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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Bread - The Different Types of French Bread and a Glossary for Buying French Bread. (Bread in French is Pain Pronounced Pan).

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated February 2018
Choose your bread.
The offerings in a good boulangerie, a baker’s shop.
The French word for bread is written pain
and 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, then you may have an excuse to buy three or four different breads of your own choosing, only one should be regular white bread. On that picnic take along a couple of cheeses, French butter, a pate and an enjoyable bottle, or two, of wine; then French bread will make its preeminence clear. Bon appetite! Don’t take too much cheese or pate; I have done that many times, and I know that 30 grams per person of a cheese and or a pate is more than will be eaten if there are three, four choices.
Below the next two paragraphs is a glossary 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. Times have changed, and today many families buy bread 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. The best that can be done is to store an ordinary baguette overnight wrapped in a slightly damp cloth.  Then try and return some of the crust’s crispness with 5 -8 minute warm-up in an oven.  It will not be the same, but there you are. N.B. Do not try and crisp the bread in a microwave that is a non-starter!
French bread. 
If you are visiting France,
Print, or copy to your phone or tablet the glossary below and take it with you.
For an A – Z on ordering coffee in France click here.
For the story of the croissant click here.
For all the French you need to order breakfast in France click here.
For a link to buying cheese in France and taking it home click here.
Glossary of 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, regular white bread, with butter on the side.
Pain au Levain - Sourdough bread. Sourdough bread may be made from wheat or rye flour;  ingredients such as honey may be added Sourdough bread is flour, water, salt, along with a culture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. The flour is fermented by the culture. This fermentation releases carbon dioxide and allows the dough to rise. The taste of sourdough leavened bread is slightly acidic, and there are the different aromas that the lactic acid and acetic acid give off.
Pain au Son -  Bran Bread. Bran bread has bran added to the refined wheat flour, (from which it was initially removed). Bran comes from the hard outer layers of the grain. There is 20% to 30% bran in pain au son. Pain au son is a bread recommended to improve your digestion. If you always eat whole wheat bread, you probably don’t need bran bread.
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 and 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 crisp baguettes. To order a crisp baguette use the same term that is used for a well-done steak, bien cuit, (pronounced bien kwee); to order a crisp 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). Mass produced baguettes, like regular white French breads, contain fewer additives than the white bread seen in the USA.  Nevertheless, regular French bread does contain additives; most are there to help the bread stay fresh. 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 chemical 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, though many hand-made traditional baguettes have pointed ends. However, the taste and texture are different; search out a boulangerie that makes a “baguette traditional” and experience the difference.

The real thing!
Photograph courtesy of ....antonio...
Sourdough baguettes will also be on sale, either as a Baguette au Levain or a Baguette Paresseuse.  (Do not worry about the use of the word paresseuse, it means lazy girl, and no one I asked knew the origin of the usage).  In any case am not sure that using the word remains politically correct!  After all, you may no longer call a server, a waiter, a garçon.  (Call a server, a waiter, a boy, a “garçon,” pronounced garson, today, and you may end up with the soup in your lap or the tray on your head).
Pain Baguette a l'AilThe 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. (Don’t pronounce the g). However, this is a breakfast pastry and nothing like a donut with a hole in the center, that is called an American donut in France. American donuts are available, in the big cities, and are called a Beignet Américain. The pain beignet, in the pictures below, is on many French café menus and home breakfast tables; alongside the more traditional painbeurré, bread, and butter.

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, a milky coffee; a café au lait is up there with a café latte.  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.

Pains Biologiques,  Pain Bio – Organic bread.  Organic bread, marked with the government regulated and respected AB marking. Organic bread begins with organic agriculture and the organic flour that will be produced. Any type of organic flour may be used, and any additives must be 95% organic. Even within the limitations of the 5% non-organic additives the French and EU regulations are much stricter than those in the USA or Canada.  
Pain Blanc  –  Standard white bread. The shapes may be different to those seen at home, and French bread uses fewer chemicals. Nevertheless, this is the closest you will get. To the wheat flour is added water, cooking salt, yeast or leaven. To that may be added a small amount of bean flour, soybean and wheat malt and a limited number of additives and vitamin C. Far fewer additives than you will get at home, but additives are still there.
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 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 artisan boulangers, the makers of ball-shaped bread. From that name came boulangeries, baker’s shops.

A pain boule.
Pain Boulot – Another name for a pain boule.
Pain Brié - A traditional 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.    
Pain  Brié.
Pain Brioché – Brioche is bread made with added eggs, butter and a little sugar; the shape varies 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 a 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 this one is called an egg Challa.

A brioche.
Pain Brioché de Vendée, Label Rouge - A traditional and famous brioche from the department of Vendée in the region 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 authentic Briochés de Vendée 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. Whole wheat bread contains the germs and bran from the wheat which are removed in refined white flour. The bran contributes to the breads high fiber content. Whole wheat bread contains wheat germ. The wheat germ contains many nutrients including vitamin E and folate. These vitamins are essential for a healthy heart. Vitamin E promotes healthy skin and hair.
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 covering is made to cover your soup or stew and may appear on the menu under various names, not only béret  A soup or stew covered with a bread covering may also surprise you when it appears on your table without any prior advice. N, B. These coverings are only, very rarely, eaten; ask first.
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 imaginative 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. Gingerbread is made with wheat, rye or mixed flours flavored with ginger and sweetened with honey. Depending on the tradition other spices including nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon may be added.

A gingerbread house
It looks too good to eat!
Pain au Blé Noir or Pain au Sarrasin – Buckwheat flour bread.
Pain de Campagne  or Pain Miche - Country bread. These breads vary a great deal in the recipes and shapes used. The flour used may be standard wheat flour, whole wheat flour, or mixed flours.   Nevertheless, 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. This makes for an enjoyably chewy bread and crust.     

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. Rye bread is made with a variety of proportions taken from the flour from rye grain. It can be light or dark in color. It is higher in fiber than white bread and is often darker in color and stronger in flavor.
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 wordficelle 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  Rgratinée.
Pain Forgeron –  A farmhouse style bread with added sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds.
                     Remember that pain is pronounced pan!
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.
Photographed on sale in the St Tropez market
Despite the picture above 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 used 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 Polaire
Pain Perdu - French toast. In French, the translation of pain perdu means lost bread; indicating bread that is 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. Unless you are dining in a place with many tourists your bread rolls will be served without butter on the side.  That is how most Frenchmen and women eat bread in a restaurant before dinner. You are paying the piper so just say  "du beurre s'il vous plaît" (pronounced doo bur si voo play), and butter will appear. In the morning every French home will have bread and butter, but the evening is another story.
Pains Spéciaux – Specialty Breads. These are usually sold in specialty bakers and may include breads made with Épeautre or Petit Épeautre, Spelt or Dinkel Wheat, Small Spelt or Einkorn; these are ancient ancestors of modern wheat.  There may also be breads made with added fats and sweeteners, dairy products, along with mixtures of grains and seeds. Most will be marked with short explanations.
Pain Tresse – Braided bread; usually a pain brioche.
Tartine - Not a 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 Beurrée or Pain Beurrée - See Pain Beurre.

  1. Photograph courtesy of Chris Goldberg

Tartine Italienne – The French take on the Italian bruschetta. Slices of toasted bread sometimes toasted garlic bread; served with hot or cold cooked vegetables, chicken livers or pate.
Despite the importance, the French give to artisanal bread 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 broad range 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 French 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 in France!
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 fun 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.
Bread in the language of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - pa), (Dutch - brood), (German - brot), (Italian - pane), (Spanish – pan).
Connected Posts:






Visiting a Cafe in France and the Story Behind Coffee.

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Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
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