The baguettes at Sweet Lorraine's in Charlotte, North Carolina are made to order.

The French baguette is possibly the most iconic loaf of bread in the world. The image of baguettes in the basket of a bicycle conjures images and visions of romance and picnics in most minds. Whether as table bread for large meals or used for sandwiches or on its own as a snack, the baguette’s versatility makes it a winner. Whether you do large volumes, wholesale or small trays for special order, bakeries need to make the baguette a staple of their production.

Some bakers—especially in France—adhere to strict specifications for baguettes, but in America bakers have a little more room to play with size, weight and formulation. An official, clear and precise definition of the baguette does not exist in the States and a baguette can be defined as the long, skinny loaf the Parisian image portrays.

Big business

Formica Bros. Bakery in Atlantic City, NJ, does between 35,000 and 40,000 baguettes a month total. This includes an Italian handcrafted Atlantic City sub bread as it fits the dimensions and is used for both sandwiches and table bread. These numbers represent approximately 30% of Formica Bros. business, according to Michele Giampaolo, marketing and sales director for Formica Bros. Bakery.

Formica Bros. operates a retail store at one of its manufacturing sites giving it the ability to sell baguettes to the public, other retailers and foodservice operations. This large volume of production provides the opportunity to make a variety of baguettes—and “specialty”—relative to market demand and functionality when chefs prepare menus and special events.

“To us, specialty is anything that needs to be retarded overnight,” Giampaolo says. Included in the 11 varieties and specialty baguettes that Formica Bros. produces are: Asiago, caramelized onion, roasted garlic, multigrain, semolina, French, cranberry walnut raisin and a plain. “All were developed based upon analyzing food trends and what the market was whispering as potential trends,” Giampaolo says. By knowing the trends and potential trends in the food industry, Formica meets the needs of its customers, both wholesale and retail, in a real time atmosphere.

As a wholesale operation, Formica Bros. bakes an average of 50,000 pieces of bread a day to fill that day’s existing orders. “We are unlike other bakeries that inventory breads,” Giampaolo says. “We do not, as our breads are made to be service ready, so that they reach the customer as fresh as possible the day they are to be used.” This strategy keeps waste for Formica Bros. to a minimum.

“Since we bake to order we have very little waste,” Giampaolo says. “Most of our bread that is left over is turned into bread crumbs, which we sell. We do not have a staling issue because we do not keep stock of our breads.”

Low volume production

It probably comes as no surprise that the baguette has not gained the popularity in Charlotte, NC, that it has in Paris. Sweet Lorraine’s has been in business for over 18 months and big baguette business hasn’t caught on yet. “We really don’t do a tremendous amount of baguette business,” says Christine Guerriero, co-owner of Sweet Lorraine’s in Charlotte. “We do bread, and they’re delicious, but it’s just not a huge part of my business.”

Sweet Lorraine’s makes only about a dozen baguettes a week. “I expected that it would be bigger, but it just hasn’t happened yet,” Guerriero says. But as a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City, Guerriero has not completely given up on the classic French baguette. Being a baker and operating a full-service bakery, Guerriero and Sweet Loraine’s still bake baguettes, just on a smaller scale and with a strategy, similar to Formica Bros., that works for them now.

“We’ll make them (baguettes) to order,” Guerriero says. “I have people who will call in and order ahead of time, and we’ll have it ready for them.” Bakery customers often order custom items ahead of time, such as birthday cakes or things for events, and Sweet Lorraine’s is no different. “I have cases filled with stuff, but we take a lot of custom orders,” Guerriero says.

Baguettes get baked the morning of the day the customer picks them up. This ensures that the customers get the freshest bread possible for their event or meal. “As long as they give me a day’s notice so we can make sure the poolish is made,” Guerriero says. “That way, we can actually bake the bread that morning. That’s how we’re doing it now instead of wasting.”

Whether you do large volume and are able to wholesale or very low volume and made to order retail, the French baguette should be a staple of any bakery’s repertoire. BOB SIMS