No meal in France is
complete without bread whether in the home or a high-end fine dining restaurant.
But wandering out in the morning to the local boulangerie is a quintessential
delight of holidaying in France.
Traditionally, in any French family someone will always be
deputed to do the morning bread run, returning with a golden baguette, from
which—in time-honoured fashion—they would have torn off the quignon (the
heel) and nibbled it on the way home.
For the French, it’s a way of life, and one of the first
things that visiting Brits, especially those self-catering, latch on to—a
Frenchman’s daily bread is very much à la mode.
There are few tastes
(and smells) that can match an iconic fresh French baguette. Here are a few
tips for avoiding embarrassment, or, more to the point, to ensure you get what
Here’s a short guide to French bread:
Baguette: the word means “wand”, and this is
the cheapest and most popular bread, varying from excellent to mediocre. It
will lasts a day at the most, and comes in three forms: ‘ordinary’, with a
crisp golden crust; ‘baguette moulée’, manufactured in an industrial bread
oven, and recognised by a fine lattice pattern on the underside; ‘baguette
farinée’, which is paler in colour because the crust has been covered with
flour before cooking.
Baguette (or pain) aux céréales: a slightly healthier version
made from wholegrain flour with added fibre from seeds and grains. Also comes
in the form of a pavé — a loaf.
Batard: a half-length baguette.
Brioche: a buttery sweet bread, perfect for bread-and-butter
pudding, although it rarely lasts that long!
Couronne: bread in the shape of a ring.
Flute: a fatter baguette, twice the size of a
baguette, with a higher ratio of dough to crust. Ficelle: a long
and thin baguette, with a lot of crust. The ficelle does need to be eaten
promptly as the inside dries out very quickly.
Pain de campagne: ‘country’ bread, suitable
for meats, cheeses and soups with a thick crust and dense wholegrain dough, and
certain to last more than a day.
Pain complet: wholegrain loaf.
Pain levain: sourdough bread. Slightly acidic,
and goes well with strong flavours such as smoked salmon and foie gras.
Pain de mie: is the closest you’ll get to a traditional British
(or American) loaf, though you will rarely find it in boulangeries—you’ll have
to try the supermarket.
Pain aux noix: as the name suggests, bread spiced with nuts
seigle: rye bread. Less
intense rye flavour than its northern European equivalent, because it is diluted
with white flour.
Pain au chocolat is a light buttery
individual bread flavoured with chocolate, sometimes called a chocolatine.
Many bakers make bread by their own proven recipes, which
means that even a simple baguette will be different from one shop to another.
Bread from French supermarkets needs to be eaten as quickly because
generally speaking supermarkets use industrial dough which has been deep-frozen
before being baked on the premises. Bread counters selling this kind of bread
are not legally allowed to call themselves boulangeries.