Of all the bogus baguette-origin stories I’ve heard, one stands out as being especially persuasive. The reason: because it’s so mundane. It tempts you to think: this is so un-exciting it HAS to be true. It goes like this: the aftermath of World War I saw an intense labor shortage on the Continent in general. Because labor was so scarce and there was so much work to be done, a law was passed in France in 1920 prohibiting workers — any workers — from going to work before 4 AM (presumably so bosses couldn’t force their employees to work 12-hour-plus days). This made traditional slow-rising boule breads impossible to produce, so bakers turned to the baguette which could be prepared in just a few hours’ time.
The reality, of course, is that it wouldn’t be difficult at all for a commercial baker to time a rise (especially a slow rise) so he/she wouldn’t have to go to work before 4 in the morning (in fact many bakers do that today). Be it a fast or slow-rising bread, naturally leavened or “spiked” with extra yeast, good bakers are masters at fiddling with time. And anyway, as previously discussed, part of the point of the baguette is that batches can be made repeatedly throughout the day. So the base assumption that this story makes — that baguettes are a morning-only bread — is fundamentally wrong.
If one thing defines the French, at least to me, it’s their commitment to their food traditions. I simply can’t imagine them sitting still for a law (one that’s conveniently never documented in any version of the story) that deprived them of a dearly held foodstuff. Nope, the explanation for the rise of the baguette is more mundane even than the Labor Law Story. It’s simply that people liked it. How boring is that?