Sunday, November 4, 2012

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.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan Newman 

The types of French bread.
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 appetite!
Half way down this post is a lexicon for buying French bread
with all the French you need to know.
Bon appetite


    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 of the most desirable professions. The 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 it.


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 enjoy.
For an A – Z on ordering coffee in France click here. 

The names of French breads.    

Pain a l'AilGarlic 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.
Photograph courtesy of ellengwallace
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.
Photograph courtesy of Mohinne.
Pain 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.
Standard baguettes.
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, (pronounced bien kwee). 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 may be necessary for many French citizens breakfasts, but even supermarket baguettes with preservatives do not keep well, and by evening they will be dry, If possible the Frenc by their 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?
The 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...
Pain Baguette a l'Ail - Toasted garlic bread; made here with a sliced and 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 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
Pain 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 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 the name for France’s standard bread.
Pain Boule  or Boule 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 breakfast table.
A pain boule.
Photograph courtesy of kochtopf
Pain Boulot – Another name for 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. 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 different taste.
Pain  Brié.
Photograph  courtesy of Frédéric Bisson,
Pain 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
Despite 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.
A brioche.
Photograph courtesy of zigazou76
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. Today this hand-plaited brioche  is 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.
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.
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.  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.
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  will 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.
Many designs like this look too delicious to eat.
Photograph courtesy of Kermit the Frog.
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, 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
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 that you may slice yourself.

Pain de mie.
Photograph courtesy of  Sierravalleygirl.
Pain de Seigle  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.  See Pain Beurrée.
Pain Doré  - One of the names for French toast. See Pain Perdu.
Pain 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.
Bœuf en Ficelle is beef tied by a string and cooked while it is suspended above boiling broth. 
Ficelle 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.
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 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.
Photograph by courtesy of Cynthia Bertelsen.
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
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 – 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.
Pain 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 
Pain 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.
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 bread rolls is petite pan.
Pain Tresse – Braided bread; usually a pain brioche.
Tartine - 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
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.

Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013
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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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