La Baguette et les Tartines

La Baguette et les Tartines

Consider the baguette.

Or rather, consider the tartine de baguette, a popular breakfast item in which a piece of baguette — preferably fresh and bought moments before, still warm, from the corner boulangerie, but if nobody really feels up to going out before breakfast day-old baguette will do fine, “freshened up” on top of the toaster — is sliced in two, each half spread with your choice of butter and/or jam and/or honey (the combination of butter and jam and honey is unheard of but might be worth a try).

Now, let me stress the important part of that last paragraph: sliced in two. Therein lies my problem. See, the two sides of the baguette were not created equal.

On the top side we have the crust, goldie blond (not for nothing do the French say blond comme les blés, blond as wheat), optionally dusted with flour, ravishing to the tastebuds and texturally diverse, with crunchy peaks and soft creases. In one word: delectable.

On the underside, we have the lesser twin, the one that’s always been less bright and less attractive, the one the parents have always sworn they loved just the same, with just a little too much insistence. That side of the baguette is flat, and it draws its colors in shades of beige and grey. It is drier and harder — if you’re not careful it will scrape the roof of your mouth — and if the bread is a bit too cooked (even though you asked for une baguette pas trop cuite), it will have a slightly charred taste.

However, unless I throw away half of the baguette (unthinkable, you heathen!) or find someone who favors the bottom side to share my morning tartine with (and that seat is already taken), I cannot have one side without the other. Impossible. They are a team of two, an inseparable couple, and if the top side bakes to perfection, it is only because it can rely on its partner to support it, do the less gratifying work and act as foil. Books and movies are filled to the brim with examples of this — Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Batman and Robin, Spirou and Fantasio.

So tartines de baguette were always an ambivalent experience for me. I would eat the bottom tartine first, so I could enjoy the top one afterwards. Or I would alternate bites of one and the other, making sure I finished with a top bite. And always, that tough decision to make: which spread would go on which side?

But life is full of tiny epiphanies, and I had one on a recent morning as I was having breakfast at Coquelicot, a favorite bread bakery on the Place des Abbesses where they have a few tables and serve a nice and simple fare. The breakfast menu I had chosen included a demi-baguette, with fresh butter and homemade berry jam.

The baguette came sliced. But, and here’s what prompted the epiphany, it was sliced vertically. Not horizontally, vertically, thus creating two exactly equal tartines, each of them with its fair share of top and bottom, so that each and every bite of your tartines included the flavor and texture of both. Better yet — and this has been taste-tested and verified under strict scientific conditions — a fascinating phenomenon occurs with this slicing technique, making the whole thing taste like a top tartine. Revolutionary.

Breakfast will never be the same again.

  • ginparis

    Well, that’s just down right genius! Who knew?

  • So simple, yet so effective.

  • Ana

    Well Clotilde, you just made me go on a trip down memory lane. I used to love the big thin hardcovered books with the adventures of Spirou et Fantasio, and of course the beloved Marsupilami. When I was young, in Africa, I owned about 15 or 20 of the collection. Sadly, it stayed behind. Wonder if they still make new adventures of the trio.

  • Your Papounet

    The trio got separated. For copyright and ownership reasons, the Marsupilami leads an independent life (because Franquin invented the character).

    Spirou and Fantasio are still with the Dupuis publisher (they were NOT Franquin’s invention) . Currently drawn by Tome et Janry. See also the character those two guys invented, “Le Petit Spirou”… Delightful. Clotilde used to like him very much in the old days…

  • the yin and yang of life,
    even the crust of rice is savoured

  • estelle

    grand merci pour cette pépite pleine d’humour et de fantaisie, aux arômes de beurre, de pain croustillant et de café frais…

  • Saffron

    Oh revolutionary indeed! I will have to use this technique next time!

  • Hande

    But I DO love and prefer the unserside!

  • Adele

    I’m an undersider, too, I must confess. I especially love the underside of bagels and have been known to slice both a poopy-seed and sesame-seed bagel in half so I can have two bottoms :~).

    Tartine is one of my favorite breakfast treats, eaten at work while I lean over the plate to avoid crumbs in my keyboard.

  • Great Stone Face

    Bread + toppings are amazing in that way. Consider sliced bread topped with butter. Two slices laid on top of each other as a bread ‘n’ butter sandwich cannot compare in flavor to a single slice of buttered bread folded over itself. It makes no sense, but it’s true. Must be mystical.

  • Alex

    How clever, why didn’t anyone think of that before? Seriously. The best ideas are usually the most simple and most terribly obvious. I love any part of a baguette. I like ripping them apart and eating them with milky coffee. The bread isn’t mushy, it just feels like a soft sponge full of sweet milky coffee. Alright, I’m hitting the bakery tomorrow morning.

  • Alisa

    So great, this is amazing – I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that either! This will revolutionize my breakfasts, to say nothing of diffusing any tiffs between my girlies. And this may come as little surprise – I also request “une baguette pas trop cuite” a ma boulangerie. :)

  • jerusha

    here in nyc at pain quotidien, when you get an “order” of baguette, they give you several vertical daigonal slices–it is quite genius, yes. do they do this at PQ in paris? btw, i know you like it there b/c i read about it in your budget traveler article, which i will be saving until my next trip, whenever that may be. merci beaucoup clothilde!

  • MAS

    All and good about slicing the baguette vertically, but doesn’t that leave you with less surface area on which to spread your topping?? I suppose one could lay it on thicker, but I don’t know. The surface of a tartine is very important.

  • kudzu

    This information is almost as sweet as the photograph of the lily of the valley (as we call it here). I love it when we discover something so simple and so meaningful in a complicated universe.

  • SSS

    This one was hilarious. Who would have thought of baguettes and the lesser child.

  • having your baguette and eating it too! thanks for this- very funny. I call those kind of epiphanies “Ah-Ha! Moments”

    *Lauren in Tokyo

  • Rainey

    Real genius is finding the synthesis between the simple, the elegant and the effective! It’s also very, very sweet! Bravo à the good and creative people at Coquelicot!

    Your entry reminds me of a very different approach to the hard, crusty bread issue. Some people construct a savory sandwich and then wrap it up and place a heavy object on it. They let this sit so that all the moist elements of the filling pervade and soften the bread and become more of an integrated thing. Not unlike the Italian panzanella in a sandwich form.

    NOT a breakfast item but just another thought and a different approach.

  • I must admit to the fact that I’ve been eating tartines like this for years… I could never quite decide which side I preferred.

    One morning, in a fit of hysteria (and, why lie, extreme lateness for work), I cut the baguette the “wrong” way.

    Of course, have been given grief about it from time to time, but I don’t care. It is simple and simply the best way to go!

  • Jenji

    Salut Clotilde,
    Ah, what a helpful revelation. But next, can you illuminate the secret French crumb-less baguette-eating method? My friends and I are always amazed at how French people seem to be able to eat a slice of baguette without getting crumbs everywhere… while we Americans end up with clumsy rings of crumbs all around our plates. What’s the secret? :)
    Congratulations on your travel article!

  • Yes, I too would like to know the secret of crumbfree eating.

    I usually prefer the bottoms of baguettes, because unless they are very well baked the peaks are hard as diamond and cut my palate.

  • caro

    We call them a blinding flash of the obvious –

    just found this site.

    It’s fantastique!

  • marie

    This IS the ultimate tartine!!!
    It has to be sliced right right htrough vertically, otherwise it’s not good!
    Bless the tartine, hip hip hooray for the vertical tartine!

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