A baguette is a long thin loaf of French bread that is commonly made from basic lean dough (the dough, though not the shape, is defined by French law). It is distinguishable by its length and crisp crust.
A baguette has a diameter of about 5 or 6 centimetres (2 or 2⅓ in) and a usual length of about 65 centimetres (26 in), although a baguette can be up to a metre (39 in) long.
The word “baguette” was not used to refer to a type of bread until 1920, but what is now known as a baguette may have existed well before that. The word, derived from the Italian bacchetta, simply means “wand” or “baton”, as in baguette magique (magic wand), baguettes chinoises (chopsticks), or baguette de direction (conductor’s baton).
Though the baguette today is often considered one of the symbols of French culture viewed from abroad, the association of France with long loaves predates any mention of it. Long, if wide, loaves had been made since the time of King Louis XIV, long thin ones since the mid-eighteenth century and by the nineteenth century some were far longer than the baguette: “… loaves of bread six feet long that look like crowbars!” (1862); “Housemaids were hurrying homewards with their purchases for various Gallic breakfasts, and the long sticks of bread, a yard or two in length, carried under their arms, made an odd impression upon me.” (1898)
Manufacture and styles
The “baguette de tradition française” is made from wheat flour, water, yeast, and common salt. It does not contain additives, but it may contain up to 2% broad bean flour, up to 0.5% soya flour, and up to 0.3% wheat malt flour.
While a regular baguette is made with a direct addition of baker’s yeast, it is not unusual for artisan-style loaves to be made with a pre-ferment or “poolish”, “biga” or other bread pre-ferments to increase flavor complexity and other characteristics, as well as the addition of whole-wheat flour, or other grains such as rye.