Sunday, November 4, 2012

French Bread. The types of French Bread and a Lexicon for Buying French Bread.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Choose your bread.
The offerings in a good boulangerie, a baker’s shop.
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 an excuse to buy three or four different breads of your own choosing. On that picnic take along a couple of cheeses, a pate and an enjoyable bottle of wine; then French bread will make its preeminence clear. Bon appetite!
Below the next two paragraphs is a lexicon for buying
French bread with all the French you need to know.
The oldest boulangerie, bakery, in Paris. It is in Montmartre.

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 that, the number of independent bakers is some 25% of the numbers 10 – 15 years ago.
Despite the paragraph above, a family member who visits France many times a year 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 their next day's breakfast. That change is due to the exodus of traditional boulangeries; once they were on every street corner, no more.  
Buying French bread. 
Buying bread for breakfast, the night before.
Buying baguettes and even thinner breads like ficelles have created a second best option. Buying thin loaves of bread the night before and expecting then to be fresh in the morning means the French may no longer enjoy bread without any additives. Baguettes and ficelles without additives must be eaten, at the most, within five or six hours.
A lexicon of French bread.
If you are visiting France, print out the lexicon and take it with you.
For an A – Z on ordering coffee in France click here.
For more about croissants click here.
For how to order breakfast in France click here.
For how to buy cheese in France and take it home click here.

The names of French breads.   

Pain a l'Ail Garlic bread. In France, this may be any bread that is toasted and flavored with garlic.
Pain 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.
Pain 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 “the nut.”

Pain au Noix, nut bread.
Seen here with added raisins.
Pain Baguette - The most well-known of French breads. A baguette is what most people mean when they ask for French bread, and in the larger cities a baguette is certainly that.  Breakfast in many French homes without a baguette is hardly breakfast; croissants are saved for the weekend.  

Baguettes straight out of the oven.
A standard baguette is almost 70 cms long and weighs 250 grams.  Most French men and women prefer crispy baguettes. To order a crispy baguette use the same term that is used for a well-done steak, bien cuit, (pronounced bien kwee); to order a crisply baguette request a” baguette bien cuit”. Most families use their morning’s baguette to make a pain beurrée, sliced bread, and butter. Sliced bread and butter may also be called a tartine beurrée (see Pain Beurrée below). 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: Searching for the perfect baguette?
The visual difference between a traditional baguette and a mass produced baguette is not easily discerned. However, the taste and texture are; search out a boulangerie that make a “baguette traditional” and experience the difference.

Traditional baguettes.
The real thing!
Photograph courtesy of ....antonio...
Pain Baguette a l'Ail. The same as Pain a l'Ail, toasted garlic bread; here it is made with a toasted baguette.
Pain 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 donut; however, this a breakfast pastry and nothing like an American donut. American donuts are available in France and called a Beignet Américain. The pain beignet is on many French café and home menus alongside the more traditional pain beurré.

Pain beignets and cafe au lait for breakfast.
Some like these may be sprinkled with powdered sugar,
others will have caramel or other toppings,
Pain Beurrée or Tartine Beurrée –   A sliced baguette, or any another French bread; served with butter alongside the morning’s café au lait.  . In a French café, this tartine beurrée would be noted on the breakfast menu and offered with marmalade or jam on the side.  N.B. The word tartine also indicates a sandwich, an open sandwich.  For example tartine au jambon, an open ham sandwich.
See Tartine at the end of this post for more about the use of the word tartine and when it is used for sandwiches.
Pain Bis - Brown bread made with rye flour.
Pain Blanc  –  Standard white bread. The shapes may be different to those at home, but this is a similar bread.
Pain Boule or Boule de Pain – A round loaf, made from a ball of dough. Before the baguette became famous, the boule was considered, by France’s citizens and visitors to France, to be the “French bread”.   Then and now many families, especially those from outside the larger cities still place a large boule on the French breakfast table, and rather than a baguette.  A pain boule will stay fresh for two or three days unlike thinner breads. The name boule, means a ball and boule  gave its name to the artisans boulangers. From that name came boulangeries, baker’s shops.

A pain boule.
Pain Boulot – Another name for a pain boule.
Pain Brié- A classic wheat flour bread from Normandy; the bread is made with butter and has no connection to Brie, the cheese. It is the addition of butter that gives this bread its decidedly different taste. (My thanks to Frédéric Bisson for correcting my French spelling; my spelling is always an embarrassment, and  for noting that I had also omitted of the use of butter in the traditional recipe!). 

Pain  Brié.
Pain Brioché – Brioche is bread made with added eggs, butter and a little sugar; the shapes vary with local traditions as does the recipe. 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, fattened goose or duck liver. 

A slice of toasted brioche.

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.

A brioche.
Pain Brioché  de 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. Nevertheless, today the real Brioché  de Vendées are 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 Pain Brioché  de Vendée. This is the only brioche, and the only French bread that I know of, to have been awarded the French Label Rouge, the Red Label, for its consistent and unmatched quality.
Pain 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. The shapes of Campagrain breads vary considerably and you may also find campagrain baguettes.
Pain Complet  -  Whole wheat bread.
Pain 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.  This bread coveringis made to cover your soup or stew and 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.
Pain Cramique  –  A bread similar to the pain brioche, but including raisins.
Pain 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.  Gingerbread is also used to create exceptional window displays and unique birthday cakes.  One of the most famous French gingerbreads 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.

A gingerbread house
Like many others it looks too good to eat..
Pain de Campagne  or 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, 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 somewhat similar to American sourdough breads.

Pain de Campagne
Pain de Mais - Cornbread
Pain 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 of white bread that you may slice yourself.

Pain de Mie au Levain
Pain de Siegel  or Pan Noir - Rye bread.
Pain 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. 
Pain Doré  - Golden bread. One of the names for French toast. See Pain Perdu.
Pain Ficelle – This is a long thin loaf that looks like a thinner and slightly shorter baguette.  Outside of bakeries and supermarkets the word ficelle translates as a string and may be on your menu with other meanings.
Bœuf en Ficelle - Beef tied by a string and cooked while it is suspended above boiling broth.
Ficelle Picardie  - A crêpe stuffed with mushrooms, ham, and poultry. The finished crêpe is baked in a béchamel sauce with gruyere cheese and served gratinée.
Pain Forgeron –  A farmhouse style bread with added sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds.
Fougasse and Fougassette –Traditional breads that originated in the city of Nice and its surrounding villages. The fougasse was originally just 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 flavors, and they have spread all over Provence. Fougasse's origins are claimed by the Italians who point to their own focaccia breads.  In Provence, as elsewhere, no recipe is written in stone and most fougasse breads can only have the most limited connection, if any, to their Italian ancestors.   
Fougasse breads with many flavors.

On sale in the St Tropez market
The 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.
Pain Grillé or Toast  –  Toasted bread; toast. The French word toster came to England from France with the Norman invasion in 1066 where it meant grilled or to grill. Then French took the Anglicized word toast and use it with its modern English meaning. Today, in France, the word toast is just as popular as the correct French name for toasted bread, pain grille.
Gros Pain -  A large bread that will be sold in a variety of shapes and  sizes; this bread is traditionally sold by weight.
Pain Maison - Homemade bread.
Pain Nordique – see Pain Polaire.
Pain Parisien – Generally this is just another name for a standard baguette; however the name may also be used for breads shaped like a baguette but with different lengths and weights. See: Pain Baguette.
Pain Polaire, Pain Suédois or Pain Nordique  -  Polar bread, Swedish bread or Nordic bread; this is the traditional rye flour based flat bread with dimples. In France, this bread is often served with open sandwiches 
Pain Perdu - French toast. In French, the translation of pain perdu means lost bread; indicating bread that is generally considered too stale to use.  Despite the name, one of the few things you can do with any stale bread is to make French toast.  The original 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.
Pain Rassis – Stale bread; the bread that often becomes pain perdu.
Pain sans Levain, Pain Azymes, or Pain Juif  – Unleavened bread and also the French name for the traditional  Jewish matzo eaten during the Jewish Feast of Passover.
Petit 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 a bread roll is petite pan.
Pain Tresse – Braided bread; usually a pain brioche.
Tartine - Not the tartine beurrée  –  Tartine is the French for an open sandwich and tartine will often be used interchangeably with the English word sandwich.  Most 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.

Tartine 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.
Tartine Beurrée or Pain Beurrée - See Pain Beurre.

Despite the importance  the French give to artisanal breads the independent boulangeries, bakeries, 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 a baker one of the most desirable professions, and the successful private bakeries are run by those who simply love baking bread. Two hundred years ago the guild system separated what a boulangerie, a bakery, and a patisserie, a cake shop, could sell; today the differences are merged. So enjoy French bread wherever you buy it.
French supermarkets sell mass-produced baguettes and other breads that are made on the spot from frozen dough.  Nevertheless, the better supermarkets add to their home baked breads a variety of bought-in artisanal breads 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. French diners will 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 very important!
Many cities have competitions built around baguettes and other bread 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 book, possibly two books. Included are the popular breads seen in most bakeries, supermarkets,on hotel breakfast menus, and in restaurants. Excluded, unfortunately, are many enjoyable and compelling types of bread that are typical to parts of certain regions. 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.
Connected Posts;



Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2015
For information on the book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman 


Anonymous said...

Why are the French Baguettes so crusty?

Bryan Newman said...

Now that's a very difficult question.

To give you a definitive answer it will require many years of research and large amounts of money. I would be happy to lead the team!

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