Best Baguettes in Paris: Let Them Forget about Cake!

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Pascal Barillon of Au Levain d'Antan, the winner of the 2011 best baguette in Paris. Photo: Sophie Robichon/Courtesy Mairie de Paris

Daily life in the City of Light holds many challenges, but few are greater than finding the right baguette. When this year’s best baguette in Paris was recently chosen, crowds immediately flooded the winning address (Au Levain d’Antan, 6, rue des Abbesses). They went to check out the loaves of Pascal Barillon, who had entered the competition for 10 years in a row before winning.

What was their response? Just put it this way: everyone has an opinion. Some regulars now claim the prize ruined a perfect place, others find the “best baguette” anything but perfect. Add to that the complex matters of how the clientele is treated, how the place measures up to (lots of) nearby competition—and how Barillon’s leftovers taste the morning after with coffee.

The best baguette in Paris is always down to personal taste. I will never be swayed from my loyalty to Eric Kayser nor my belief (always supported in the press around the date of La Fête du Pain) that baguettes are great for the health, help one stay in shape and protect me from illness.

What defines the best baguette in Paris is always a matter of personal taste

La Fête du Pain.

Over 90 percent of the French population agrees. “Top nutritionists,” wrote the daily Le Parisien recently, “agree every adult should eat one baguette a day.”

Since 1991, this task has gotten easier. That was when the city of Paris went to war against cut-rate bread, rewarding Paris’ best baguette makers with a then-new label: that of artisan boulanger. Many of that era’s pioneers, such as Lionel Poilâne, Michel Moisan and Raoul Lemaire, created delicious breads that made them household names.

Now, they are being followed by another generation—dedicated not just to making Paris’ best baguettes, but also to the cult of bio. Bio means organic and lovingly made with natural starters: funky fermentation systems that use tools like malt and miso. The new stars of the system are ambitious men (and women) whose wares have made a Paris’ best baguette search into something special.

You’re sure to find your own favorite. But I can’t resist recommending:

Maison Kayser

With boulangeries throughout Paris, Maison Kayser has a loyal following

Photo: Steve Sampson.

8, rue Monge, in the 5th Arrondissement (original site).
Although I go to another branch, this is my baker. Every time I go home to London, I take my own bread from here. Not a baguette, although it holds its own against anyone’s. I pack one of the lovely loaves; each will last a week.
Personal fave: Sometimes the pain aux noix; other times, the pain aux figues; last Noel, the pain au curcuma (with turmeric) for foie gras.

Dominique Saibron

Dominique Saibron, a boulangerie in Paris

Photo: Steve Sampson.

77, avenue du Général Leclerc, in the 14th.
This café opened by one of Paris’ premier boulangers benefits from a frontage on the traffic island near the Alésia metro. It’s open on Sundays (as is the adjacent newspaper kiosk). Saibron, who started out in patisserie, is the favorite boulanger of pastry guru Pierre Hermé. He has worked all over town, has counseled Carrefour and is the Pudlo Guide’s best boulanger of 2011. His baguette de maison sells out quickly; in 2010’s Paris best baguette contest, it came third.
Personal faves: The bio pain levain au miel, which lasts up to six days, and the baguette alésiane.

Le Grenier à Pain

Djibril Bodian of Le Grenier à Pain, Abbesses, won last year's best baguette in Paris.

Djibril Bodian of Le Grenier à Pain, Abbesses, won last year's best baguette in Paris. Photo: Courtesy Mairie de Paris.

38, rue des Abbesses, in the 18th.
Part of the rapidly expanding chain (that’s right) of Michel Galloyer, this is the workplace of Djibril Bodian, who beat 162 competitors to gain last year’s best baguette in Paris. Now 34, Bodian is Senegalese but grew up in Seine St.-Denis. He is the son of a baker who refused to let him study mechanics.
Personal fave: Le tradi (I’m not usually sold on the trendy baguette de tradition, a heavier, bio version of the standard baguette; but Bodian’s is creamily nutty, aerated and crusty).

Boulangerie Gontran Cherrier

Boulangerie Gontran Cherrier.

Photo: Courtesy Boulangerie Gontran Cherrier.

22, rue Caulaincourt, in the 18th.
Opened in December by Gontran Cherrier. He may be French baking’s version of Jamie Oliver (watch him on M6 or Cuisine TV), but Cherrier is also the son and grandson of boulangers. Located in Montmartre’s “best bread” triangle, his place is a center for the experimental. Its ceiling boasts retro-colored circles and ingredients here range from curry to lemon and miso.
Personal fave: A fine baguette traditionnelle; a tasty pain de seigle (rye).

Michel Moisan

5, place d’Aligre, in the 12th.
Like Poilâne or Lemaire, “Moisan” is a trademarked loaf. This is in fact the man behind the city’s first bio bakery (which he opened in 1997). His organic baguette and St.-Jean loaf are famous. Plus I love that Moisan calls himself “a publisher of breads.” Although retired, he still supervises his Place d’Aligre—which is his original bakery.
Personal fave: The elegant ficelle apéritif, encrusted with tasty seeds and crystals of salt.

Bread & Roses

7, rue Fleurus, in the 6th.
My favorite of Philippe Tailleur’s two café-bakeries is this one just off the Jardin du Luxembourg. It sells organic, sharply crusty baguettes at the back. The trendy tearoom has no boulangerie sign and exudes the air of a secret seizième hangout.
Personal fave: Ficelle aux raisins de Corinthe.

Des Gâteaux et du Pain

63, blvd Pasteur, in the 15th.
The bio baker here is female. Claire Damon, who was schooled by Pierre Hermé, swears by stone-ground flour and simple black decor. In addition to fab pastries, she offers great all-natural baguettes.
Personal fave: The baguette sésame with sel de Guérande.

Du Pain et des Idées

34, rue Yves Toudic, in the 10th.
This bakery near the canal St.-Martin boasts delicious decor from the Belle Epoque. The man behind it is Christophe Vasseur, who gave up fashion in Hong Kong to chase the best baguette in Paris.
Personal fave: The baguettes are fine but I love the famous pain des amis. Wonderfully flavored with what tastes like chestnut, it is served by Alain Ducasse at the Plaza Athénée.

Related links:

Au Levain d’Antan

Eric Kayser/Maison Kayser

Dominique Saibron

Le Grenier à Pain

Boulangerie Gontran Cherrier

Michel Moisan

Bread & Roses

Des Gâteaux et du Pain

Du Pain et des Idées

La Fête du Pain (A weeklong, or more, celebration held each year since 1996, around May 16. This is the day of St.-Honorius of Amiens, patron saint of bakers and confectioners.)

Editor’s note: Have you ever taken a cooking class in Paris? This is one of the most popular activities for readers of our site. We have three companies we like in Paris.

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