by choosing the ordinaire, but I would pick a tradition. Of course sitting ere in the middle of Texas, I can only dream of having such a choice. BTW, I still dream of real San Francisco sourdough. What was the name of that famous bakery?

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    1. Some bakers do use a starter saved from previously risen dough. The starter is called levain, where yeast is levure. Pain au levain is not hard to find in France, and it's not as "sour" as San Francisco sourdough bread. Was the SF bakery called Boudin? The breads we liked best in the SF area were made at Acme bakery in Berkeley. The Acme baker, Steve Sullivan once did a show with Julia Child in her Baking with Julia series and it was very interesting and informative. It's on YouTube here.

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  5. My vote goes with tradition, but I'm happy with all breads in France.

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    1. We are lucky to have several bakers who make excellent tradition, campagne, and other breads in the Saint-Aignan area. That includes our village baker who has the delivery service. I've seen photos of the baguettes you make and they are beautiful and surely delicious.

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  6. I was glad to see that I guessed right when I picked the one on the left as tradition. It just looks like what I'd expect from a good French baguette. The one on the right looks like what I'd expect from a mediocre American bakery. And thanks for the info about tradition vs. ordinaire. I've often gotten the tradition, probably because it usually looks the best. I don't know if I've ever noticed "ordinaire" on signs. Maybe if it's "ordinaire" the boulangerie won't list anything but "baguette," but will say "Baguette tradition" when that's what it is.

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    1. I think you are right, Bob. The denomination "ordinaire" is not used by bakers, but that's what people call the non-traditional baguette and what I ask for when our bread delivery person comes by. Actually, there are two kinds of "ordinary" baguettes: moulée et non-moulée. The non-moulée baguette has a crusty bottom because it is cooked directly on the stone or brick floor of the oven. The baguette moulée is cooked on a metal pan and has a softer bottom crust. A lot of people prefer that kind of bread.

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  7. Our local bakery does several kind of baguettes. One of which is called 'Baguette de la Loire'. It's excellent and reminds me of the 'Traditions' I had when visiting the Loire Valley.

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  8. Regarding Andrew's comment - our favorite local place where we buy our baguettes is a Vietnamese bakery. The baguette is as good as anything we've had in France. We feel lucky.

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    1. I vaguely knew about the high quality of Vietnamese bread. It makes sense, because of the historical ties between France and Vietnam. When Walt and I lived in Washington DC, the best "French" bread we found was baked by a Malian baker whose shop was not far from our apartment, over near Eastern Market on Capitol Hill. Sorry I was so snarky with Andrew.

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  9. I like French bread, in France. I'm one of those who has a problem (mild, to be sure) with gluten and don't generally eat bread in the US. But in France, no problem. Thought it was just me, but then I heard from several other people who've had the same experience. Perhaps the good difference is in the way the wheat is grown, or the lack of additives in the bread, or the full rising?

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  10. They've got another kind at our bakery: Bel Arome.
    All bread has less salt in it that it used to, and we can taste the difference. It's just not as tasty.
    Emm, I've been seeing stories on the internet that what many have taken for gluten intolerance is really an allergic reaction to a pesticide sprayed onto wheat in the US right before harvest because it dries out the wheat germs and make the field more harmonious for harvesting.

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    1. That's fascinating about gluten intolerance. I know, and hear about, so many people who claim they are gluten intolerant, and I often wonder what has happened to cause that. Is it increased awareness, or something about the way wheat is now grown? I'll have to look into the pesticide issue.

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  11. Bob, I've heard all manner of theories. It may be that bread isn't made as much in the traditional way as earlier, or have to do with the rising time. Or it could be that the food chain is now doused in chemicals, and people are reacting.

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    1. Emm, do you have to avoid pasta also?

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