Once each year, more than a hundred freshly baked baguettes from boulangeries across the city make their way to a single room to be tasted, prodded, sniffed and listened-to by the grandees of Parisian bread.
Baguettes that make it to the top of the list have just the right airiness, goût, aroma, soft interior and perfect crusts that sing in a crackly, pop way when torn apart. The baker of the very best not only gets the award of La Meilleure Baguette de Paris and an elegant gold window sign announcing the ascent of Bread Olympus, but also supplies the President with his daily baguette.
Bakers from the 18th arrondissement took home the award for the past several years, so the 2013 & 2014 winners (Au Paradis du Gourmand and Aux Délices du Palais) were a bit of a surprise: located almost directly across the city in the 14th. The center of bread nirvana may be shifting south. I tried both and the baguette from Au Paradis Gourmand had a much richer flavor than that of Aux Délices. I wonder what the president thinks. The boulangeries are about 10 blocks from each other so you can do a side by side test.
Au Paradis Gourmand isn’t the kind of bakery that lures you in with historic painted glass signs or straw and linen baskets waiting for their next rough of dough. It does a brisk after-school business in candy, and looks a bit like a franchise.
The baguette I bought was still warm from the oven, with a perfect caramely, deeply browned crust I couldn’t resist squeezing all the way to the first cafe I could find, just to hear it sing. That didn’t work out so well as, like a roll of plastic bubble wrap, at some point there’s nothing left to pop. But before I got there, I tore off a piece and it was delicious.
Take a look here to see the baker, Ridha Khadher with a huge smile. Khadher is originally from Tunisia, and several of the recent winners of the best baguette crown have been first or second generation immigrants. In a city that at times bristles with ethnically charged politics or violence, the baguette competition has showcased the talents of immigrants in this most Parisian of skills.
Au Paradis Gourmand, 156 Rue Raymond Losserand, 75014
Aux Délices du Palais, 60 Boulevard Brune, 75014
Looking for baguettes ?
Paris by Mouth has a comprehensive list of the winners and runners-up for the past few years. I love wandering all over Paris to try bread, but if that’s not your thing, go to your local bakery. Never know what you might discover.