One of the main things everyone loves about France is the food. French breads are especially delicious and you probably already heard of the mighty baguette and the classic croissant. But wait, France is famed for a lot more types of breads including brioches, sweet breads, interesting bretzels and more.
I know it's confusing, but stick with me and I will show you all the French bread you need to know about. Whether you decide to eat them during your upcoming holiday or just fancy trying new recipes, this is a comprehensive article dedicated to celebrating the French boulangerie.
Bread is very much beloved in France and every type of bread is known for its specific consistency and taste. Different breads work with different dishes and ingredients. We travelled all around France and talked to various locals to understand more about what makes French bread so unique.
Table of Contents
You've probably seen a baguette and even ate a baguette. You need need to travel to France to find them, you can actually find them in almost every shop and supermarket from all over the world. Baguettes are an intentional sensation and I'm yet to meet another soul who doesn't love them. A baguette is a long, thin loaf of French bread made from normal lean dough.
Here's an interesting fact, the French law actually defines the way the dough is. So when getting a baguette in France, you know for sure you are getting the real deal. A baguette has a length of about 65 cm (26inches) and a diameter of 5-6 cm (2 - 2.5 inches).
Did you know that the word baguette means "wand", "baton" or "stick"? While there are some indications that its initial form started in the 18th century, the baguette as we know it was first recorded as a kind of bread in 1920.
A Ficelle is a type of French bread loaf which may look similar to the baguette at first glance, but it’s actually much thinner. The word Ficelle means string in French.
Many places around the world market Ficelle as a cheaper baguette. For example, in my city, both the traditional baguette and a Ficelle are called the same, they just have a different price in the local supermarket. You can find Ficelle with cheese or sesame on top.
My mouth is watering the moment I start thinking about brioches. Brioches are traditionally not vegan but worry not, there are ways nowadays to make them vegan like this brioche bun or this sensational milk bread. Brioche is a cross between a pastry and a bread with a super flaky and fluffy interior.
They are high in fats which is why their consistency is a lot more delicate and fluffy than normal bread.
Brioche is considered a Viennoiserie. The literal translation of the word is “things of Vienna”. These are baked good made in a similar manner to bread but with added ingredients used in puff pastry making them the perfect cross between that of bread and a pastry.
The first recorded time of the word brioche used by the French was in 1404. Brioches were a status symbol and appear in several paintings including the classic Still Life with Brioche, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, 1763.
Did you know that the saying “Let them eat cake” is actually mistranslated from French "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche".
The fougasse takes us to the beautiful lands of Provence in France although you can find this type of French bread in other regions too.
Fougasse is a flatbread usually made sweeter with orange flavoured water and added sugar. You will be able to easily recognise by its unique shape which is meant to be a wheat grain, with shashes onto the pattern. It looks like a gorgeous leafy delight waiting to be eaten.
The fougasse originated from ancient Rome where was a flatbread baked in the ashes of the hearth. This type of bread evolved into a variety of breads including fougasse in France and focaccia in Italy for example. It also exists as a version in Spain called hogaza and fogassa in Catalonia.
Provence will have a variety of types of fougasse some including cheese, olives, garlic and more.
Pain de Campagne
If you are like me, you probably first read this as Pain de Champagne. During my first trip to France, I most certainly did and ordered it because I honestly thought I will receive some delights made with the epic French beverage.
Well as it turns out, pain de Campagne is actually known as country bread or French sourdough. It's a large round loaf which is a very traditional type of bread sometimes made with a combination of flours like white, whole flour and rye.
Pain de Campagne has been part of the French village life for centuries, thanks to the communal ovens where the town people would get together and bring their dough to be baked. Some of these breads were as heavy as 5-6 kg and used to last for days and even weeks.
Nowadays, thanks to being able to find commercial yeast, pain de Campagne has slowly been replaced by the baguette, which truly is the star attraction of the French bread.
Boule is a common French bread you will find at almost any boulangerie in France. The name comes from the literal translation "ball" because the bread itself is shaped like a squashed ball. You will find a variety of boule breads in France. Some will be made with white flours, while others will be more artisanal with sourdough.
It's fantastic thanks to its rustic shape and crunchy exterior.
Faluche is a traditional French bread from northern France. You will also find it in southern Belgium also. Faluche is a soft white bread with a dense interior. It looks interesting primarily because of its shape which is an in-between of a round and a flatbread.
It almost looks as if it was meant to be a round bread which now deflated slightly. This delicious bread is intended for breakfast and it's exquisite when paired with vegan spread, butter or jam. It goes very well with brie cheese also.
Credit: Wikipedia Jiel Beaumadier CC BY-SA 3.0
Fouée is a type of airy bread from the western France. You might be forgiven for thinking it's a sort of pitta bread. Much like its Greek sister, fouée is usually served with pork, salted butter and white beans.
Some myths suggest that once a week the whole family gathered around the fire to created the fouées. These were leftovers from the main bread, used to test the temperature of the oven. They prepared a few dough pieces by flattening them between their palms and put in the oven to test the temperature the speed of which the dough swelled indicated whether the time had come to put the main bread in the oven.
Credit: Wikipedia Romain Bréget CC BY-SA 3.0
Pain brié is a traditional bread from Normandy. The name actually means pounded bread as brié is an Old Norman word which means to pound. This bread is incredibly aromatic and soft with a beautiful texture. The bread itself has some notes of butter with a tight crumb. It used to be given to fishermen and sailors.
To make pain brié you will need to allocate some long kneading process which develops the gluten and creates that tight crumb. You will have a soft and spongy texture with a gorgeous appearance thanks to the deep cuts on the top of the bread.
Pain d'épices translated to spice bread or as we know it in England, gingerbread. This bread is made with rye flour, honey and spices so you can imagine that it has a sweet and gorgeous taste, perfect for the holidays. In Alsace, Pain d'épices also has a little cinnamon incorporated into the dough.
Pain d'épices was originally a sourdough which was left to rest in a cool place for months which is why the rye developed a honey-like flavour to it thanks to the fermentation process.
Nowadays, the bread is sweetened directly with honey.
Credit: Wikipedia David Monniaux CC BY-SA 3.0
Pain de mie
As crazy as it may sound, I actually grew up with pain de mie which is a type of soft, white or brown bread mostly sold in slices. We used to buy it from local bakeries in Romania and I absolutely loved it. I used to eat just the soft crumb and leave the crust. Not anymore, now it's the other way around, I love the crust of a bread the most.
You can use pain de mie for almost everything. It's a day to day bread used for sandwiches. It's baked in a sealed pan to prevent a crust from forming so when buying pain de mie you should expect soft all around. It's nowadays used for toast.
I know what you are thinking, aren't pretzels German? Well yes, they are but there is an exception called Bretzel d'Alsace. This knotted bread found in the same shape as its German counterpart is nice, brown and crispy on the outside with a soft interior. Dipped in salt or other toppings like poppy seeds and sesame, this is especially beloved during the winter.
And Alsace and Germany share other types of bread too, with the flammkuchen (in French Tarte flambée) being one of them. Called differently and with slightly differently toppings, but fundamental pretty much the same.
Pain Petri is a sweet, anise-scented, braided bread of Moroccan Jewish origin. The name of the Pain Petri in French translated to kneaded bread. It takes a long time to knead pain petri and nowadays it's best done in a standing mixer. Kneading this dough translated to a lighter consistency of the bread.
Pain Petri has been prepared by the Moroccan Jewish community for hundreds of years, since before the Spanish Inquisition. It's meant to be similar to other Shabbat breads like challah for example. However, it differs from challah and other breads in general because it is usually done quite quickly with the whole process taking just an hour.
Pain complet which translated to complete bread is the French term for wholegrain bread. After some experiments in the kitchen, I started loving wholegrain bread a lot more. I find it incredibly delicious and it's a lot more nutritious than the normal white bread.
But when it comes to French breads, however, know that the majority of the baked goods are made with white flour.
A sweet bread prepared like a brioche dough. It is enriched with orange blossom water and decorated with sugar. It's well known as an Easter bread and you will very likely find it in the Rhône-Alpes region.
Pain aux noix
One of my favourite types of bread, pain aux noix is a traditional style of French bread with nuts inside. It incorporated an array of nuts like chopped hazelnuts or walnuts. You can find it shaped into a plain loaf but something as a beautiful crispy round.
It's considered an artisanal bread is known for its dark brown crust and light brown interior.
Something missing? You are probably wondering why the croissant is not on the list? After all, that’s one of the main things you eat for breakfast in France and one of the most beloved type of French bread you purchase from the boulangerie. That’s because the croissant was actually an Austrian invention. And we promise to write a whole article about Austrian and German breads too.
But until then, you can now call yourself an expert on French breads and you can categorically visit France knowing what to purchase from the bakery. I know you are excited, so let the bread feast begin!