Above all else, when it comes to french cuisine, France is perhaps best known for its bread. The best place to buy any carb good in France is at the boulangerie, which literally means bakery in English. Here’s your ultimate French bakery guide, including what to buy in a boulangerie in France and some french vocabulary to help you order!
People in France take their bread seriously and perhaps this is no more apparent than the literal fact that an annual bread festival is held each year on the Parvis de Notre Dame Cathedral in central Paris.
During this cultural event, one baker receives the prestigious award of the ‘best baguette’. There are actually various awarding bodies for baked goods in France and it’s a point of pride at many boulangeries to display any awards that the business might have won in the past few years, including for various kinds of ‘best pastries’.
- What is sold at a French bakery?
- What is the difference between a pâtisserie and a boulangerie?
- What is the difference between ‘vienoisserie’ and ‘pâtisserie’?
- Different types of baguette
- Other breads at a French Boulangerie (Pain de Campagne)
- Bread etiquette in France
- Things to know before ordering in a French boulangerie
What is sold at a French bakery?
Known as ‘boulangerie’ in French, you can expect to find all manner of ‘baked’ goods at a French bakery. The most common things, which are sold in all boulangeries, are various baguettes and classic pastries, which are known as ‘vienoisseries’ or ‘pâtisseries’ (both terms are translated into English as ‘pastries’).
Vienoisseries which you can expect to find in almost any reputable bakery include pain au chocolat (a pastry with chocolate inside), croissants (learn more about the history of the croissant here), chausson aux pommes (apple turnovers), madeleines, and choux (mini puff pastries which are typically sold by weight rather than by the piece).
If you’re a particular fan of baked goods, then you should also bear in mind that there are some baked goods and pastries which are only available in certain regions of France, aka regional specialities. For example, the Kouign-Amann comes directly from Brittany and, though it has grown in popularity over the past few years, is still harder to find outside of the Western-French region.
What is the difference between a pâtisserie and a boulangerie?
A boulangerie is a bakery and a pâtisserie is a pastry shop, though most boulangeries and patisseries sell both various baked goods and desserts (pastries). As mentioned, any reputable boulangerie will sell various basic pastries, though it’s worth noting that there are some high-end patisseries which only sell desserts.
Pâtisseries denote both the type of establisment, as well as the goods sold within. Therefore, a pâtisserie will also sell pâtisseries. Some of these include the chic pattiseries in Paris of Pierre-Hermé and Ladurée.
In both Belgium and France, the law is very strict in that only licensed and well-trained pastry chefs are only about to be employed as such. The term in French is maître pâtissier (master pastry chef). In order to be classed as a boulangerie, the bakery must bake bread on their premises and their prime goods for sale must be various types of breads (more on this in a bit).
What is the difference between ‘vienoisserie’ and ‘pâtisserie’?
Though the term ‘vienoisserie’ and ‘pâtisserie’ may be used interchangeably for some things sold in the French bakery, this is not the case for all goods. Whereas pâtisseries are desserts such as cream cakes, éclairs, and the like, vienoisseries originate from Vienna in Austria and are the kind of baked pâtisserie that bridge the gap between bread and pâtisserie. As such, examples of vienoisseries include brioche and croissants.
Different types of baguette
When ordering your baguette, take care to note that there will actually be several different types of baguette for sale, some of which are tastier than others. The standard baguette is known as ‘baguette ordinaire’ and will be the cheapest, though you can instead opt for the ‘baguette tradition’.
Baguette tradition is baked in accordance with a traditional recipe and tends to have a chewier crust and fluffier interior. This baguette tends to be 10-40 centimes more expensive than its cheaper counterpart but is more than worth the extra price tag in my opinion.
Depending on where you are (with Paris- check here for our guide to the best bakeries in Paris– being more expensive than bakeries in the countryside), a baguette ordinaire will cost between €0.90 and €1.30.
The other thing to know about purchasing a baguette in a French boulangerie is that you can actually choose how cooked you want your bread to be. If you prefer a better baked, firmer loaf, then you can ask for bien-cuite whereas if you prefer something a little softer you can opt for a baguette pas trop cuite.
As you can see, ordering a baguette at a French bakery may well be a little more complicated than you originally expected! The main takeaways are that you can order a baguette normal or a baguette tradition (again, I highly recommend opting for tradition) and you can order less cooked or more cooked depending on your personal preferences.
Whatever you choose to opt for, be sure to only purchase enough baguette for what you’ll need that day. Baguettes which are baked to traditional recipes can go stale fairly quickly and so it’s normal for French people to head to the bakery on a daily basis to get their baguette for the day.
Other breads at a French Boulangerie (Pain de Campagne)
As well as baguettes, there are a mouthwatering array of other breads which you can purchase at a French bakery, most notably a farmhouse-style loaf which is known as Pain de Campagne. There’s a wide range of terms to describe the various breads, including pain de camapgne (an oval shaped loaf which is made using both white and wholegrain bread flour) pain de mie (a rectangular loaf of wheat bread), pain au levain (sourdough bread), and pain aux céréales (grain bread).
Loaves of bread will not come automatically sliced and so you’ll have to ask for your bread to be ‘tranché’ if you want it sliced (I really recommend asking for this option as it’s easier to store and consume later).
You should also note that boulangeries are often a popular lunch option among locals as many sell quiches and sandwiches. If you want to opt for a pastry, sandwich/ pizza slice/ quiche, and drink then you’ll want to ask if there is a ‘formule’ available as this will often give you a lunch deal for a reduced price.
Bread etiquette in France
One of the more curious French habits that you may never have heard of before is the custom of eating the end crust of the baguette on your way home. The end of the baguette is known as ‘le quignon’ and is what is munched on on the way home. This habit greatly amuses me, though my boyfriend grew up doing this as it’s normal in France to eat the quignon of the baguette while it’s still warm.
Bread is traditionally served with all meals in France. No side plates are given and instead the bread is consumed directly off of the table cloth or table if there is no cloth present. At the end of the meal, the bread crumbs (known as ‘miettes’ are swept off the table and onto a plate for disposal).
Bread is also a staple of the French breakfast, with popular options being a tartine (where you slice a piece of baguette in half, toast it, and serve it with jam, honey, chocolate spread, or butter) or a vienoisserie (the two most common being croissants and pain au chocolats).
Things to know before ordering in a French boulangerie
If I could give you just one France tip, it’s that you should always say hello ‘bonjour’ when you first enter the bakery (or any other business establishment for that matter). Not doing so is considered to be the height of rudeness and can result in a less than desirable customer service experience.
Next, you should know that many businesses close in France for the month of August. This is when most French residents take their summer holidays and you’ll find many of the larger French cities devoid of people. Many clothing shops, specialist food shops, garages, and even bakeries close up shop for most, if not all, of the month of August.
In some towns, it’s not uncommon to discover that every bakery in the area has closed up shop for August at the same time, meaning that you may have to go another town over in order to acquire baked goods! At the end of August, the period when people return from their summer vacations is known as la rentrée.
Though English is widely spoken in touristic areas (such as Paris and on the French Riviera), it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language, which in this case is French. Simply learning how to say ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘please,’ and ‘sorry’ will help you go a long way. Pick up a simple French phrasebook like this one to help you on your travels.
Last but not least, if there’s one thing I could tell you it’s that, if you’re a carb-lover, then you simply must take the time out of your trip to head into a French boulangerie, if only to sample a baguette, or at the very least, a croissant.
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