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La boulangerie – the breads of France demystified

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A variety of breads at ‘Jamais & Fils Boulanger’

“Bread deals with living things, with giving life, with growth, with the seed, the grain that nurtures. It is not coincidence that we say bread is the staff of life.” – Lionel Poilâne

Merci for these words of wisdom, Monsieur Poilâne. I am obsessed with good bread, and most French people are, as well.

Upon arrival, many visitors to France dash to the nearest boulangerie in search of the best baguette. However, once they’re in the door and inhale all that goodness in the air, something happens….mass confusion! “Et là, qu’est-ce que c’est?”  There seems to be more than just a baguette on the shelves, so let’s get down to the real question here: what the heck do you buy?

Well, that depends on what you like and what you’ll be using le pain for. Each loaf or wand of bread has a different use and flavor.

My favorites include: pain complet (whole wheat), céréales (multi-grain), pain de seigle aux raisins et noix (rye bread with raisins and walnuts) and pain de son (bran bread).

If that’s not enough for you, let’s not forget campaillous figues (wheat & rye bread with figs), le viking (dense whole wheat loaded with seeds, oats and grains) and hally grain multi- céréales (hearty multi-grain bread).

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The wall of breads at ‘Moulin de Flor’

When buying bread, it’s important to remember that pain means bread in English, and pain aux means bread with another ingredient. For example, pain aux raisins is raisin bread, and pain aux noix is nut bread. Campaillou is simply bread made with a mix of wheat and rye flour. There are variations of campaillou, like campaillou omega which has omega oils and campaillou bio, which is made with organic flour.

However, watch out for this trap when at the boulangerie:  pain au chocolat is a chocolate croissant, not chocolate bread.

I enjoy breads filled with fruits, nuts and hearty grains for dipping, toasting and topping with almond butter or fig jam. But make no mistake- I can devour a traditional baguette just as well as mon mari does on a daily basis.

Do you want more pains? Pas de problème! Here is another handful of the many breads you’re likely to see in a French bakery: pain de campagne (crunchy country white bread), pain au levain (think sourdough, just less sour),  pain de mie (thin crust, soft, white sandwich bread), pain brie (heavy, crusty bread from Normandy) and pain viennois (sweet and looks like a baguette with a softer crust).

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Fruit and Nut  breads at ‘Moulin de Flor’

Here are some très important tips to help you even more!

Buy bread as early as you can. Between 6am–11am. Bakers work the midnight shift and you will get the freshest bread early. Unless the boulanger bakes throughout the day, keep in mind that the later you go to the boulangerie, the longer the bread sits on the shelf.

If you’re going to buy a baguette, choose one that is marked with the words tradition, l’ancienne, or originale. This variety guarantees that the dough is pure, has not been frozen, and is prepared in accordance to traditional French standards and methods. Baguettes go stale fast, they are meant to be purchased and eaten within the same day.

Try to avoid ‘chain bakeries’ if possible unless it’s like my beloved ‘Poilâne’ or ‘Eric Kayser’Do seek out smaller family-owned and artisanal boulangeries. It’s nice to get to know your local baker, and they will be happy to meet you.

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Campaillous Figues, Pain de Seigle aux Raisins et Noix, Céréales & Hally Grain

All good boulangeries will have a line that you’ll need to wait in, so know what you want before you get in line. The staff are quick and efficient, so be ready to order and pay. If not, you will be faced with disgruntled moans (pffffff) if, during a rush, you stand there clueless asking ten million questions …. especially in English. OH LA LA!

Last of all, if it looks good on the shelf, chances are it is good! Just buy two or three different types and shapes. Find which ones suit you.

Voilà, Je vais au pain – à bientôt !



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5 Comments




  1. Wendy Wise
    7 years ago

    A great article Tina, we love to try different types of bread and eat huge quantities of it. We are sad to see the rise of points chauds and the decline of artisan baking. We are lucky to have good bread delivered straight to our door 6 days a week and there are still enough good bakers around to satisfy ouur appetites. My husband also bakes his own bread, so i’m really spoilt.


  2. Tina Chevalier-Popineau
    7 years ago

    Merci beaucoup Wendy! I’m so happy that you enjoyed my article!!

    Yes, we are very lucky to have freshly baked artisan breads available daily. We must continue to support these types of bakeries!
    I have a certification in artisan bread baking, so I am passionate about this subject.

    It’s a special treat that your husband bakes his own. There’s nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread! Especially coming from your own kitchen! 🙂


  3. Randy Diaz
    7 years ago

    Great, great article. Chapeau!!!


  4. Tina Chevalier-Popineau
    7 years ago

    MERCI BEAUCOUP Randy!!
    So kind of you to say that! So great to know that you liked my article! The staff of life indeed!! 😉
    Sante’