Monday, July 11, 2005

French Particularities No. 3: Fresh Bread

The fact that in France you can get really fresh bread is fairly well known. Fresh bread really is a way of life in France. The image of a French man with a baguette under one arm and a newspaper under the other is both a cliché and an everyday reality. If you move to France and want to fit in, going to the boulangerie every morning and buying a baguette is as good a way as any to start. Some pensioner friends of ours who moved to a village in France a year ago do exactly this, but the husband also puts on his black Frenchman's beret as well.

It is absolutely sure that French people like fresh bread, the fresher the better. The picture above shows the typical Sunday queue outside a boulangerie (bakery) near Paris. But it's the same story everywhere. Houses located next to baker's shops are usually more expensive than others, or so a friend told me. Walking into a boulangerie, you will normally be assailed by choice: there is the classic baguette, a thin loaf about a metre long; the ficelle is a shorter and thinner bagette; the bâtard is a short fat baguette; the pain de campagne is similar to an English style loaf. All of these styles of bread can normally be bought in white flour or wholemeal versions. There are also breads flavoured with onion, cheese, olives, raisins or chocolate. And then there are brioches which are yellow, sweet, spongey breads that children like.

Unlike English bread which generally arrives from Slough ready-sliced in a plastic bag with a sell-by date on it two weeks hence, French bread from the Boulangerie is freshly baked, often still hot. The shop assistant will slice it for you, if you ask nicely, in front of your eyes, in a special machine. It does not have a lot of preservatives in it, if any, so it is normally best to eat it within a few hours of sale. Feeding a two-day old baguette to a duck will almost certainly kill it, if you manage to break a piece off that is.

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