Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette

More than six billion baguettes are baked each year in France and UNESCO has now inscribed the tradition in its “intangible cultural heritage” list.

Let them eat bread: the origins of the French baguette
(Photo by Fred TANNEAU / AFP)

The French baguette – one of the country’s most abiding images – was given world heritage status by UNESCO on Wednesday, the organisation announced.

READ ALSO French baguette gets UNESCO world heritage status

Here are some of the more popular theories:

Napoleon’s Bread of War
The oldest tale has the baguette being kneaded by bakers in Napoleon’s army. Less bulky than a traditional loaf, the long slim shape of the baguette made it faster to bake in brick ovens hastily erected on the battlefield.

France’s most famous man of war was preoccupied with getting his men their daily bread.

During his Russian campaign in 1812, he toured the ovens daily to sample the day’s offering and ensure the crusty batons were being distributed regularly, according to historian Philippe de Segur.

He also had portable bread mills sent to occupied Moscow, but the setbacks suffered by the Grande Armee in one of the deadliest military campaigns in history ended his bid to export the doughy staple.

Viennese connection
Another theory has the baguette starting out in a Viennese bakery in central Paris in the late 1830s.

Artillery officer and entrepreneur August Zang brought Austria’s culinary savoir-faire to Paris in the form of the oval-shaped bread that were standard in his country at the time.

According to the Compagnonnage des boulangers et des patissiers, the French bakers’ network, Zang decided to make the loaves longer to make them easier for the city’s breadwomen to pluck from the big carts they pushed through the city’s streets.

Breaking bread
Another theory has the baguette being born at the same time as the metro for the 1900 Paris Exposition.

People from across France came to work on the underground and fights would often break out on site between labourers armed with knives, which they used to slice big round loaves of bread for lunch.

According to the history site, to avoid bloodshed, one engineer had the idea of ordering longer loaves that could be broken by hand.

Early rising
In 1919, a new law aimed to improve the lives of bakers by banning them from working from 10 pm to 4 am.

The reform gave them less time to prepare the traditional sourdough loaf for the morning, marked the widespread transition to what was called at the
time the yeast-based “flute”, which rose faster and was out of the oven in under half an hour.

Standardised at 80 centimeters (30 inches) and 250 grams (eight ounces) with a fixed price until 1986, the baguette was initially the mainstay of wealthy metropolitans, but after World War II became the emblem of all French people.

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Danish chef wants to launch gourmet dining to stratosphere

Danish chef Rasmus Munk wants to take high-end cuisine to the edge of space, with plans to serve up a stratospheric dining experience in 2025, his restaurant said Thursday.

Danish chef wants to launch gourmet dining to stratosphere

“The expedition will take place aboard Space Perspective Spaceship Neptune, the world’s first carbon-neutral spaceship,” Alchemist, the Copenhagen restaurant that has earned Munk two Michelin stars, said in a statement.

“They will dine as they watch the sunrise over the Earth’s curvature” at an altitude of 100,000 feet (30,000 metres) above sea level, it said.

For $495,000 per ticket, six tourists will embark on a six-hour journey in a pressurised space capsule that will rise into the stratosphere in a hydrogen-filled “SpaceBalloon”.

The 32-year-old chef and self-confessed space enthusiast will be joining the trip.

READ ALSO: World-famous Copenhagen restaurant to close after 2024

Munk promises “dishes inspired by the role of space exploration during the last 60 years of human history, and the impact it has had on our society — both scientifically and philosophically”.

His menu will be restricted only by his inability to cook food over an open flame.

Many of the ingredients will be prepared on the ship from which the capsule is launched, according to Alchemist, which is ranked fifth among the world’s restaurants in 2023 according to the World’s Best 50 Restaurants guide.

In recent decades, Denmark has emerged as a gastronomical powerhouse on terra firma, with the Copenhagen restaurants Noma and Geranium both having held the title of the world’s best restaurant.