It’s an annual tradition that’s certainly not taken lightly. Every year since 1994, a panel of judges gathers in the French capital to select the best baguette in Paris.
The judges range from professional bakers and journalists to everyday citizens, selected randomly from an internet-based pool. The baguettes, which must measure between 55 and 65 cm (21.6 to 25.6 inches) and weigh between 250 and 300 grams, are numbered for anonymity and judged based on five main criteria: the quality of the bake, the mie (soft interior), the flavor, the aroma and the appearance.
Judges give each entry in the competition a grade between zero and four, shortlisting about 30 lucky bakers’ creations from a much larger pool.
The winner takes away 4,000 euros and gets to serve as the official supplier of baguettes to the Elysées Palace in Paris, seat of the French President.
In 2020, the winner of the Concours de la meilleure baguette de Paris is Taieb Sahal, head baker (chef boulanger) at Maison Julien – Les saveurs de Pierre Demours in the city’s quiet 17th arrondissement. The 26-year old reportedly “jumped with joy” when he learned the news, according to Le Parisien.
I decided to trek out to the the area recently to get a taste of the baguette that somehow managed to stand out among dozens of others. Would its winning qualities shine through, or would I find myself disappointed?
Sadly, the award-winning baker wasn’t there when I arrived, foiling my plan to meet him and watch him work his magic behind the scenes. Spontaneity is rarely a friend in these matters. I should have called ahead.
But even though it was already past mid-day, I managed to snag what looked like a perfectly-baked, tantalizingly golden baguette tradition, for the reasonable price of 1 Euro 20.
Tasting the Prize-Winning Baguette: My Verdict
It may be a gourmet item, but it remains affordable. Impressively, the bakery hasn’t hiked the price since its star baker took away the top prize.
I settled in at the nearby Square des Batignolles (side note– one of my favorite small parks in the capital)– to taste the baguette that the judges had found to achieve the (literally) golden mean.
Trying to put myself in the shoes of the judges (but knowing I lacked their total objectivity), I assessed the crusty wonder, which I had asked to have cut in half for portability.
Bake and appearance: The baguette is well-proportioned, pleasingly golden and of the “right” thickness (some are simply too thick and ponderous, with a mushy interior and endless crust).
When you tap at it, its crustiness is apparent, but it yields a bit when you bend it, suggesting a slight chewiness. It’s been lightly dusted with flour and this makes it all the more tempting. So far, so good…
The aroma: This baguette is probably a few hours old by now, but it still gives off a divine whiff of freshly baked bread. The sort that arrests you in your steps when you pass the window of an exceptional bakery.
(At this point, pigeons clamor at my feet, lucky enough to peck at whatever crumbs fell as I tore off a chunk. Did they know this was the year’s winning baguette? These are savvy Parisian pigeons, after all…)
Mie (interior): Taking a first bite, I take note that the interior is chewy and tender but not mushy or overly glutinous. It has a pleasing “spring” to it, yet its relative humidity and chewiness compared to the “bite” of the crusty exterior offers an excellent– and addictive– contrast.
Flavor: The best baguettes offer complex flavors that come from combining different flours, and the essential addition of a bit of good seasalt. This one didn’t just taste of yeast; the native flavors of an excellent wheat flour really came through, with a slight nuttiness.
My verdict: This is a baguette that absolutely deserves its acclaim. Paris has an incredible number of fantastic bakeries, so it’s hard to say why one wins over another.
Personal tastes do differ. I brought the other half to my best friend, and she said it was very good. But she still preferred the baguette from her corner bakery (one thats too thick and soft inside for my own liking).
What’s certain? This is something like the platonic ideal of a baguette (according to my own tastes). It’s worth making a trek out to the 17th arrondissement for.
Pastries & Other Specialties at Maison Julien
I couldn’t quite leave the bakery without trying at least one of their alluring patisseries, even though it’s a truism that the best bakers aren’t necessarily the best patissiers, and vice-versa. What can I say? It was simply too tempting to leave with more than a lone baguette.
Alongside my solo bread-tasting session, I also (ungracefully) enjoyed one of the most delicious réligieuses au chocolat I’ve had in a long time.
Named after a nun due to its appearance (the “collar” of cream can be related to the white part of the habit), this is similar to a chocolate eclair, but bigger and more indulgent.
This was quite the indulgent treat, and I felt somewhat obscene eating it on a park bench without utensils, as passers-by glanced my way and more pigeons begged at my feet.
Read related: The Best Crepes and Galettes in Paris
The choux puff pastry in two layers– one larger at the base and one smaller at the top– was perfectly baked, without the eggy, “omelette” quality some have when overcooked. Inside, generous and pleasingly cold chocolate creme patissier threatened to overflow.
The top part of the réligieuse was decorated with a coffee-cream “collar” that beautifully complimented the chocolate, as well as the caramel notes of the choux pastry.
In short, it was a marvel. The strangers in the park won’t remember me, anyway.
Getting There & Contact Details
While it’s located in a quiet neighborhood in the 17th, Maison Julien- Les Saveurs de Pierre Demours is located just a few blocks from the Arc de Triomphe and the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, so a stop there can be easily achieved if you plan to visit these major attractions.
(See related: The 10 Best Things to See in Paris on a First Visit).
- Address: 13 rue Pierre Demours, 75017 Paris
- Tel: +33 (0)1 45 72 46 78
- Metro: Ternes or Porte de Champerret