Saturday, August 4, 2018

French Bread - Different Types of French Bread. Ordering Bread in France.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated August 2019
The three most popular French breads.
Above left Gros Pain, lower left Pain Boule, to the right Baguettes.

Bread in French is Spelled Pain and Pronounced  Pan.
Bread may be the most basic of all foods, but, in France, choosing bread is also an institution.  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 to try breads outside of the obligatory baguette.
Baguettes straight out of the oven.
The baguettes on the upper shelf have pointed ends; see “baguette de tradition” below.
Photograph courtesy of Bob Hall
Below the next two paragraphs is a glossary for buying French bread with all the French you need to know.
First-time visitors to France are often surprised by the number of independent boulangeries, bakeries, which still operate in the cities and towns, and even in some villages. Nevertheless, the number of independent bakers is 25% of the number 10 – 15 years ago.  
The oldest boulangerie, bakery, in Paris.
It is in Montmartre.
Photograph courtesy of Ron Bullard Jr.
Despite the paragraph above, 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 nearly every street corner, no more.  Now, either buy your bread, with preservatives, the day before or prepare to begin your day with a one and a half kilometer (0.90 miles) walk to the nearest boulangerie. (Remember that that's the same distance back). 
Buying French bread.  

No longer can the average Frenchman or woman enjoy bread without any additives since baguettes and ficelles without additives must be eaten, at the most, within five or six hours. Even an ordinary supermarket baguette made with preservatives will not be fresh from one morning to the next; the family will either buy a supermarket baguette the night before or buy a pain boule (pronounced pan bool), a round loaf of bread. A pain boule will be satisfactory for two to three days. After two or three days there may be toast for breakfast.

Bakeries are required to post the weight and price of each bread category they sell, and the weight must be accurate within a narrow range. As long as each bakery displays the weight of its products, apart from La Baguette de Tradition, they may use their own standards and names.

N.B. A croissant is not bread, it is a pastry and will be seen in most French homes only on the weekend. A croissant needs to be eaten fresh, and the best croissants have no preservatives; they will be bought fresh on weekend mornings. Nevertheless, all cafes and hotels offer croissants for breakfast, and you will see weekday lunch sandwiches made with large croissants.  To view the link on croissants click here.  
A croissant at lunchtime.
For an A – Z on ordering coffee in France click here.
For a link to buying cheese in France and taking it home click here.
For all the French you need to order breakfast in France click here.
For the different flours used in French cuisine click here.
For the story of the croissant click here.
 The pronunciation programs below are better than my written suggestions. I use them. (Best for single words)
A glossary of French bread.
If you are visiting France, print, or copy to your phone or tablet the glossary below and take it with you.
Pain a l'Ail – Garlic bread. In France, this may be any bread that is flavored with garlic and then toasted.

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 Levain - Sourdough bread. Sourdough bread may be made from wheat or rye flour;  ingredients such as honey may be added.  Before any of the additions sourdough bread is flour, water, salt, along with a culture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria. The culture ferments the flour; 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 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 don’t need bran bread.
Pain aux Noix  - Walnut 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 added to the word noix, while the walnut is “the nut.”

Pain au Noix - Walnut Bread.
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 while croissants are nearly always saved for the weekend. Mass produced baguettes, like other white French breads, still contain fewer additives than the white bread seen in the USA.  The additives in French breads are mostly there to help the bread stay fresh not to add vitamins or minerals.
A standard baguette is almost 70 cms long and weighs 250 grams.  
The early morning baguette; when nothing else will do for breakfast.
Ordering a baguette in France.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to buying a baguette. The first school prefers crisp baguettes. To order a crisp and crunchy baguette use the same term that is used for a well-done steak, bien cuit, (pronounced bien kwee). Just say un baguette bien kwee sil voo play. 

The second school prefers a soft baguette. Just say pas trop cuit, not well done, (pronounced pah trop kwee). Just say un baguette pa trop kwee sil voo play and you will be offered a baguette with a soft crust.  (The sil vo play is written s'il vous plait and means please).

Most French 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). 
Pain Baguette a l'AilThe same as Pain a l'Ail, toasted garlic bread; here it is made with a toasted baguette.
Baguette au Levain or a Baguette Paresseuse - Sourdough Baguettes. The word paresseuse in Google Translate and French-English travel dictionaries translate the word as “lazy girl”. While no one I asked knew the origin of this no longer politically correct name, no one seemed to object to its continued usage either. Where a baguette paresseuse is concerned, tradition is tradition.  Nevertheless, where servers (waiters and waitresses) are concerned traditions have changed. You may no longer call a server, a waiter, a garçon.  If you call a server, a waiter, a boy, a “garçon,” (pronounced gar-son), you may end up with the soup in your lap or the tray on your head.  Address a server, a waiter, as Monsieur and a waitress as Madame. N.B. Do not use the word Mademoiselle for a waitress if she is over fifteen years of age. Outside of a family setting Mademoiselle has a low-life connotation.
Baguette de Tradition (La) The traditional baguette. The original baguette only dates from the 1920s and then it was made without any preservatives.  The visual differences between traditional baguettes and today’s mass-produced baguettes are not easily discerned, though many hand-made traditional baguettes have pointed ends. Search out a boulangerie that makes a “baguette traditional” and experience the different taste and texture. 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.  
La Baguette de Tradition – A traditional baguette.
This boulangerie holds the Best Bakery of France award, La Meilleure Boulangerie de France. You will find them in the town of Comines just north of the city of Lille.
Google “Concours National de la Meilleure Baguette de Tradition Française”
 to find this year’s winner.

Déjeunette  A shorter than usual baguette; about one third the length of a full-sized baguette: the name déjeunette implies that it is enough for a petit déjeuner, for breakfast. Shorter than a normal baguette; about one third the length of a full-sized baguette.  The name déjeunette implies that it is enough for a petit déjeuner, for breakfast. Sandwiches offered in French Tabac will often be made with a déjeunette. 

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. (Beignet is pronounced bay-net). This will be a breakfast or dessert pastry sprinkled with Sucre Pâtissier -  Confectioners’ sugar. Pain beignets are nothing like a donut with a hole in the center; donuts with holes in France are called Beignets Américain, American donuts, and they are available in the big cities. The pain beignet, in the picture below, will be on many French café menus with some filled with apple or other fruits.
Pain beignets and cafe au lait for breakfast.
Pain Beurrée or Tartine Beurrée –   A sliced baguette, or any another French bread; served in French homes with butter alongside the morning’s café au lait, a milky coffee.  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, usually an open sandwich.  See Tartine at the end of this post.
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 organic flour may be used, but all additives must be 95% organic. Despite that, within the limitations of these less than 100% 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 from those at home.
Pain Boule or Boule de Pain  A round loaf, made from a ball of dough. Before the baguette became famous in the 1920’s, 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 word Boulanger, the baker of round shaped bread. From that name came boulangeries, baker’s shops.
A boule de pain on sale.
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 will vary with local traditions as does the exact recipe. A brioché will often be the bread of choice when a recipe calls for bread stuffed with meats or pâté. Pates or other products cooked inside bread will be on the menu with the words en croute as part of the name; for example Pâté En Croûte.   Toasted brioché is also the bread most often served alongside foie gras, fattened goose or duck liver.
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 loaves of bread baked for the Jewish Sabbath and called a “challah" or "egg challah.”
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 this brioche its 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 the authentic Briochés de Vendée, those awarded the Label Rouge, the red label, are baked by professionals.  The importance of the quality of this brioché is seen in the named and inspected bakeries that bake this unique Pain Brioché de Vendée. These are the only brioches, and the only French bread that I know of, to have been awarded the French Label Rouge, the Red Label, for consistent and unmatched quality.
Pain Campagrain – Under this name are sold quite a number of different high fiber breads; campagrain bread use 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; usually, all the grains used are marked along with the percentages. The shapes of Campagrain bread 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 when refined white flour is produced. The bran contributes to the bread’s 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 Couronne – A ring-shaped loaf of bread with a hole in the middle; the French name translates as a crown.  Couronnes still have a loyal following because they keep well as most other round loaves but are easier to slice.  There are two popular sizes, a petit (small) and a grande (large), and every bakery must display their weights.  Like baguettes, some patrons prefer a regular crust and there are those who prefer their's croustillant, with a crispy crust.
Pain Croûte à Potage or a Potage son sous Béret   - A bread crust used to cover soups and a béret is a beret, the head covering, in English.  This bread covering may appear on the menu under a variety of 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 rarely, if ever, 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; 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 types of French gingerbread 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.
Too good to eat?
Pain au Blé Noir or Pain au Sarrasin – Buckwheat flour bread.
Pain de Campagne or Pain Miche - Country bread. This bread has a great variety of recipes and shapes. The flour used may be standard wheat flour, whole wheat flour, or mixed flours.   Nevertheless, real pain de campagne is made with a natural leavening, not with a commercial yeast. The taste is mild and is somewhat similar to American sourdough bread. This makes for an enjoyably chewy bread and crust.     
Pain de Campagne
Pain de Mais - Cornbread
Pain de Mie or Pain Carré  Pain de Mie directly translated means soft bread, and Pain Carré means square bread. This is the bread the French will use for sandwiches as it is often sold sliced; it will also be used for toast.
Pain de Mie.
Pain de Siegel or Pain Noir - Rye bread. Rye bread is made with different percentages from the flours made with rye grain.  It is higher in fiber than white bread, darker in color and stronger in flavor.
Pain Déjeunette – A baguette about one-half 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 déjeunettes as sandwiches.
Pain Doré  - Golden bread; one of the names for French toast. See Pain Perdu.
Pain Ficelle – This is a long thin loaf that is shorter than a baguette. A ficelle weighs around 125 grams (4.50 grams); you will want to eat it the same day as it will be stale by morning. Outside of bakeries and supermarkets, the word ficelle translates as a string and maybe on your menu with other meanings. 
Bœuf en Ficelle - Beef tied by a string and cooked while it is suspended above the 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 Flûte –  A longer and thicker version of a baguette.  Flûtes were around for at least 50 years before baguettes were officially recognized in 1919.  While there are no legal definitions for a flute most will weigh approximately 400 grams (14 ounces); compare that with a baguette that weighs around 250 grams (9 ounces).
Pain Forgeron –  A farmhouse style bread with added sunflower, sesame, and flax seeds.
                     Remember that pain is pronounced pan!
Pain 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 shapes, recipes, and flavors, and they have spread all over Provence and beyond. Fougasse's provenance is claimed by the Italians who point to their focaccia bread.  In Provence, as elsewhere, no recipe is written in stone, and most of today’s fougasse breads can only have the most limited connection, if any, to their Italian ancestors.
Fougasse bread with many flavors.
Photographed on sale in the St Tropez market

Despite the picture above the most popular fougasse bread include black olives, and or anchovies, and may include onions. The shape will vary from village to village, from market to market 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. The French took the Anglicized word toast and now use it with its modern English meaning. Today, the word toast is just as popular as the correct French name for toasted bread, pain grille. For more about the French connection and the English kitchen click here.
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 – Another name for a standard baguette; however, the name may also be used for bread 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 flatbread 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 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 popular at breakfast or as a light evening snack in private homes.
Pain Rassis – Stale bread; the bread that often becomes pain perdu, French toast.
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 different names for each shape and each recipe used for the traditional bread rolls offered in a restaurant or sold in supermarket; however, the only name you will need for a bread roll is petite pain. 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 lunch or 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 will be seen in specialty bakers and may include breads made with the seeds from Épeautre or Petit Épeautre, Spelt or Dinkel Wheat, Small Spelt or Einkorn; these seeds come from the ancestors of modern wheat.  Specialty breads may also be made with unique mixtures of grains and seeds, added fats, sweeteners and dairy products; most will be marked with short explanations.
Pain Tresse  Braided bread; usually a pain brioche.
Tartine - Not just a breakfast tartine beurrée where it means bread and butter.   Tartine is the French for an open sandwich, and the word tartine will often be used interchangeably with the English word sandwich. While most tartines are open sandwiches, that is by no means a fixed rule; the ingredients in or on a tartine vary with the area, the season and the sandwich's creator.
Tartine Beurrée or Pain Beurrée - See Pain Beurre.
Tartine with avocado, smoked salmon,
and fresh goat’s cheese.
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 bread 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.

A picnic in France.

A picnic in France is an opportunity to rendezvous with three or four different breads of your own choosing; only one should be regular white bread and for that choose a baguette. 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!  

N.B. Don’t buy too much cheese or pate; I have made that mistake many times.  If your picnic includes 2 or 3 kinds of cheese and a pate, then 25 grams (3.5 oz) per person of each cheese and pate is more than enough. A Frenchman or woman organizing the same picnic would recommend 20 grams (2.50 oz) per cheese and pate and leave out the butter. 

A picnic in a French city park.

For a lunchtime picnic in a city park for 2 to 4 people buy two small loaves, or one baguette and a small loaf and a total of 100 grams  (4.20 oz) of cheese and pate per person.  To that add the half bottle of wine per person that nearly everyone believes they will consume.  If you have added those incredible croissants, and the amazing chocolate eclairs that you saw in the shop cut the other quantities in half.
Bread in the language of France’s neighbors:

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


Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2015, 2018, 2019.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog write to Bryan Newman

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  1. great resource! (typo - "Pain Maison – Bread baked on the bread")

  2. What are the best whole grain breads in France in your opinion?

    I used to love the baguettes but for health reasons have switched to whole grains. I mill wheat, spelt, rye at home in a small machine. These flours behave differently and are challenging. But the flour smells alive and the bread is really good. I'm getting the hang of it, even for pizza. So now, i look askance at all white bread.

    In Barcelona there's an excellent organic baker from France. Quite expensive but really wonderful walnut/chocolate/chestnut breads and excellent pastries. The baker is friendly and let me see his basement set up. The patissiere said No! when I asked if I could see her kitchen.

    We are planning to drive up to Provence from Barcelona in September so would welcome your suggestions. Cheers!

  3. Thank you for the question. However, I would not wish to mislead you with any attempt to answer health questions about the breads or flours for your health. I write for the diners, about the dining experience and where possible the tastes and the ingredients. Dieticians know a great deal more about the health aspects than I do.

    It is my taste buds who make my decisions, which often includes traditional baguettes made with white flour.

    I wish you a great trip to Provence and enjoy the tastes of some great bakers.

    bon appétit,