Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served.
Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and
that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
French Bread: The types of French Bread and a Lexicon for Buying French Bread. - Behind the French Menu.
The French word for bread is pain,pronounced pan.
Bread may be the most basic of all foods, but, in France choosing
bread is also an institution. From my experience the French care more about
bread and the types of bread available than any other nation; when you visit
France look for an opportunity at breakfast or even better, on a picnic, where
you may have the opportunity to try two or more different breads. On that
picnic, you should also take along a couple of cheeses, a pate, an enjoyable
bottle of wine and then French bread will make its preeminence clear. Bon
Half way down this post is a lexicon for buying
with all the French you need to know.
The oldest boulangerie, a bakery, in
Paris; it is in Montmartre.
Photograph courtesy of McFlossy.
Many French families still buy their bread fresh every morning, and
first time visitors to France are often surprised by the number of independent boulangeries,
bakeries that still operate in the cities and towns, and even in some villages.
Despite my opening paragraph, a family member who visits France
many many times a year has updated me on the changes she that sees in
French bread buying customs; more and more French families are choosing to buy
their bread in the evening for the next day's breakfast. The lack of a nearby
traditional boulangerie may well have created a second best option; that
option is a shame, as those who buy their bread the night before may no longer
enjoy bread without any additives.
Despite the importance the French give to artisanal bread the
independent boulangeries are finding it harder and harder to compete,
and so more close every year. An independent baker begins work at four or five
in the morning in physically trying conditions; today that does not make for
one for the most desirable professions. The truly successful private bakeries
are run by those who simply love baking bread. Two hundred years ago the guild
system separated what a boulangerie and a patisserie could sell;
today the difference may not be very clear. Enjoy French bread wherever you buy
The offerings in a good boulangerie.
Photograph courtesy of Mathieu Thouvenin
French supermarkets sell mass-produced baguettes and other
breads that are made on the spot from frozen dough.The better supermarkets add to their home
baked breads a variety of bought-in artisanal breads many made with a wide
variety of grains; that brings in the customers who know their bread and will
pay extra for the best.
Who makes the best bread?
Excellence in baking bread is an essential requirement for any
would-be chef; no chef will receive a full-graduation diploma from any serious
French cooking school if his or her bread making does not make the grade.In the better French restaurants, you will be
offered three or more different, home-made petite pains, bread rolls; and
French diners judge a restaurant's offering of bread rolls with the same
discerning eye that they use to assess its other offerings. In many towns
restaurant chefs take part, with independent boulangeries, in good
natured local bread-making competitions.Some excellent restaurants in France bring in bread, and bread rolls,
from famous bakers and promote their links to one of France’s Meilleur
Boulangers, master bakers; good bread is that important! Many cities have
competitions built around baguettes and other breads made in the traditional
manner without preservatives. For more on those competitions and how to find
the winning bakeries see the post: Searching for the perfect baguette?
I could not include in this
post all the breads available, and created in France as that would require a
separate book, possibly two. Included in the lexicon are the popular breads
seen in most bakeries, supermarkets, hotel breakfast menus, and in restaurants.
Excluded, unfortunately, are many enjoyable and compelling types of bread that
are typical to limited areas; when you encounter one of these different breads
on your travels taste and enjoy. Twenty kilometers away the recipe, shape, and
name will have changed.
A lexicon of French bread.
If you are visiting France print this out and
a l'Ail – Garlic bread. In France, this may be any bread that is toasted
and flavored with garlic.
au Froment - Bread made from 100% wheat flour. Pain au froment with a
percentage mark after the name indicates mixed flours. An example may be froment
75%, the other flour used for the remaining 25% will usually be indicated.
Pain au froment, wheat bread, with butter on the side.
Photograph courtesy of ellengwallace
aux Noix- Nut bread; made with
whole wheat flour and walnuts. Walnuts are France’s most highly rated nut. The
French name for a walnut is noix, and that word just translates as
"nut". All other nuts have unique French names while the walnut is
Pain au Noix.
Photograph courtesy of Mohinne.
Baguette - The most well-known of French breads. A baguette is what most
people mean when they ask for French bread, and a baguette is certainly
that.Breakfast in a French home without
a baguette is hardly breakfast; croissants are saved for the weekend.For more about croissants click here.
Photograph courtesy of mahaithaca.
A standard baguette is almost 70 cms
long and weighs 250 grams.Most French
men and women prefer crispy baguettes, and the language used is the same as
that used for a well-done steak, bien cuit. Most families use their
morning’s baguette to make a pain beurrée also called a tartine
beurrée; that is a baguette or another bread and butter; see Pain
Beurrée below. Baguettes may be necessary for a French citizens
breakfast, but even supermarket baguettes with preservatives do not keep well,
and by evening they will be dry, and so baguettes are bought fresh
daily. Baguettes are such a prominent part of the French psyche that I
have prepared a separate post for those who look for the traditional baguette
which contains no preservatives at all.See the post: In Search of the perfect baguette?
visual difference between a traditional baguette and a mass produced baguette is not easily discerned. However the taste and texture is; search out a boulangerie
that make the baguette traditional and experience the difference.
Traditional baguettes. The real thing!
Photograph courtesy of ....antonio...
Baguette a l'Ail - Toasted garlic bread; made here
with a sliced and toasted baguette.
Bâtard– A bastard; the name used in boulangeries that make their own
bread, for any loaf that comes out of the oven in an odd shape.
Pain Beignets – French for a doughnut; however this a breakfast pastry and it is not anything like an American doughnut. American doughnuts are available in France and called a beignet Américain. The pain beignet is usually on French café menus alongside the more traditional pain beurré,that is the mornings’s baguette and butter.
Pain beignets and cafe au lait for breakfast in a French cafe.
Photograph courtesy of chrisjbarker
Beurrée or Tartine Beurrée –A sliced baguette, or any another
French bread; served with butter alongside the morning’s café au lait,
sometimes toasted. In a French café, this tartine beurrée is often
listed on the breakfast menu and then will usually be offered with marmalade or
jam on the side.N.B. The word tartine
also indicates a sandwich, for example tartine au jambon , a ham
at the end of this post for more about the use of the word tartine and when
it is used for sandwiches.
Bis - Brown bread made with rye flour.
Blanc–Standard white bread. The shapes may be
different to those at home, but this is the name for France’s standard bread.
de Pain – A round loaf. Before the baguette became famous, the boule
was considered, by visitors to France, the “French bread”.Then and now some families still place a
large boule on the French breakfast table, and outside the larger cities
slices from a boule, rather than a baguette may be on your
A pain boule.
Photograph courtesy of kochtopf
Boulot –Another name for pain boule.
Brié-A classic wheat flour bread from Normandy; the bread is made with
butter and has no connection to Brie, the cheese. My thanks to Frédéric
Bisson for correcting my French spelling on this bread, Inever mastered the French accents, and also for noting
the use of butter in the traditional recipe.It is the addition of butter that gives this bread its decidedly
Brioché – Brioche is bread made with added eggs, butter and a little sugar;
the shapes vary with local traditions. Brioché is also often the bread
of choice when a recipe calls for bread stuffed with meats or pâté. Toasted brioché
is also the bread most often served alongside foie gras.
Slice of toasted brioche.
Photograph courtesy of Stijn Nieuwend
my introduction, the recipes for brioché vary considerably, and a brioché
branded with the name of a particular area will be a local point of pride.
Brioché is also the bread considered closest in taste and appearance to one of
the breads made for the Jewish Sabbath that is called an egg Challa.
Photograph courtesy of zigazou76
Briochéde Vendée, Label Rouge - A
traditional and famous brioché from the département of Vendée in
the région of the Pays-de-Loire. The inclusion in the recipe of crème fraîche
and orange zest gives it a distinctive taste. This brioché began, historically,
as an unusually large brioché, often over five kilos; then it was made at home
or in a bakery and served at Easter.Even larger briochés would be and often still are, served at family
celebrations. Today this hand-plaited briocheis baked by professionals; the importance of the quality of this brioché
is seen in the named and inspected bakeries that have been awarded the right to
make this unique brioché. This is the only brioche, and the only bread that I
know of,to have been awarded the French
Label Rouge, the Red Label, for its consistent and unmatched quality.
Campagrain – Under this name are sold quite a number of different high fiber
breads; campagrain breads may use anywhere from two to five grains or
more. The grains used include wheat, malted corn, rye, oats, barley, etc.; Some
bakers may include sunflower, sesame and flax seeds and they usually name all
the grains their bread contains along with the percentages.
Complet-Whole wheat bread.
Croûte à Potage or a Potage son sous Béret- A bread crust used to cover soups,
a béret is a beret, the head covering, in English.A bread covering, made to cover your soup or
stew, may appear on the menu under various names, not just beret.A soup or stew covered with a bread covering
may also surprise you when it appears on your table without any prior advice;
this covering is only rarely eaten.
Cramique–A bread similar to the pain
brioche, but including raisins.
d'Épice – Gingerbread is more appreciated in France than in any other
country; it many of its producers are considered artists. Quite often French
gingerbread will be studded with candied fruits; others may be on a menu when
served with warm chocolate and or ice cream.Gingerbreadwill also used to
create exceptional window displays and unique birthday cakes.One of the most famous French ginger breads
is the Pain d'Épices de Dijon, the gingerbread of Dijon.
Dijon may be famous for its mustard, but among the cognoscenti its
gingerbread is second to none.
This gingerbread house was made in the département of the Lorraine.
de Campagneor Pain Miche -
Country bread. These breads vary a great deal in the recipes and shapes used,
and the flour used may be standard wheat flour, a whole wheat flour, or mixed
flours.All real pains de campagne
are made with a natural leavening, not with added yeast. The taste is milder
but still somewhat similar to American sourdough breads.
Pain de Mais - Cornbread
de Mie or Pan Carré- Sliced bread. Sliced bread is not
particularly popular in France, except when used for sandwiches or toast.
Despite sliced bread's lack of popularity it is sold in all supermarkets, where
it is a small part of the bread sales. The same bread is also sold in oblong
loaves that you may slice yourself.
Pain de mie.
Photograph courtesy ofSierravalleygirl.
de Seigleor Pan
Noir - Rye bread.
de Son – A bread made with a bran flour.
Pain Déjeunette – A
baguette about one third the length of a full-sized baguette. The name déjeunette implies that it is
enough for the petit déjeuner, for breakfast. A déjeunette is
often used instead of a baguette to make the traditional French breakfast tartine
beurrée. Many sandwiches offered in French cafés and Tabacs
will be made with a déjeunette.See Pain Beurrée.
Doré- One of the names for
French toast. See Pain Perdu.
Ficelle – This is a long thin loaf that looks like a thinner and shorter
baguette.Outside of bakeries and
supermarkets the word ficelle translates as string and may be on your
menu with other meanings.
en Ficelle is beef tied by a string and cooked while it is suspended above
Picardie is a crêpe stuffed with
mushrooms, ham, and poultry; the finished crêpe is baked in a béchamel sauce
with gruyere cheese and served gratinée.
Forgeron –A farmhouse style bread
with added sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds.
and Fougassette –Traditional breads that originated
in the city of Nice and its surrounding villages. The fougasse was
originally a crusty bread made of baguette dough brushed with olive oil and
flavored with orange zest, that is still the tradition but many fougasse breads
have changed beyond recognition. These breads without a change in name now come
with a wide variety of recipes, and they have spread all over Provence. Fougasse's
origins are claimed by the Italians and they claim it is based on their focaccio
breads.In Provence, as elsewhere,
no recipe is written in stone and most fougasse breads can have only the
most limited connection to their Italian ancestors.
A pizza flavored fougasse! This one from Aix-en-Provence.
most popular fougasse breads include black olives and or anchovies and
some may include onions. The shape may vary from village to village and
restaurant to restaurant.
Grillé or Toast – Toasted bread; toast
Pain -A large bread that will
be sold in a variety of shapes andsizes; this bread is traditionally sold by weight.
Pain Maison -
Nordique – see Pain Polaire.
Parisien – Usually another name for a standard baguette; however the name
is also used for breads shaped like a baguette but with different
lengths and weights. See: Pain Baguette.
Polaire, Pain Suédois or Pain
Nordique-Polar bread, Swedish bread or Nordic bread;
this is the traditional a rye flour based flat bread with dimples. In France,
this bread is often served with open sandwiches
Perdu - French toast. In French,the translation of pain perdu means lost bread; indicating bread that is
generally considered to stale to use. Despite the name, one of the few things
you can do with any stale bread is to make French toast.The French version of French toast is bread
soaked in milk with added sugar along with vanilla or another flavoring.The bread will then be dipped in eggs and
fried in butter until golden brown.Needless to say, pain perdu is a popular at breakfast in private homes and as a light evening snack.
Rassis – Stale bread; the bread that often becomes pain perdu.
sans Levain, Pain Azymes,or Pain
Juif– Unleavened bread and also
the French name for the traditionalJewish matzo eaten during the Jewish Feast of Passover.
Pains -Bread rolls; there are, of
course, different names for each shape and each recipe used for traditional bread rolls,
but in a restaurant or supermarket the only name you will need for bread rolls is petite
Tresse – Braided bread; usually a pain brioche.
Not the tartine beurrée–Tartine is the French for a sandwich
and tartine will be used interchangeably with the English word sandwich;
however sandwich, the English word, is used more often.Many tartines are open sandwiches, but
that is by no means a fixed rule; the ingredients in or on a tartine vary
with the area, the season and the chef.
Photograph courtesy of lisabatty
Italienne – The French take on the Italian bruschetta. Slices of toasted
bread, sometime toasted garlic bread; served with hot or cold cooked
vegetables, chicken livers or pâte.
Beurrée or Pain Beurrée - See Pain Beurre.