What about baguettes?

Reader Claire writes:

Hi Joe! I’ve always heard that baguettes were originally called “Vienna bread.” Does that make them part of the viennoiserie?

Nice question, Claire. It would make a certain amount of sense. After all baguettes are the definitive light and fluffy bread, and more than that they absolutely require a steam oven. However they are not technically part of the viennoiserie. It’s true that once upon a time most oblong, fluffy white loaves were known as “Vienna bread.” However in some places — like Denmark — “Vienna bread” refers to laminated dough. It just goes to show the amazing reach and influence of the Viennese baking tradition.

As for when exactly the baguette arrived in Paris (for indeed it’s a high-tech city bread, not a country bread) that’s something of a mystery.

10 thoughts on “What about baguettes?”

  1. The baguette is first mentioend officially in Franc in 1920. But very similar breads already existed in the eighteenth century and almost exactly the same in the latter half of the nineteenth.

    “Vienna breads” have never been baguettes; only some how are made in the same shape, hence the confusion. Vienna bread is made with some milk in the batter; not the baguette.

  2. There may be some regional issues to consider. When I was a boy in Boston we called the oblong crusty Italian loaf with pointy ends and a large slash down the middle “Vienna Bread” but if it had sesame seeds or was any other shape than we called it “Italian Bread”. Upon moving to the West coast, oblong crusty Italian loaf was called “Italian bread” or “French bread” and the kind wiht sesame seeds was “Sicilian bread”. Being partly Sicilian I was always confused about being referred to as having “Italian ancestry” and living in the Italian neighorhood and worshpping at the Italian church. Nonni would be spinning in her grave, I suspect, if she had spoken enough English to know that she was being called Italian. I worked that out over the years, but to this day I’m still a little confused about bread names.

    1. Interesting, isn’t it, how so often these distinctions come down to matters of simple presentation. I noticed much the same thing in Chicago, a town that also has it’s share of Italian, German, Austrian and French bakeries (in addition to many others). A sidelong vent can do a lot!

      Cheers and thanks!

      – Joe

    2. Here in Italy, bread varies a lot from region to region: you can tell the difference between a tuscan bread (not salted, white 0 flour), an emilian bread (with lard, white 0 flour), a pugliese bread (with salt, durum wheat flour) and so on and so forth.
      I’m live in Marche so I cannot tell for sure, but the sicilian bread sold here is actually covered in sesame seeds.
      Hope it helps!

  3. Oh, in a flash of ancient memory I now remember the difference between the so-called Vienna and French bread of my childhood: Vienna had one long slash leghtwise, and French had several slashes at an angle. I don’t remember a difference in taste… but somehow they were totally different breads!

  4. Steam oven:

    I’m familiar with the various techniques of introducing steam into a home oven, including one I learned from Julia Child that required heating a brick and dropping it into a pan of water in the oven. (I now use a squirt bottle three times in the first ten minutes — or just bake in a casserole.)

    However, do you know of any kit or attachment that would add real steam capacity to a (high end) home oven? Given the increasing popularity of home bread baking, it’s a wonder that there isn’t something available. Or maybe there is .

    1. Hi Tereza! Excellent question. I myself have wondered why there isn’t such a thing available in high-end equipment stores. But alas I’ve never heard of any such thing. Proofing/warming boxes are now pretty common in expensive kitchen installations. Why not steam ovens? I simply do not know. It’s a home cooking advance waiting to be invented!

      – Joe

  5. When you use Child’s recipe, you are, however unconsciously, giving a nod to August Zang (though originally the Viennese bakers used to quite simply swab their ovens with a wet rag, leaving the water to vaporize).

    Hard to reproduce exactly what happens in a steam oven at home – the professional ovens are closed tighter, and have a slanted floor to encourage the falling of the vapor. Never mind pipes in some cases that actually produce the steam. The method has met many refinements since Zang introduced it to Paris.

    As for why no one has come up with a home kit for doing this, that may be what entrepreneurs call an opportunity, no?

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