After a week in Paris, I finally did something in the true Parisian way: I went out before breakfast to get fresh bread at the boulangerie. I passed other bakeries along the way, but I was headed to the promised land of bread, the Eric Kayser Boulangerie on Rue Monge. The line was out the door but moved quickly. “Un baguette et un croissant, s’il vous plait.” I was getting the croissant because I’d realized that I hadn’t actually eaten a croissant since I arrived in Paris, and that seemed like sacrilege. But I was really here for the baguette.
The Kayser baguette is unlike any other bread. Which is to say, it is sublime. The crust is crackly-crispy, with just a little chew to it, and the inside is pillowy soft. And it tastes like bread should – a real, earthy, wheaty taste. The “end” of the baguette – called le croûton or le quignon in French and so often thrown away from ordinary loaves – is the most prized morsel. But you have to eat a baguette the same day you buy it. Like Cinderella’s pumpkin coach, the magic ends at midnight and, even if you buy a fresh loaf late in the day, by morning it will be stale.
Madame handed me my baguette and croissant, and oh, mon dieu!, the bread was still hot, straight out of the oven. As I walked out into the street, as if on cue, church bells nearby starting ringing clamorously. I lasted half a block before I gave in and – also in the true Parisian way – ripped off le croûton. Scientifically speaking, baguettes may actually taste best this way: eaten straight out of the bag. As far as the baguette and I are concerned, it needs no butter or jam, just my undivided attention.
I ate the croissant, too, once I got home, and it was aesthetically and structurally perfect, but it paled in comparison to the baguette. I had to have just one more chunk of bread, and then another. As the baguette cooled, I finally forced myself to set aside the remainder – just slightly less than half of its original size – for lunch. It would not survive to see the next morning.