We’ve just arrived in France and after stocking up on all the essentials to drink, one of our first stops always has to be the boulangerie. In terms of great food experiences in France, the bakeries/ pâtisseries certainly rank right up there with eating in restaurants in my book. In fact, in some ways, a visit to the bakery, a little slice of “la France ordinaire” might just be my favourite part of the everyday when I am there.
If you’ve ever visited France, you’ll definitely have found yourself strolling by the bakeries and you might have even found yourself inside one. But did you get tongue tied once you were inside? Couldn’t figure out what delicious treats to choose and then when you did, couldn’t get your head around the language? If that’s the case, pointing with a smile and a “S’il vous plaît” goes a long way (as I am always telling my students!) but here are my top tips for getting by at the bakery in France:
1. Greet the storekeeper!
Always say “Bonjour Madame/ Monsieur” to the lovely people who will be serving you. Greeting storekeepers is one of my “must know” expressions when you visit France.
The selection of breads can be overwhelming but knowing a few key words before you go inside the store will ensure you are not “that person” madly looking up words on WordReference.com and holding everyone else up (if that has to be you because you’re really stumped, step aside and let other people be served before you. Never a good idea to get between the French and their bread!).
Une baguette/Une ficelle/ Une tradition – Une baguette is what you probably think of when you think “French bread”. A ficelle is a long, thin version of a baguette. The “tradition” is what I like to think of as an amped-up version of the baguette. It has pointy ends and, by law, can only contain four ingredients – flour, water, salt and leavening. Yes, the French take their bread very seriously!
Le pain au levain – sourdough
Le pain complet – whole wheat loaf, usually round. Denser and darker than regular white-flour breads
Le pain de campagne – “country bread” is usually presented in a round (“boule“) shape
Le pain aux céréales (my favourite!) – you’ll find many variations on this but it’s used to describe a loaf or a baguette to which things like oats and seeds have been added. You’ll sometimes find singular variations like the “au sesame” which just has sesame seeds
Le pain aux noix – walnut bread (this is great on a cheese board – or, just by itself, warm from the oven!)
Le pain de seigle/ pain noir – Rye bread
Le pain de son – bran bread
If you listen carefully to others, you’ll hear them asking not just for the type of bread they want but also how they want it cooked…
Bien cuite – refers to a crustier version of a baguette. The outside will be golden brown.
Pas trop cuite – If you prefer your baguette a little on the softer side (it will be less cooked, so pale), this is what you will want.
4. You don’t have to order a whole baguette!
As someone who spends time in France on her own, I am so very grateful that I can order “une demi-baguette”. Be aware that you can only order a half of the regular baguettes, not the “tradition” version.
5. Don’t forget your viennoiseries!
As well as selling breads, a boulangerie will sell a selection of pastries so if you’re after the full experience, you simply must try some of these too!
Un croissant/ Un pain au chocolat – You’ll be familiar with these. Generally speaking, you’ll want a croissant au beurre which are the straight versions of the typical “crescent” shape. The croissants that are sold in the traditional shape are not made with butter. Sometimes this is marked “ordinaire” to distinguish it from the “au beurre”. If you want to be sure, ask for un croissant au beurre. In some places, a pain au chocolat is known by another name (in the South West, for example, they are chocolatines) so if you aren’t sure, look next to the croissants where they tend to hang out and see what they are listed as!
Croissant aux amandes – croissant filled with frangipane (almond cream) and flaked almonds. Sometimes comes with chocolate drizzled through or on top
Un pain aux raisins – Butter pastry filled with crème pâtissière (custard) and raisins
Un chausson – Similar to a turnover, this is flaky pastry filled with fruit, usually apples (chausson aux pommes)
Brioche – sweet yeasted dough bread. Great with butter and jam!
Pain Suisse au chocolat (another personal favourite!) – Brioche pastry filled with crème pâtissière and chocolate chips. No calorie counting allowed.
Chouquettes – Choux pastry studded with pearl sugar. Most often bought by the (half) dozen – and generally consumed as an after-school snack but good any time of the day!
A depôt de pain refers to somewhere the bread is simply sold, not baked. A bakery where the bread is baked in-house will be identified by some sort of signage indicating “Artisan Boulanger”. An easy way to tell if the baguette you are buying is made by an Artisan is to look underneath. If you see a pattern on the bottom of the baguette – small raised dots – then that has not been baked by an Artisan (most supermarket baguette have this pattern). If doesn’t necessarily mean it’s awful but it won’t be as good as if it were baked by an Artisan Boulanger.
What else do you need to know? Let me know in the comments below!
(also, don’t worry, I know there are all sorts of tempting pastries to be procured at most boulangeries as well. That will be its own post!)
Bon appétit and Happy (French) Friday!