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In praise of the sainted baguette

The baker took a huge ball of dough and demonstrated how to turn it into those flaky, buttery, crescent-shaped rolls traditionally eaten in France for breakfast.

Then it was the turn of the six-year-olds who had been watching the croissant-maker attentively. They were not so successful. "It's much more difficult than it looks," one of them observed. But they found it easier to mould some ordinary bread dough into hedgehogs or dinosaurs, which were baked for them to take home.

This was a primary class based near Montmartre, in north Paris, receiving a hands-on lesson about bread in their local boulangerie, one of hundreds of events in France last week to mark the Fete de Saint- Honore.

The feast day of the patron saint of bakers, May 16, was being celebrated for the first time, though it's to become an annual event. The theme was children, with the aim of "giving them a taste for basic foods, a sense of respect for the work of others and a sense of sharing, for bread in its diversity is universal," according to the organisers.

With support from the ministry of small businesses, master bakers affiliated to one of the several participating professional associations arranged school visits as well as bread-making demonstrations and tastings, exhibitions, conferences, parades, competitions, dances and even church masses. A huge baker's oven was set up outside the Paris city hall, and passers-by took a guided tour around the production processes and nibbled samples from surrounding stalls.

It was all to highlight the place of the boulangerie at the heart of French society, educating the public about the high nutritional value of bread and promoting the 50 different varieties.

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