I'm sure 99% of you are familiar with Nancy Silverton, her books, and her bakery, La Brea. Through a lot of hard work and innovation, La Brea has been able to mass produce artisan loaves of every description. The machinery handles the dough in such a way to produce bread that has a hand-shaped look and artisan taste. The loaves are par-baked, flash frozen, and distributed throughout the country. One of their breads that really appeals to me is the Petite Baguette. These, like their other breads, are available in grocery store deli bakeries and warehouse clubs. I get mine from BJ's in a package of four. Looking over the ingredients, there's basically nothing here but flour, water, salt, yeast, and the cornmeal used to dust the bottom. Because there are no dough conditioners or preservatives, you have to eat them or freeze them right away. These are definitely NOT the soft, mushy crap that pass for French bread in most in-store bakeries. The crumb is semi-open and the crust is what is to be expected of a good artisan loaf. Just how crispy the crust is depends on how the store baked the frozen loaves. Most stores don't bake them very long so the crust doesn't get really crisp. Why do they do this? To appeal to the majority of Americans who like their bread very soft. (They grew up on Wonder Bread and don't know any better). Unlike us bread snobs, they think anything slightly hard is stale. They also have a tendency to wrap them before they are completely cool and the resulting moisture softens the crust. I usually give mine a few minutes in a hot oven to give the crust a good crisp
These also have a very good taste; not like bland, white mush like many mechanically produced breads.
Stay tuned for more reviews. All reviews can also be viewed on my blog, The Bread Portal.