The French are known for their love of bread. More than just a breakfast staple in France, it accompanies nearly every meal and comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.
French breads can be long and skinny or short and round. Some bread varieties are crisp and sweet, while others are country breads and tough. They are often also used as snack food or desserts on special occasions like parties, Christmas, and even weddings.
So if you are ready to head to your local boulangerie (bakery shop), here are the most popular types of French bread you will want to try. Allons-y!
A baguette is not just a baguette. There are several types, with each bread being different in appearance, texture, and taste.
The most common is the baguette classique which is sometimes called the baguette parisienne (parisian baguette) or baguette blanche (white baguette). This is the baguette that you will most often see in supermarkets and grocery stores across France.
For more specialized baguettes, you may have to go to a boulangerie (bread bakery). Other types of baguette include:
- Baguette tradition – sometimes called baguette de campagne (country baguette) or baguette rustique (rustic baguette), it is made with a flour that doesn’t use additives. It also takes a longer time to rise and lasts longer.
- Baguette aux céréales – includes small amounts of cereals like barley, oats, rye, or corn baked in with the flour.
- Baguette aux graines – includes small amounts of grains like lin seeds or sesame seeds baked in with the flour.
- Baguette moulée – similar to the classic baguette, except the dough is poured into a mold, which generally gives it a more homogeneous appearance. (Usually for industrial breads.)
- Demi-baguette – the half baguette is half the length of a normal baguette, and is perfectly sized for sandwiches like the classic jambon beurre or as a tartine in the morning with French butter.
2. Pain de mie
Pain de mie, meaning “soft bread” is the French version of ordinary sliced bread that is usually industrially produced and sold in grocery stores.
With or without crust, this the bread that is typically used to make the croque monsieur or madame, or your regular peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (Not really, the American favorite peanut butter and jelly is very difficult to find in France!)
3. Pain de campagne
Pain de campagne means “country bread” and it is usually baked in large loaves to feed the full family.
This rustic bread usually includes white, whole wheat, and rye flour. It is often used as a base for tartines, which is a type of open faced sandwich where a spread is applied, such as nutella or avocado toast. It can also be used as a base for recipes like bruschetta or garlic bread.
4. Pain complet
The French pain complet is similar to the sliced white bread pain de mie, except it is wholewheat bread.
This wholemeal bread is much richer in fiber than white bread and is made from whole grains, with less sugar.
It is less popular in France than pain de mie, but is starting to catch on as more and more French people start to pay attention to their diet.
A special flatbread from ancient rome, it used to be called panis focacius in Latin. It has now become fougasse in Provence, de focaccia in Italian cuisine, hogaza in Spain, and many more.
The provençale fougasse is cooked in the local tradition with olives, cheese, garlic or anchovies. And why not add a few herbs, onions, and lardons as well, the more the merrier.
It is usually eaten at apéro hour in brasseries and pubs around Provence as an appetizer like socca, and can be served warm or cold.
There is also a sweet version of the fougasse in Provence, that is called the gibassié.
A brioche is a light sweet bread containing eggs and butter. It is a cross between a bread, a cake, and a viennoiserie (pastry) and is believed to originate from Normandy in the 16th century.
The purportedly famous saying by Marie-Antoinette was actually “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche!“, not “cake”, which is gâteau in French.
There are several types of brioches, with each region having its own recipe and speciality:
- Brioche Parisienne – the classic brioche made from butter, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, salt, yeast. Brioche de Paris is recognizable for its shape, made up of two superimposed balls, the smaller one on top of a larger one.
- Brioche de Nanterre – the historic brioche dating back to the days of Saint Genevieve in 450 AD. Unlike the brioche parisienne, the brioche de Nanterre is rectangular and made up of balls of dough placed side by side.
- Brioche tressée de Metz – a braided brioche (three pieces of dough braided together) from Metz during festive occasions.
- Brioche au sucre – brioche with small bits of sugar on the crust.
- Brioche vendéenne – a large round brioche that is sometimes called the pain de Pâques, as it is usually served for Easter (and sometimes during weddings in the Vendée region of France.)
- Cougnou – a brioche that is eaten in December during the period of Saint Nicholas and Christmas. It is oval-shaped with a decoration in the middle to look like a baby Jesus swaddled and lying down.
- Tarte tropézienne – a brioche shaped like a cake that is flavored with the orange flower water. In the middle, it is filled with a butter cream and a custard.
Ficelle means “string” in French, and it is a type of baguette. Longer and thinner than a classic baguette, it is tapered and easily tearable.
They are considered a “higher end” baguette, and if you were having a dinner party or Christmas dinner in France, this is the type of baguette that you would expect to be served along with the meal.
8. Pogne de Romans
Pogne or Pogne Romans is a type of brioche or sweetbread, that is shaped like a crown. A local speciality in Romans-sur-Isère (in the center of the country near Lyon), it is made from flour, eggs and butter and flavored with orange blossom.
Dating back to the 14th century, it was also traditionally only made for Easter, like the Suisse biscuit from Valence.
You can eat it by itself, or slathered with a fruity jam or nutella. There is even a small museum in Romans-sur-Isère dedicated to all things pogne. You can read more about other local specialties from Lyon here.
9. Pain d’épices
Pain d’épices meaning “spiced bread” is popular delicacy in the Alsace and Champagne regions of France. It is a sweet bread baked with honey and various spices such as cinnamon, coriander, ginger, and star anise.
It is heavily influenced by the German “Lebkuchen” which dates back to the 13th century. Similar to gingerbread, it is usually served at Christmas, along with a vin chaud (spiced hot wine).
10. Pompe à l’huile
It is not really clear where the name pompe a l’huile (meaning “oil pump”) came from.
One explanation is that the name and recipe comes from the olive oil mills of Provence where wheat flour was used to pump out the residual oil. To avoid waste, this flour was then used to make the “pompe à l’huile” dessert.
Nonetheless, this delicious sweet bread is usually served as one of the 13 desserts of Provence during Christmas. There is also a variation of this bread called pompe au beurre, which uses butter instead of olive oil.
11. Galette de Pain
The classic pita bread is called a galette de pain in French, or pain libanais.
This type of flatbread is not that popular in French cuisine, since the traditional crêpe is what is what is used as a flat bread to wrap foods in, or as a dessert. (You will rarely find a crêpe in a French boulangerie however, you will have to go to a crêperie however.)
However, the galette de pain is starting to catch on as foods like the classic kebab sandwich and the French “taco” become more and more popular.
If you enjoyed that article, you may enjoy reading more about other traditional French foods and drinks.