French bread is a journey of the senses. You see the golden brown color. You feel the heat of a baguette fresh out of the oven. You smell its mouth-watering scent. You hear the crust cracking as you tear off a piece. And last but not least: You taste the subtle aromas of a bread that is crunchy and soft in all the right places. There’s a reason why the iconic baguette is in the running for UNESCO World Heritage status.
Making bread is a straightforward process. It requires just four ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. It also only takes four manufacturing stages: kneading, fermentation, shaping, and baking. Yet not all bread is created equal, something that Damien Dedun, who received France’s top baker award in 2017, and whose baguette was voted the best in Paris in 2022, knows well.
The four principles of good bread
“Good bread should have an appearance that makes you want to eat it,” Dedun says. “That means golden, with a shiny crust and a creamy, airy inside”. When it comes to taste, “you should be able to detect the aromas of wheat and fermentation,” he explains.
The color is the quickest way to judge the quality of the bread. “Homemade artisan bread can be recognized by a red tint, which is due to the caramelization of the dough. The sugars contained in the flour must be broken down to obtain this color, and the dough needs to have fermented for a long time,” Dedun says. Bread that comes frozen from a factory doesn’t have this tint because “industrial bread makers just use more yeast and bread improvers to speed up the process.” This makes the bread less colorful and less flavorful.
Even though bread seems like an easy, everyday food, there is a lot of work behind each loaf. Each batch takes five hours to make – which is why the best bakers start working in the middle of the night. “The longer the baker takes to make the bread, the longer it will remain fresh. This is a sign of good work from the baker,” Dedun says.
Good bread: an endangered product
Unfortunately, despite how much the French love their bread, bread-making traditions are at risk in France. Each year, 1,200 bakeries close, in large part due to competition from cheaper supermarkets and chain stores. Bakers are forced to cut costs, endangering the quality of their loaves. “In my opinion, there are very few artisans who truly master baking,” Dedun says. “Most cut corners by buying ready-made compound flours stuffed with additives.”
As organic and natural foods have started coming back into fashion, however, there has also been a mindset change among the new generation of bakers. “There is a growing awareness, and an increasing number of young people are motivated to relearn how to achieve fermentation by natural leavening, which is essential to making good bread,” Dedun says.
How to find the best bread in Paris: Trust the locals
The best way for tourists to find good bread is to look online and read reviews, Dedun says. The French take their bread seriously, so reading what the locals have to say about their boulangeries is a great way to find amazing bread.
However, you don’t have to resort to technology if you’d rather not. To find out if a bakery is worthy of your hard-earned money, look for any place with a line outside in the morning or in the evening. A busy bakery is usually a good one. The French are more than happy to wait for half an hour for good bread – and so should you.
Where to find the best baguette in Paris
Find Dedun’s celebrated baguette at Bakery Frédéric Comyn at 88 Rue Cambronne, 75015 Paris, France. The bakery is open daily from 7 AM to 8 PM.