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Supermarket Bakery Baguettes

By amy • • Jan 15th, 2011 • Category: Baked Goods, Supplies, Columns, Pantry Items

There are several reasons why France has such an enviable bread culture, but Shelf Life likes the one about the edict. French law prohibits the use of preservatives in fresh-baked bread, which means that a baguette from the boulangerie enjoys a few perfect hours and then passes its peak. The result is a short bread cycle; loaves replacing loaves very quickly, and consumers adjusting their eating and shopping habits to a staple that is wonderful today but probably stale tomorrow. Here’s the beauty of it all: classic French bread breaks a very big rule of today’s convenience-driven marketplace. A baguette – a real baguette – is not about making our lives easier; it’s about making our lives better.

How it came to do this is interesting. The French have always been keen on long, thinnish loaves of bread (and a myriad of other sizes), but in the middle of the nineteenth century a technological innovation arrived from Germany: the steam oven. These iron decks produced many of the present-day baguette’s defining characteristics: the crisp, lightly glazed crust (the heat melts the surface dextrose); the irregular, hole-strewn interior; and the distinctive taste (part of which is derived from the diagonal slashes on the loaf, which allows gases to work their magic during baking). Some food historians also trace the development of the iconic loaf to a 1920s labour law, which reduced bakery hours. The round, thick bread that was then commonplace for breakfast soon gave way to a long narrow product that was quicker to make.

Et voila. But Canada is a long way from France, and many Canadians are a country mile from a Mom and Pop bakery. Outside large cities (and also in them), chain grocery outlets are a main source of bakery bread. Some of their stock is made in-store; other brands are baked by local suppliers. But is a baguette from Big Dough worth a bite? Shelf Life hit some well-known retailers in search of a loaf of bread with a touch of the beret.

Not willing to settle for crumbs are this week’s expert judges: Nanci Giovanazzo, restaurant consultant; editor/writer Mary Luz Mejia, food communications professional; and food stylist Sandra Watson, at CBC’s Steven and Chris Show; all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every product in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste tested and awarded between zero and five stars.

Brand One

WholeFoods Market
French Baguette

426.14g, $2.49
available at Whole Foods stores
for more information visit

Nanci: A baguette needs a good crust, and this isn’t crusty. Brand One looks dull and tastes dull, with a rubbery texture. There’s really nothing to distinguish it from factory white bread.

Mary Luz: The crumb is tight, which is not what you look for in a baguette; you want to see lots of holes, then you know the yeast has done its work. Basically Brand One is run-of-the-mill white bread posing as a baguette.

Sandra: The thing about good bread is that once you’ve had the right stuff you never forget. I remember standing outside one of the most famous boulangeries in France at 4 in the morning, Le Notre in Paris, and just being in ecstasy over their bread, it was so beautifully made. There’s not much here. Everything about Brand One says ‘mass produced’.

Brand One Total: THREE AND A HALF STARS ***1/2

Brand Two


325g, $2.89
available at Metro Stores
for more information visit

Nanci: An authentic French boulangerie baguette has a kind of terroir. If you look at pasta, for example, authentic Italian pasta is made with eggs, flour, and water that is country-specific, so pasta made in Canada, no matter how rigorous, won’t be the same. It’s a similar situation with baguettes. Brand Two falls way short. It doesn’t taste too bad, but to me it smells processed.

Mary Luz: Brand Two is an anemic looking loaf, and I think it tastes a little plasticky. At first it smelled like cat food – actually it still smells like cat food. Or something else: it reminds me of those synthetic headaches you get when you walk into Payless Shoes.

Sandra: I like this one. It doesn’t have much of a smell, and the appearance is pale, but the taste is familiar and pleasant, and the texture is chewy. I found myself eating the whole slice.

Brand Two Total TEN STARS **********

Brand Three

Boulangerie Premiere Moisson Bakery
French Baguette

275g, $2.89
available at Premiere Moisson Bakeries in Quebec and Metro Stores in Ontario
for more information visit

Nanci: Brand Three looks promising – I would definitely grab this one. The crust is there, nice and solid, and inside you get the traditional type holes in the dough. It tastes lightly nutty, with a little bit of yeast. It ends with a nice finish – it doesn’t just disappear on the palate.

Mary Luz: I hear crusty! It clicks on the plate. This one looks pleasantly rustic, it has a nice aroma, and a chewy texture. It’s the al dente bread – it has the right kind of mouthfeel.  

Sandra: I like the authentic looking colour and shine. The crumb has a baguette-type density, and the flavour has some character. This would be a lovely bread warmed up.

Brand Three Total TWELVE STARS ************

Brand Four

Boulangerie Ace Bakery
White Baguette

350g, $2.79
widely available
for more information visit

Nanci: Very nice crumb and proper bubbles. I enjoyed it dunked in the balsamic vinegar, and it has an inviting aroma. Brand Four is slightly bland but it’s a good carrier for butter or whatever you want to put on it.

Mary Luz: It’s okay. I was hoping to be really wowed by this one, but … no.
It looks fine. The taste is neutral, maybe a bit yeasty. But to me it smells a bit like plastic wrap.

Sandra: There’s a sour note in Brand Four – a trace of something fermented. But I don’t mind that. The yeast is certainly there. The texture is the best part; its chewiness really works.

Brand Six Total NINE AND A HALF STARS *********9 1/2

Results: One baguette stood tall: Premiere Moisson. Irresistibles brand from Metro was not far behind, followed by Ace. Judges were disappointed by the bread from upscale purveyor Whole Foods, which loafed into last place.

Off The Menu: The simplest thing to serve with good bread is also the most sumptuous: butter. We recommend pairing the winning Premiere Moisson baguette with another Shelf Life showdown champion, Ontario’s own Golden Dawn butter. To read the complete butter tasting column visit our archives here.

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