By Ellise Pierce
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(Budget Travel Online) -- Believe it or not, the humble baguette was headed for extinction not long ago. In the 1960s, boulangeries scrapped old-style methods in favor of industrialized baking, and the bread lost its flavor.
But the French came to their senses by 1998. It's now against the law for a boulangerie to make bread by machine (it must be mixed and baked on-site) and good loaves are once again on the rise. In Paris, there's even a Grand Prix de la Baguette to name the best of the year. (Budget Travel's Paris Snap Guide)
At most boulangeries, the least expensive baguette (often referred to as "ordinaire" and costing less than a euro) will not reflect the full talents of the baker. Spring for a baguette "traditionelle" or any of the house's other special loaves. Here are five places to get the very best.
A block west of the Jardins du Luxembourg, Bread & Roses is well-known for its celeb clientele. (Among the frequent customers are actress Catherine Deneuve and designer Inès de la Fressange.) But the nearly two-year-old organic boulangerie is also making a name for itself with its Puissance Dix baguette ($2). Literally translated, the name means "the power of 10," a reference to the 10 flours -- including chestnut, buckwheat, corn and rye --incorporated into the dough. 7 rue de Fleurus, 6th arr., 011-33/1-42-22-06-06. Métro: Notre-Dame-des-Champs.
In the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Le Quartier du Pain turns out eight different kinds of baguettes -- some flavored with olives, herbs or bacon -- six days a week (closed Sundays). In 1997, master baker Frédéric Lalos ---just 26 at the time -- was named one of the best bakers in France. Before Lalos mixes sunflower, flax and sesame seeds into the dough for his Baguette Céréale ($2), he toasts them, to bring out maximum flavor. 74 rue Saint-Charles, 15th arr., 011-33/1-45-78-87-23. Métro: Charles-Michels.
At Le Moulin de la Vierge, a boulangerie housed in a mill built in 1356, Basile Kamir bakes his baguettes in an antique wood-burning oven out back. In 1975, when he bought the place, Kamir introduced his clients to sourdough, a leavening agent now used in an organic wheat baguette called the Flute Bio ($1.75). It's the perfect foil for the artisanal fig, raspberry and clementine jams from Burgundy ($6.25) that are also sold on the premises. 105 rue Vercingétorix, 14th arr., 011-33/1-45-43-09-84. Métro: Pernety.
Anis Bouabsa took over Au Duc de la Chapelle in 2005, and at 27, he's already placed in the Grand Prix de la Baguette. One taste of his Baguette Tzara ($1.25) is an indication why. He doesn't use a levain (sourdough starter), so there's a sweet rather than sour taste, and his dough is kneaded entirely by hand. The result: bread that's light, airy and moist, with a crust that tastes faintly of caramel. 32-34 rue Tristan Tzara, 18th arr., 011-33/1-40-38-18-98. Métro: Marx Dormoy.
The whole-wheat La Monge baguette ($1.25) is the most popular loaf at Eric Kayser, a chain of boulangeries with eight locations in Paris, including the original on rue Monge. The baguette takes 12 hours to produce and uses a secret blend of flours. The La Monge can be found on some of Paris's top tables, including upscale bistro Dominique Bouchet. 8 rue Monge, 5th arr., 011-33/1-44-07-01-42. Métro: Maubert-Mutualité.
© 2006. Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc.
Bread is a serious business in France.