The baguette is a long, thin roll of baked bread that originated in France. It has become an iconic symbol of the country, particularly associated with Paris. A baguette is characterised by its long length -- usually about 60 cm (24 inches), but it can be as long as 1 metre (3 feet 4 inches) -- and is freshly baked in bakeries all over France. Its popularity has spread all around the world.
The exact origin of the baguette is a little unclear. Long loaves have been produced in France for centuries, although the word baguette -- referring to bread -- did not come into common use until 1920. It is thought that the baguette is a descendant of the Austrian bread "pain viennois," which is long and baguette-like. However, it is more likely associated with an Austrian officer who introduced the steam-fired oven to Paris, allowing for the creation of the bread with its crisp, clean crust and fresh, soft centre. Laws in 1920 forbid bakers from working before 4 a.m., which encouraged them to make the easy-to-make baguette for breakfast customers.
Making baguettes is relatively simple, and that is a significant factor in their enduring popularity. They are made from wheat flour, water, yeast and common salt -- and do not contain any additives. The mixture is mixed together and left over night. Then, it is kneaded and laid out in the traditional lengthy shape that symbolises the bread, and cut with the traditional slices on top. Baguettes bake quickly, in less than two hours, in a steam-fired oven and are left to cool. Within half an hour, they are ready to be eaten.
The baguette is usually eaten at breakfast or lunchtime since it's best eaten fresh and does not keep very well. They are popularly cut into smaller lengths, sliced in half, and spread with jam or chocolate spreads. They are also filled with filling, such as pate, cheese, bacon, chicken, ham or other small goods or vegetables.
The French are very proud of the baguette, and it is seen as a symbolic part of the proud tradition and reputation of French cuisine. It is traditionally seen in nearly every cafe or bakery across the country around breakfast time, although it can be bought in supermarkets. The dough recipe is codified by French law, and it is illegal to use preservatives in French bread. In fact, the price of baguettes was governed by legislation up until recently.