France is world renowned for its food and wine culture. Therefore it should come as no surprise that they are arguably the best at bread too.
It’s important to know the different varieties of French breads available, and how to correctly pronounce their names. That way, you can blend in like a true local next time you’re at a French boulangerie. So keep reading if you’d like to sound like a true French bread connaisseur.
The Importance of Bread in France
An estimated 83 percent of French people eat bread everyday, making a staggering 58kg of bread consumed per person each year. It’s also estimated that 10 billion baguettes are eaten every year in France alone! No one consumes bread quite like the French.
France takes its bread very seriously. So much so that in 1993, a law known as Le Décret Pain was passed. This law sets out very clear and specific criteria for how baguettes are made and the ingredients that must be used. To be considered a true baguette, boulangers must follow this law to the letter.
Bread is such an important part of French culture that the word copain, meaning ‘friend,’ comes from the Latin phrase cum pane, meaning ‘with bread.’ In other words, the person you share bread with is your friend. In France, there is even a Patron Saint for bread - St Honoré, who is celebrated every year on the 16th of May.
If you are yet to be convinced of the importance of bread to the French, maybe this will help you. Each year, the Grand Prix de la Baguette is held in Paris. In it, Parisien bakers compete for the title and prestige of the best boulanger of the year, with the honour of supplying the French President with bread for the year. It’s almost a national sport! Amazing, right!?
Now onto the bread!
The different types of bread and how to pronounce them in French
As previously stated, there is a wide variety of bread in France. Most of the breads listed below are in fact traditional breads, however some are pastries, otherwise known as viennoiseries, and are often confused as bread.
Arguably the most famous and quintessentially French bread there is. The baguette is a long, thin loaf of bread. It must have a tough, golden-brown crust and a soft, yet chewy inside. It should weigh approximately 250gm and be 65cm in length once baked. It gets its name from its baton-like shape.
A brioche is a sweet pastry bread with a fluffy texture. It’s not technically a bread; it’s a viennoiserie, meaning it’s made from leavened yeast dough, similar to a croissant. It uses all the usual ingredients to make a bread, like yeast and butter, but you need a lot of eggs and butter to make a brioche. This soft, golden, bread is perfect for French Toast.
La boule de pain
A Boule de Pain is a round bread, with a very similar taste and texture to the baguette. It has a crunchy crust and a soft, chewy inside. This bread is usually served with the main meals, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is also able to last a few days without becoming too hard or stale.
Known across the world as the breakfast of choice for the French, people often mistake croissants as bread, as they are a yeast leavened dough, but they are in fact a viennoiserie. They are lighter, more airy, and have a higher fat content than bread. The dough is layered with butter. It is rolled and folded a number of times before baking, giving it the crispy, yet chewy layers we all know and love. Eat them for breakfast or at any time of the day as a snack.
A ficelle, while similar looking to a baguette, is not the same thing. A ficelle is thinner, with a much crunchier outer crust and a soft center. The word itself literally means ‘string’ in English. They are often made with sourdough. This is a classy bread, usually eaten with an expensive or special meal.
A faluche is a loaf of white bread. It is well known as a breakfast bread in France, often eaten with butter or jam, but in reality you can pair almost anything with this bread. It has an unusual circular shape, resembling a saucer.
Fougasse has a lot in common with modern pizza and focaccia. It is a bread made with a variety of herbs and herb flavours, including sage, thyme, olive, rosemary and sun dried tomatoes. It can sometimes be served with cheese on top, as well as anchovies and bacon. This bread is best served warm.
Le pain à l’ail
Pain à l’ail is a garlic bread. The amount of garlic used is entirely up to the person making it, as there are a variety of different recipes available to make this bread. The one thing all the recipes have in common is that you are definitely going to have garlic breath after eating this bread! This is a very popular bread that traditionally pairs well with any pasta dish.
Le pain brié
Pain Brié, while traditionally made with the same ingredients as bread, has a very different texture to most other breads. This bread is kneaded for much longer prior to baking than other breads, giving it a much denser texture. This makes le pain brié the perfect bread to dip into soups or sauces.
Le pain de campagne
Pain de campagne is a sourdough bread. It has a hard crust, which is often scored, and a dense center. It most often comes as a round loaf. This is a great bread for lunch and dinner, and goes well with soups. It also works well as sandwich bread.
Le pain au chocolat
Pain au chocolat is another viennoiserie or pastry that is often confused as bread. It is a cube shaped pastry made from yeast leavened dough with two pieces of dark chocolate in the center. It has a similar texture to the croissant. This makes a delicious breakfast or snack with coffee.
Le pain complet
Pain complet is a whole wheat, or wholemeal bread. It is made from flour that has not had the outer layers of its grains removed. In other words, it's brown bread, and is considered one of the healthiest types of bread.
Le pain couronne
This rather special looking bread is made in a circular shape. It often resembles a wreath. It’s a sweet bread, perfect for breakfast, and is often accompanied with a morning coffee.
A cramique is a raison bread. It has a similar taste and texture to the brioche, so it’s a sweet bread that has a soft and fluffy texture. This is a popular bread choice for breakfast. It is often served with butter or jam.
Le pain d’épices
Pain d’épices is a bread made with a variety of different spices. It’s often compared to gingerbread, but isn’t quite the same thing. It is traditionally made with rye flour, honey, and spices such as aniseed, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. It is often sold as a loaf.
Le pain de mie
Pain de mie is a soft, fine grained and thin crusted bread. It can be white or brown. It is best known as being similar to sandwich bread, although it is sweeter than most breads. It is mostly sold as a sliced and packaged loaf. It’s perfect for sandwiches or toast.
This bread is similar to sourdough, however it is made from a combination of different types of flours. Most commonly it is made with whole wheat or rye grains, giving it a darker colour and a higher fibre content. It's often sold as a large round loaf.
Le pain aux noix
Pain aux noix is a whole grain loaf of bread made with walnuts. It can be a dark or golden color and is typically sold as a loaf. It can be eaten with either sweet or savoury spreads. It’s perhaps best paired with cheese and charcuterie.
Le pain de seigle
Pain de seigle is rye bread. It ranges in color from light to very dark, depending on the proportion of rye and flour used. It is a denser bread than most and has a stronger flavour. It is often sold as a round loaf, but can come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Le pain au son
The pain au son is a whole grain bread. It has a dark brown color due to the high amount of bran in it. This also gives it its distinct taste, as well as its much higher fibre content. This bread is well known to assist with better digestive health. It is typically sold in smaller loaves and best enjoyed with a healthy meal or soup.
We hope you enjoyed today’s journey into the world of French bread. Next time you step foot into a boulangerie, you’ll be ready to order your bread with the pronunciation of a true French bread connaisseur.