The Pain of Paris

As your resident carboholic, I decided it would be my mission to look more closely into world of bread making and baguette buying.  No two loaves are the same and this guide will be of use to anyone who has been overwhelmed when they walk into the boulangeries.  Style and shape be damned, the pain de Paris is about about the flaky crusts and gooey interiors.  Here’s a list of the types of bread and their characteristics:

Baguette is the most basic bread in France. It must weigh 320 grams real and it is characterized by it’s seven ridges on the top. Most people call any bread that is made ​​from a thin dough that is shaped into a long stick about 5 cm in diameter and about 60cm long, a baguette, but as mentioned, no two baguettes are the same.

Ficelle pain is like a baguette.  It’s about the same length of a baguette but it is much thinner. Ficelle means string in French and accurately describes the thinness of the bread.  These have to be eaten fairly quickly as their thin nature makes the inside dry out very quickly.  You have an hour or two to eat this type of bread  after you’ve gotten it at best, so get a move on!

Croissants are made ​​from a butter puff pastry and are crescent-shaped with a buttery glaze on top.  The best croissants have a flaky top layer and should have a fairly soft interior.  They should NOT, I repeat, not be flat.  They should be well risen and not over cooked.  Croissants are often a desirable type of bread for sandwiches.

Boule de pain is a traditional French bread shape resembling a crushed ball.  This type of bread comes in different shapes and sizes, and the crust is pretty soft.  It’s made of simple ingredients–flour, water, salt, and rising powder.  This is most commonly used as table bread and is neutral enough to go with any dish.

Pain de campagne (brown bread) is usually a large round bread with a thick crust. The dough is fermented for several hours, thus, the natural yeasts and bacteria grow. It is rounded and placed in a banneton (linen -lined basket). After the dough has risen  it is slid in an oven and baked.  The bread is whole wheat flour and rye flour (where the bread gets its color).  This bread usually weighs a couple of kilos and is meant to feed a large group of people as it used to feed big families in the country.

Viennois de la douleur is as a baguette shaped bread but the crust is softer, with a finer texture and sweeter taste . It is glazed with milk and sugar before baking.  This bread has the cute horizontal criss cross shapes on top.  This is a  bread to mix with chocolate and accompany a child’s gouter.

Ordinaire douleur is sometimes called the peasant bread or as one French friend called it ‘plebian bread.’  It really just means that this is ‘ordinary’ bread.  It is easy to prepare and it is really just bread you’d have at the table at mealtimes.

Pain perdu isn’t necessarily considered a true type of French bread. This is the English equivalent of French toast  and can be made with any type of bread and eggs.

Douleur complet is made from of a mixture of white bread flour and whole wheat flour.  These types of breads include wholemeal breads, rye breads, and sourdough bread.  These breads can be found in supermarkets and not just the boulangeries because it is packaged and keeps of longer.

There’s the rundown! What are your favorite types of breads in Paris? What are the best dishes for each type of bread?



  1. Bonjour Caroline, Thank you for your excellent article! Actually I could use some further guidance on this. I’ve been trying to find out what the equivalence of whole wheat is in boulangerese. I’ve seen (and tasted) pain “rustique” and pain “complet”. They are both very good. But not sure what each really is. I’d love to hear if you are familiar with this. Merci! Joe

    • Hi Joe,
      Whole wheat flour is “complet” and “rustique” usually includes some grains as well. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  2. […] worth it in Paris to get to know your neighborhood a little bit. Take an hour and scout out the boulangerie, the market, the pharmacy, the park, the nearest metro stop and local restaurants. This quick […]

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