When it comes to baguettes, Australia is a lawless country. Unlike France, where there are rules regulating the quality of bread and up until recently, limiting the holidays taken by bakers, there is no governing body dictating quality control – no rolling pin-wielding bread vigilantes roaming the streets.
Introduced in the early 1990s, the baguette laws state that for any place to righty call itself a ‘boulangerie’ they must bake bread on the same premises they’re sold and that each baguette must include only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt.
There can be no preservatives or additives, and it can’t be frozen at any stage.
“In Australia, there are no laws at all, so the baker can do whatever it wants,” says French-born baker Stephane Mott. “The baguette that I’m doing here today is what we call in France, 'baguette de tradition Français'."
According to Mott, the biggest difference between a French baguette and some Australian loaves is the absence of sugar, fat, or enhancers.
“We don’t put two per cent fat or two per cent of sugar. My recipe is very simple – it’s no secret – you can find it anywhere on the web. A good baker shares his knowledge.”
Mott opened Label Baguette in Maroubra in Sydney’s eastern suburbs last year, haunted by memories of bad bread when he backpacked around the country as a 20-year-old. He wanted to introduce Australians to the beloved slender loaves of his country.
“Back then, I couldn’t find a good croissant, so I decided when I go back to France, I would become a baker to come back to Australia and set up a small bakery.”
He says that the sliced bread he encountered here in his early 20s was not the “cup of tea” of the French, so he returned to Paris to learn his trade, working first in one of France's most famous mills and then as a commercial baker. 10 years later, he returned with his wife and fresh baking arsenal.
“In France, I was like a firefighter – when all the factories didn’t have the right quality of the product, I was firefighting to get the quality back.”
“In Australia, there are no laws at all, so the baker can do whatever it wants.”
It might sound dramatic, likening bad bread to an inferno. But for many French, buying fresh bread is a twice-daily ritual.
“A baguette only lasts four to six hours,” Mott says. “The best way to eat it is as fresh as possible, that’s why I’m baking up to five times a day.”
For those who aren’t up to inhaling a whole baguette in one sitting, all is not lost.
“If you want to refresh your baguette, just put it in the oven at 350-360 degrees (180 degrees Celsius) for a few minutes,” he tips.
Ingredients aside (Mott favours a French soft wheat over the more glutenous Australian variety), resting times are just as important.
“In my shop, I make the dough at 11am and I bake this dough the next day at 6:30am. So it has a lot of time to rest and develop the aroma and taste of a good baguette."
As well as the lean, lightly crusted, airy-centred baguettes, Label sells waffles, pastries and croissants, made exclusively with French butter, which he says has a higher melting point. It's important, as this stops the butter from melting inside the dough, giving it a superior puff effect.
“I’m also doing two double folds of my croissant dough, not just one,” he says.
And his most important secret of all?
“You must also put a lot of love into what you are baking. People ask me, 'it's not difficult for you to wake up so early in the morning?' and I say, 'no because I love my job and I have the smile of my customer and I'm happy with that.'"
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